Category Archives: Animal Rights

Sorkin V. Palin: Carving Up The Caribou

Aaron Sorkin in The Huffington Post:

“Unless you’ve never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather chair or eaten meat, save your condemnation.”

You’re right, Sarah, we’ll all just go fuck ourselves now.

The snotty quote was posted by Sarah Palin on (like all the great frontier women who’ve come before her) her Facebook page to respond to the criticism she knew and hoped would be coming after she hunted, killed and carved up a Caribou during a segment of her truly awful reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, broadcast on The-Now-Hilariously-Titled Learning Channel.

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it’s hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting. I don’t think it is, and here’s why.

Like 95% of the people I know, I don’t have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don’t relish the idea of torturing animals. I don’t enjoy the fact that they’re dead and I certainly don’t want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn’t do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

I’m able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don’t watch snuff films and you make them. You weren’t killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I’ve tried and tried and for the life of me, I can’t make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing. I’m able to make the distinction with no pangs of hypocrisy even though I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face.

So I don’t think I will save my condemnation, you phony pioneer girl. (I’m in film and television, Cruella, and there was an insert close-up of your manicure while you were roughing it in God’s country. I know exactly how many feet off camera your hair and make-up trailer was.)

John Nolte at Big Government:

What’s worse for society? People throughout the world who enjoy the sport of hunting animals and have since the beginning of time. Or people who enjoy, say, years-long Hollywood drug binges that fund the same murderers who spread their poison on to our children’s playgrounds and schools? Has Sorkin ever lashed out so viciously at drug abusers? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no.Let me repeat the irony because it’s richer than the bullying bigot of a hypocrite serving it up: A degenerate drug addict is lecturing others on their habits and what they find pleasure from. Of course Sorkin thinks he’s cutting that criticism off at the pass with this pitiful disclaimer:

Let me be the first to say that I abused cocaine and was arrested for it in April 2001. I want to be the first to say it so that when Palin’s Army of Arrogant Assholes, bereft of any reasonable rebuttal, write it all over the internet tomorrow they will at best be the second.

The left’s favorite ploy: It’s okay for me to be a raging hypocrite because I admit to being one.

Furthermore, Sorkin acts as though no one watched last Sunday’s program and lies with the kind of shameless audacity only a reformed drug addict could. Comparing what we all saw Sunday evening on TLC — comparing Sarah, her loving father and their friend Becker to Michael Vick is nothing short of a lie. Hunting an animal is not torture. Enjoying the hunt of an animal is not torture. Watching the sanctimonious “West Wing” however…

Aaron Sorkin is nothing more than a bigot, no different than some smug loser who mocks what he sees while watching  another culture enjoy something foreign or different to them.

Gateway Pundit

Greg Pollowitz at National Review:

So as long as Aaron Sorkin has no idea how the animals are killed that fill his billy, cushion his buttocks, or shelter his feet, then it’s okay? I guarantee that caribou suffered far less than any of the farm-raised meat products Sorkin consumes every day. And his statement, “you enjoy killing animals” is ridiculous. She killed the animal for food. Again, Sorkin is happy to have someone else kill his animals for him, but those who actually do the killing are somehow “faux-macho s***heads?” If Sorkin is so against the actual killing of animals, he should grab a lettuce wrap and shut up.

And I also don’t remember any collective rage from the Left when then candidate Kerry decided to go bird hunting in Ohio just days before the election in 2004.

Dan Riehl

Jim Treacher at The Daily Caller:

Well, if there’s one thing liberalism has taught us, it’s that the angrier you are, the more truthful you are. Why merely whine about being reminded where food comes from, when you can throw a complete temper tantrum? Sure, Palin is like Michael Vick because… well, because Aaron Sorkin doesn’t like either one of them. And Sorkin’s not a hypocrite for railing against the killing of an animal and then going out for a steak dinner, because that would make him a bad person, and he’s actually a good person. You see?

You know what I do when I don’t like a TV show, Aaron? I don’t watch it. That’s how most people handle the problem, which explains what happened to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

That Aaron Sorkin isn’t a fan of hunting is no secret.  A powerful early episode of his too-short-lived “Sports Night” was devoted to the topic.  But his expletive laden rant on Sarah Palin’s exploits doesn’t do his cause any favors.  Especially this line:

I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face

Seriously?  I’m not a hunter and sympathize with his distaste of killing animals simply for sport.  But hunting is not only a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of mankind but a vital part of maintaining our ecosystem.

And by what moral calculus is killing lower mammals an outrage but the accidental death of one’s fellow human beings a source of amusement?

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Filed under Animal Rights, Political Figures

Geese-icide

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up

Isolde Raftery at New York Times:

It’s a doomsday plan for New York’s geese.

A nine-page report put together by a variety of national, state and city agencies shows that officials hope to reduce the number of Canada geese in New York to 85,000 from 250,000.

That means that roughly 170,000 geese — two-thirds of the population — will be killed.

The nearly 400 geese gassed to death this month after being rounded up in Prospect Park in Brooklyn — as well as an unknown number of other geese killed in New York City in recent weeks — were but a small part of the ambitious overall goal outlined in the document, which was obtained by City Room.

“The state of New York has close to 250,000 resident Canada geese, which is more than three times the state’s population goal of 85,000,” the report states. It is unknown how many have been killed so far.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

The War Against Birds (Birds: We Have Always Been At War With Them!) just got insanely serious: “A nine-page report put together by a variety of national, state and city agencies shows that officials hope to reduce the number of Canada geese in New York to 85,000 from 250,000.” By, you know, euthanizing them and burying them. (Somehow, may I add, actually eating them doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone?)

I guess… we’re winning.

Mike Vilensky at New York Magazine:

What?! That is goose genocide! Hopefully a few of these geese have their special flight feathers strapped on again and survive, without holding it against humans for systematically gassing and killing their families, so that we can someday improve the now out-of-control goose-human relations. We’re sorry, Sticky!

Dan Collins at Huffington Post:

There’s a war going on between the goose-lovers and the goose-exterminators. I may have already given this away, but I am on the side of the exterminators.

Anybody who hasn’t been living in a cave for the last couple of years knows that in January 2009, a flock of geese ran into a US Airways plane that had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport, forcing the plane to land in the Hudson. Ever since we have spent our official American celebrations applauding Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the most popular old guy in the country.

It has also caused us to rethink our position on geese. There are about 20,000 Canada geese living in the region. While they’re far from the only birds who run into airplanes, their size and their tendency to fly in large groups makes them a special danger. In 1995, an Air Force surveillance plane ran into a flock in Alaska and crashed, killing all 24 people on board.

After Flight 1549, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the Wildlife Service, agreed that Canada geese could be rounded up from city-owned properties within five miles of LaGuardia or Kennedy Airport. It’s since been expanded to seven miles.

This year, while the geese were molting and earthbound over the past few weeks, official goose-killers working with the Department of Agriculture rounded up about 1,200 and took them off to be euthanized. There are other ways to control the goose population – you can oil their eggs so they won’t hatch, or hire a border collie to shoo them off to a different location. But just grabbing the suckers and gassing them is by far the simplest.

Not everybody agrees this is a good idea. After several hundred geese were removed from Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Paper, in an editorial entitled Meadows of Shame, said it was “a horrifying crime that not only calls into question our abilities as stewards of the earth but also our core values as a species.”

And – irony of ironies – the one place where the geese are not being rounded up at all is the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which is virtually right next door to JFK. It’s run by the National Park Service, which has refused to allow goose collectors from the Department of Agriculture to round any of them up.

“We have not documented the fact that these geese are in fact a danger to the flying public,” said Dave Avrin, a National Park Service official.

“The safety of the flying public is important to the National Park Service,” he added. “But in order to take a major action such as the removal of the geese we have to go through a compliance process.”

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Goodbye, geese. New York is planning to “reduce the number” of Canada geese in the state from 250,000 to 85,000. They’re not shipping 170,000 geese off to a magical gooseland, though. They’re killing them.

On July 14, 400 Geese were rounded up in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and gassed, sparking such outrage you would have thought they were 400 little infants. But that was just the opening salvo of a full-fledged War on Geese: a new report has deigned that two-thirds of the population of New York’s Canada geese must be slaughtered due to safety and health concerns.

On the bright side, here is an excellent recipe for slow cooker barbecue goose sandwich.

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Big Brother And The Hamster Company

Amelia Glynn at San Francisco Chronicle:

The sentiment has been expressed in different words and languages by the likes of Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, President Harry S. Truman and (perhaps most dubiously) Mahatma Ghandi:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

In 1998, Cardinal Roger Mahony famously said: “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; the last, the least, the littlest.”

Enter San Francisco’s newly proposed and seemingly well-meaning ban on the sale of companion-animals within city limits, which aims to protect pets, down to the littlest guinea pig. More than 630 comments have already been posted to the original Chronicle article that was published this morning. They run the gamut from anger and cries of “Nanny state” (“Where does this madness end? I for one am sick of how our liberties are being violated each and every day”) to general predictions of doom (“When pet-selling is outlawed, only outlaws will sell pets”) to, my favorite, humor (“When hamsters are outlawed, only outlaws will have hamsters”).

I adopted my dog from a rescue group in the city and do not consider myself a “designer breed” kind of gal. And while I may be impulsive about handbags, I’ll never take a hamster home without giving it a lot of thought in advance. To be truthful, I’ve never been a big fan of rodents. The neighbor’s hamster took a chunk out of my thumb when was I was a kid and I never looked back. Reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in grade school gave me a greater appreciation for rats, but after having a pair in the classroom (aptly named Nicodemus and Jennifer), I never wanted one as a pet. But I still care about their beady-eyed well-being.

I find it interesting that the ban only targets pet stores and does not include our fine, finned friends. (I guess it’s still okay to flush fish down the toilet because they can’t feel anything anyway. Or can they?) True, an astonishing number of pet stores get their animals from mills where breeding practices and overall conditions are spotty at best, but many online classifieds are also selling overproduced and under cared for animals. So why is one kind of pet business deemed acceptable whereas the other is not?

Jeff Blyskal at The Consumerist:

The impetus for this is not stray cats, dogs, as you might expect. Their welfare and rights are protected from Dickensian puppy mills, animal abuse, and life on the mean city streets, thanks to plenty of compassionate citizen rescue groups. Rather, the real problem, ferreted out by reporter Carolyn Jones, is that too many San Franciscans buy hamsters as an impulse purchase!

Now I, personally, have never seen any buy-me bins of hamsters at the checkout next to the candy, gee-gaws, TV Guide, and supermarket tabloids in my 10 years of travels in this city, home to Consumers Union’s West Coast office. But I take CACW’s word about the secret of hamster hoarding. Unfortunately, the novelty of owning a hamster soon wears off, and folks abandon them at the San Francisco’s animal shelter, where they are euthanized at a rate of 30 percent vs. just 13 percent for cats and dogs, the Chron reports.

Pet store owners and their Washington lobbyists are fit to be tied over this nanny commission proposal, and  rightly so. This ill-conceived law annihilates the convenience and free choice of all responsible pet buyers to prevent the poor judgment of only a few customers. That’s like banning parking for all cars in this city (where finding an empty parking space is a nightmare) because some drivers park illegally.

Might I propose a simpler solution that preserves consumer free choice and shopping convenience and more directly attacks the actual problem? Ban the sale of hamsters only, if necessary, but leave alone people’s freedom to responsibly buy other pets, thank you.

James Joyner:

Granted, this is inspired by a reasonable concern and driving to another town isn’t exactly an arduous burden for most people.   Still, this seems rather silly.

Why not, instead, have some sort of cooling off period?   Say, you have to leave a deposit and then come back three days later if you really want that puppy?   Surely, that would be both less an infringement on liberty and more effective than making people go to Oakland for their hamsters?

Dan Riehl:

Well, I half-way expected to read the argument that pets were akin to slavery, so it isn’t as bad as I thought Heh! It’s simply to control the behavior of consumers because they are such impulse buyers when it comes to pets – all except those purchasing pet fish. Evidently, fish keepers are well disciplined deep thinkers when it comes to pet purchases, so their actions don’t have to be controlled. There is no action the uber-liberal does not wish to control through government.

Nick Gillespie in Reason:

This comes on the heels of a ban on sodey-pop in City Hall vending machines and Commandante Newsom’s bold attempt to grow food on road medians while cutting bagel halves into quarters. Seriously.

Hell, even former SF Housing Authority Commission member and cult killer Jim Jones let his followers have Kool-Aid.

As Eric Burdon could tell you, if you can’t understand what’s going on there, save up all your bread and fly Trans-Love Airlines to San Francisco, USA. Just make sure to bring your own stash of Coca-Cola, full-size bagels, and chinchillas.

James Lileks at Ricochet:

Is there a larger issue? There’s always a larger issue when government regulates in the littlest things. Every little ban is a reminder that any theoretical goodness, however indistinct, is a sufficient reason to deny you a freedom you currently enjoy. Of course, if the Goodness does not materialize in sufficient quantities, it only proves that the initial ban was too narrow, and must be expanded; hence the ban on selling hamsters becomes a ban on having them.

Two: even the advocates for the littlest among us have to respect the imperatives of nature. Snakes eat rodents, you know, and the ban would be unfairly impactful to the Snake-American Community – so they’re considering letting stores sell rodents if you want to feed them to your 10-foot reptile.

The ideal solution: require the Humane Society to feed hamsters to snakes, squealing with horror, instead of putting them down by gaseous means. Perfect. I’d make a reductio ad absurdum line here about government health care, but I don’t speak Latin.

Claire Berlinski at Ricochet, responding:

James, I’m guessing you haven’t spent much time in animal shelters. Every year in America, five million cats and dogs are gassed to death or lethally injected with sodium pentobarbital in these shelters. The word ‘euthanasia’ is a grotesque euphemism. There is no mercy in these deaths. Most of the animals are healthy, rambunctious, and young. They die terrified, and they die pointlessly: very few are vicious; most are capable of forming deep affectionate bonds with humans. This is what happens — what really happens — every day in these shelters. The links are graphic and upsetting. They’re also reality.

Concern for the welfare and dignity of animals is not confined to nihilist Leftists such as Peter Singer or local totalitarians who seek to regulate pets out of existence. Have you read Matthew Scully’s immensely moving, immensely disturbing book Dominion? A completely conservative case can be made, should be made, for treating animals with mercy and respect. Animals are not ordinary commodities, they are living creatures, and they feel pain and fear. No one need suggest that a kitten’s life is morally equivalent to a human’s to observe that something is terribly wrong when we casually dispose of one much as we would the butane in a Bic lighter: that is the mark of a callow society, a cruel society. It does not speak well for us that we kill millions of sentient, sensitive animals every year through grotesque, painful methods such as gassing and heart-sticking. Pet stores are one of the main reasons we do this.

Now many people may wonder and ask, just why are are there so many unwanted pets in the first place to create this tragic situation and where so many unwanted pets are killed in shelters, whether by gas chamber, heartstick or even by injection to begin with? First, there are the puppy and kitten mills that are still prevalent and where animals are bred and bred and bred, over and over again. Thankfully more and more of these mill type breeders are being shut down. These breeders crank out animals like an assembly line and usually wind up in pet stores for sale. And don’t kid yourself, it’s not just a little local pet shop that sells puppies or kittens from these mills, but also some of those fancy high-priced pet stores in Beverly Hills, California where the likes of celebrities will get their dogs from, and they aren’t even aware that those animals are coming from mills.

Yes, snakes eat rodents. Yes, tigers eat gazelles, and yes, nature is savage and cruel. That doesn’t mean we need to add to the misery. They have no choice but to be beasts: We do. If air conditioning is the mark of an advanced civilization that has elevated itself above the State of Nature, even more so is the mercy we display toward animals.

E.D. Kain at The League on Berlinski:

This is a compelling argument, I think, and one that we should take seriously. Obviously people would still go elsewhere to buy pets, but maybe more people would also go to puppy rescues (where we once found and adopted a beautiful little puppy) or human societies and save some of these animals from senseless death. Shutting down puppy mills and other animal mass-producers might go against the libertarian grain, but then again I find that questions of life often do. And perhaps they should.

Life and liberty are anything but mutually exclusive, but there is certainly a tension between the two, whether we’re talking about abortion, slavery, or the pet trade. These are not easy questions, and they don’t have easy answers packaged neatly in comfortable ideological wrapping paper. If there is a market solution to this problem, perhaps it needs to be nudged along.  Could a temporary ban be coupled with some sort of new standards for pet sales including requirements that pet stores and shelters coordinate efforts?  I think there are a number of solutions to make this work, but something certainly does need to change. Whether a ban is the right ticket is a harder call, but it’s a start at least and a good enough time to have the conversation.

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Not-So-Hot Tuna

Heather Horn at The Atlantic has the round-up

Paul Greenberg at The New York Times Magazine:

On the morning of June 4, in the international waters south of Malta, the Greenpeace vessels Rainbow Warrior and Arctic Sunrise deployed eight inflatable Zodiacs and skiffs into the azure surface of the Mediterranean. Protesters aboard donned helmets and took up DayGlo flags and plywood shields. With the organization’s observation helicopter hovering above, the pilots of the tiny boats hit their throttles, hurtling the fleet forward to stop what they viewed as an egregious environmental crime. It was a high-octane updating of a familiar tableau, one that anyone who has followed Greenpeace’s Save the Whales adventures of the last 35 years would have recognized. But in the waters off Malta there was not a whale to be seen.

What was in the water that day was a congregation of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish that when prepared as sushi is one of the most valuable forms of seafood in the world. It’s also a fish that regularly journeys between America and Europe and whose two populations, or “stocks,” have both been catastrophically overexploited. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of only two known Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, has only intensified the crisis. By some estimates, there may be only 9,000 of the most ecologically vital megabreeders left in the fish’s North American stock, enough for the entire population of New York to have a final bite (or two) of high-grade otoro sushi. The Mediterranean stock of bluefin, historically a larger population than the North American one, has declined drastically as well. Indeed, most Mediterranean bluefin fishing consists of netting or “seining” young wild fish for “outgrowing” on tuna “ranches.” Which was why the Greenpeace craft had just deployed off Malta: a French fishing boat was about to legally catch an entire school of tuna, many of them undoubtedly juveniles.

Brian Merchant at Treehugger:

Sea Shepherd’s tactics may turn some heads, and draw the ire of many, but the activist group is proving itself incredibly effective. First, reports have surfaced that Sea Shepherd may have slashed Japan’s illegal whaling catch by half. Now, in yet another daring exploit, the group’s divers have saved 800 of the most endangered fish on earth, the Bluefin Tuna, from poachers — using rotten butter to aid the rescue operation.

[…]

Bluefin tuna are one of the most valuable fish in the world — and as a result, they’re fast becoming extinct. High demand for the fish in Japan, where it’s used in high-end sashimi, is one of the primary reasons that it has been devastatingly overfished in recent years. And yes, you may have read about one of the Bluefin tuna’s few breeding grounds — in the Gulf of Mexico — being direly threatened by the BP spill. Scientists say that unless fishing is halted, or at least slowed dramatically, the bluefin will be entirely extinct in a matter of years. Unfortunately Japan persuaded China to block a trade ban proposed by the UN, so it remains legal to catch, albeit in limited numbers.

But those limited numbers are often ‘overlooked’ by poachers who recognize the bluefin’s value, and such regulations are frequently violated. Which is why activist groups like Sea Shepherd are poised to become heroes to many, and a scourge to fisherman — as they’ve already proved themselves to be both whaling arena.

Francesca Vella at The Malta Independent:

A Maltese fisherman was injured yesterday, in yet another clash with anti-bluefin tuna fishing activists in the Mediterranean.

The incident involved Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Maltese aquaculture operators who were towing bluefin tuna cages, in what the Resources and Rural Affairs Ministry said was a legal operation.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, on the other hand, said its ship, Steve Irwin, had identified two purse seiners committing illegal activities.

The incident took place in Libyan territorial waters, allegedly about 35 nautical miles off the coast of Tripoli, and a Libyan patrol boat was sent to the area.

Although information on what actually happened was sketchy yesterday evening, a Maltese fisherman seems to have suffered a ripped arm after one of the activists threw a grapnel at the tuna pen.

Bluefin tuna fishing has long been a matter of controversy due to badly depleted stocks. Only recently, member governments of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) turned down a proposal to ban international commercial trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna – a measure that could have helped avert the rapid extinction of the species.

Both Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society estimate that 80 per cent of bluefin tuna have already been fished out. The organisations have been calling for an end to bluefin tuna fishing to allow populations to recover to healthy levels.

A few days ago, the European Commission decided to close the bluefin tuna fishery to purse seiners in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic, due to the exhaustion of the allocated quotas.

The European Commission said: “The closure of the purse seine fishery is necessary to protect the fragile stock of bluefin tuna and to ensure its recovery as envisaged by the recovery plan of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The Commission has declared a zero tolerance approach towards overfishing and will take all necessary measures to ensure full compliance across the board.

Bruce Einhorn and Stuart Biggs at Businessweek:

Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market is a long way from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Starting at 4 a.m. every day, agents from Japanese trading companies bid for bluefin tuna and other fish from around the world that lie side by side on the floor of a cavernous warehouse. Bluefin is a mainstay of any sushi restaurant in Tokyo, and the giant fish—sometimes weighing more than 500 pounds—is the king of Tsukiji. BP’s spill is billowing near one of two spawning grounds for the Atlantic variety of bluefin (the other is in the Mediterranean). For now, fishmongers in Tsukiji say they’re not worried about the effect the BP (BP) disaster will have on the bluefin population. “If there’s an impact,” says one trader for local wholesaler Umino who won’t give his full name, “we won’t see it for a few years.”

Go to the U.S., though, and you’ll find plenty of scientists, state officials, and fishermen wondering already about the disaster’s impact on the bluefin. Japan last year consumed about 80 percent of the world’s bluefin catch, or 52,000 tons, according to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries. A large chunk of that comes from the Atlantic. The chemicals BP is using to contain the spill could damage the bluefin larvae produced by adults that spawned in the Gulf. “The oil plus the dispersants are likely to have a huge effect,” says Bill Fox, managing director for fisheries at the World Wildlife Fund. For the Atlantic bluefin, “this is a real blow.”

Scientists from several institutions, including the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, are trying to figure how big the blow really is. Bluefin tuna live for up to 40 years, and in that time many repeat the same cycle endlessly: spawn in the Gulf or the Mediterranean, then head to the teeming waters of the North Atlantic to feed. Spawning in the Gulf takes place from March to June, and the spawning ground overlaps with the oil spill. Bluefin need clean ocean water to spawn—adults spawn at the surface, so they may have gotten coated with oil while spawning this year.

No one is sure exactly what happened this year when the Gulf spawning season started. If there is an effect, “we’ll see [it] in about three to four years,” says Greg Stunz, marine scientist at the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. That’s when the bluefin tuna born this year reach adult size. A weakened, underpopulated generation of bluefin would show something serious happened. Some fishermen, though, say enough of the spawning occurred before the Apr. 20 spill to minimize the damage.

The Economist:

Things might be better for the bluefin if it were possible to breed them in captivity, as well as raising them there. Though they call it farming, what Mr Azzopardi and his competitors are engaged in is actually more like ranching. Real husbandry nurtures animals from birth to death rather than just fattening up wild-caught individuals. That could bring economic benefits. It would also, some people think, take the pressure off wild stocks.

Clean Seas Tuna, an Australian company, has been working on the idea of farming bluefins for more than a decade, and seems to have made some progress. Last year it posted a video on YouTube showing baby southern bluefin that it had bred.

But there is more to farming than just breeding. A recurring problem for tuna-rearers is “spooking and walling”. Alex Mühlhölzl of Oceanic Tuna, a company based in Scotland which also claims to be able to breed bluefin, explains that the fish are easily frightened. In the sea, there are no walls and a frightened fish’s best escape is to swim off very fast indeed in whatever direction takes its fancy. In tanks and cages, however, this is a bad—often fatal—strategy.

Another argument against both ranching and farming is that the tuna still have to be fed, and that means with other fish caught from the wild. But this could change. In the case of salmon, a carnivorous species that is now farmed routinely, it has proved possible to mix veggies and other sources of protein into the fish’s chow. The fish content of salmon food has been reduced from 70% in 1972 to around 20% today, says Kjell Bjordal, the head of Ewos, a Norwegian fish-food company.

Feeding has also become more efficient. Mr Bjordal says that for salmon the conversion rate—the number of kilos of food needed for a gain of one kilo of body weight—is now almost 1.1:1. For tuna it can be as bad as 6:1. But that is where salmon farming was 35 years ago, so there is plenty of scope for improvement.

If bluefin could be farmed routinely, it might bring the price down, relieving pressure on wild stocks, as happened with salmon. That would be a boon to the hungry consumer. It would also be a boon to the species itself, though—again, as with salmon—the wild animal might become a premium product in its own right.

Robert Prather:

No doubt a mixed approach will be necessary that will contain market mechanisms and some instances of command and control. As for market mechanisms, I would prefer a system of tradable fishing quotas. In essence, there would be a permit that entitled existing fishermen to catch a certain amount of fish each year in an area and the permit would be tradable, creating a transferrable property right that would have value, much like the medallion system for taxi cabs in New York City (though that’s not a commons problem).A fisherman who wanted to exit fishing at some point, either for retirement or to start a new career, could sell his permit to another fisherman. The benefits to this seem obvious to me, such as creating a method for fishermen to exit or enter the profession based on how much it’s worth to them while also giving them a sort of “ownership” of the ocean. Alone though, it won’t be enough.

The article goes into some detail discussing the existing treaty arrangements and the potential solutions to the larger problem of overfishing. For once, this is an area where the UN’s involvement is essential and welcome, to me. We’re dealing with a resource that’s in international waters and no other organization has jurisdiction. Of course, treaties will be needed and command and control policies, such as a ban on fishing in large parts of the ocean, might be necessary to allow fisheries to recover.

There’s another article that’s quite interesting on genetically engineered salmon that I wanted to address, but this post is quite long already. I’ll leave you with a comment from the article’s comment section (#236) that’s nothing more than a leftist laundry list of Luddite laments:

Scientists are killing us with their good intentions. Chernobyl, Deep water drilling, Bhopal, Roundup Ready soybeans, genetically modified fast growing chickens, cows and now fish. This planet is going to hell in a handbasket. The problem is overpopulation, greed and ignorance compounded by “scientific breakthroughs” that allow overpopulation, greed and ignorance to continue uninterupted.

Now most of these aren’t even necessarily bad, but that’s a discussion for another time. Between the far left’s anti-science positions as described above and the far right’s creationism and such, it’s a wonder there was ever a Renaissance or Enlightenment.

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Don’t Come Crying To Me, Mr. President, When A Probe Comes And Sucks Up Our Oceans

Stephen Clark at Fox News:

Environmentalists, already peeved with the administration’s handling of the Gulf oil spill, are accusing President Obama of breaking his campaign pledge to end the slaughter of whales.

The Obama administration is leading an effort within the International Whaling Commission to lift a 24-year international ban on commercial whaling for Japan, Norway and Iceland, the remaining three countries in the 88-member commission that still hunt whales.

The administration argues that the new deal will save thousands of whales over the next decade by stopping the three countries from illegally exploiting loopholes in the moratorium.

But environmentalists aren’t buying it.

“That moratorium on commercial whaling was the greatest conservation victory of the 20th century. And in 2010 to be waving the white flag or bowing to the stubbornness of the last three countries engaged in the practice is a mind-numbingly dumb idea,” Patrick Ramage, the whaling director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told FoxNews.com.

Wayne Pacelle at Huffington Post:

Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, together with actor Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, are asking supporters to take action to save whales — again. Nearly a quarter century after the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect, the threat to whales worldwide has never been greater. Whaling, toxic pollution, ship strikes, noise pollution, and climate change are all factors in the endangerment of these creatures.

This week, on the eve of the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco, the government of Australia took a decisive step to protect whales, filing suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the Southern Ocean. The suit seeks an injunction to bar Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary. In 2007, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an election pledge to ban whaling in the sanctuary, a 50-million-square-kilometer area surrounding the continent of Antarctica, where the IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling.

The lawsuit comes even as the member nations of the IWC are locked in debate over a compromise proposal, to be voted on at Agadir, that would allow the whaling nations to resume commercial whaling with the understanding that they abide by quotas.

Australia’s filing claims that Japan has abused its right to conduct scientific research whaling under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which provides for a scientific exemption. In 2008-09 Japan killed 1,004 whales, including 681 in the Southern Ocean. Since the moratorium came into effect, more than 33,000 whales have been killed under the article.

The lawsuit also asserts that Japan has breached its international obligations under the 1973 Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by hunting whale species listed as endangered, and invokes Article 3 of the1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, claiming that Japanese whaling is causing harm beyond national jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.

Unfortunately, in the view of nearly the entire American animal protection and environmental community, the United States government has abdicated its leadership role in the defense of whales, encouraging consideration of a compromise proposal and actively politicking for its adoption. The delegation head has even disparaged the Australian initiative in the International Court of Justice.

Rich Lowry at National Review Online:

When it comes to whaling, Japan is a rogue state.

Since 1986, there’s been a moratorium on commercial whaling that Japan has honored only in the breach. Norway and Iceland don’t honor it at all, while a few aboriginal communities get exemptions. As a consequence, during the past 20 years, the number of whales killed annually has steadily increased; roughly 2,000 were killed last year.

This is a vast improvement over the 80,000 whales killed in 1960, but it’s a very leaky ban. The International Whaling Commission, the 88-nation body that regulates whaling, is now considering a proposal to formally lift the moratorium, in exchange for supposedly tighter limits on newly sanctioned hunting. The idea is that a more realistic regime will save thousands of whales during the next ten years.

But conservationists are rightly galled at a proposal that will again legitimate the killing of nature’s most majestic creatures — as harmless as they are awesome — with no guarantee that the number of whale catches will really go down substantially.

Whaling lost its Melville-esque romance long ago. Once, “iron men in wooden boats” hunted the beasts in something of an even match — otherwise, Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the white whale wouldn’t have been so self-destructive.

The rise of steam engines, explosive harpoons, and then factory ships — capable of killing and processing whales at sea — facilitated the mass slaughter of whales. The creatures had as much a chance against their hunters as bologna does against a grinder. They were killed in a decades-long movable charnel house.

In the first four decades of the 20th century, about 900,000 whales were killed just in the southern hemisphere. Blue whales, the largest animal on earth, had once been too fast for whaling ships. Not in the new age. Since 1920, their population has declined by 96 percent. Many species were hunted to the brink of extinction.

It became clear the carnage didn’t even suit the interests of the hunters, who would soon be bereft of prey. Hunting became restricted, and then, in a great victory for animal conservationists, the IWC ratified the moratorium in 1986.

Why protect whales? They should be preserved as befits anything else that evokes wonder; they are the mammalian equivalent of the Grand Canyon or of the giant redwoods. They are also incredibly long-lived creatures with a sophisticated social structure, closer to chimpanzees than to cattle.

Besides, there’s no reason to kill whales. No one has needed whale oil to light lamps for at least a century, and blubber isn’t a necessary source of nutrition in a modern society. Yet Japan persists. It agitates against the moratorium and organizes international opposition to it at the same time it cynically defies it.

The Economist:

Countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, that oppose whaling are frustrated. The IWC has become a battleground between the two camps, with each side trying to recruit allies from neutral states. Half the body’s 88 members joined in the past decade—helping to make it deadlocked and dysfunctional, unable either to curb whale hunts or to reauthorise them.

There have been physical stand-offs as well as diplomatic ones. In January there was a collision between a Japanese ship and a trimaran from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a green group based in the American state of Washington. The crew (from Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands) had to abandon ship. In February Australia (with quiet sympathy from New Zealand) threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice unless it stopped whaling off Antarctica.

Against this nastiness, a “peace plan” was unveiled on April 22nd, Earth Day, by the IWC’s Chilean chairman, Crishán Maquieira, and his Antiguan deputy, Anthony Liverpool. It reflected months of closed-door talks among a dozen countries. The moratorium would be lifted for a decade, but whalers would agree to a sharp reduction in their catch, stricter enforcement measures and a ban on all cross-border commerce in whale products.

The aim is to buy time in which countries can hammer out a longer-term agreement, while achieving an immediate drop in the number of whales that are killed. Supporters—including Monica Medina, who heads America’s IWC delegation—say the deal seeks to “depoliticise” the whaling that does go on, while laying the ground for a tougher conservation system. The plan will be considered in June at the IWC’s annual meeting in Morocco.

Enter the naysayers

But objections are already coming in. New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, calls the proposed quota for Antarctic waters unrealistic and unacceptable. Junichi Sato, a Japanese conservationist from Greenpeace who does not share his compatriots’ predilection for whaling, regrets that “the whales are making all the concessions, not the whalers.”

That is not an easy corner to argue in Tokyo. Japan’s fisheries minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, deems the limit “too drastic” and wants it raised. But in principle at least, Japan is ready to make a deal. An official at the Fisheries Agency says that the country is willing to hunt fewer whales provided it can do so without international opprobrium. “We have to lose something in order to get something,” he says. Indeed, it can be argued that the biggest obstacles to a cut in the number of whales slaughtered do not lie with the harpoon-wielders, but rather with their most zealous opponents, for whom the best is the enemy of the good.

Japan’s critics say that by using a loophole in the IWC charter to practise “scientific” whaling, the country is violating the spirit of the document. Japanese officials counter that the 1946 convention never anticipated a moratorium on all commercial whaling. Whale meat is still occasionally served to schoolchildren in Japan as a reminder of their culture, though large-scale whaling only really began after the war, on the orders of General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw America’s occupation. The aim was to provide cheap nourishment for a famished nation.

AtlantaJan at Daily Kos:

The current proposal would also:
Overturn the global ban on commercial whaling and allow hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica.
Approve the killing of whales for commercial purposes by Japan around Antarctica and in the North Pacific.
Add new rights for Japan to hunt whales in its coastal waters.
Allow continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway in violation of long-agreed scientific procedures and the global whaling ban.

The Obama administration is spearheading a policy that would allow commercial whaling to proceed for 10 years. Commercial whaling has been banned since the 1970s. Before the ban on commercial whaling, close to 40,000 whales were killed annually; since the ban, that number has dropped to fewer than 2,000, and whale populations have begun to recover.

The administration is arguing that if we see whales being slaughtered, we are more likely to support a total moratorium. But that is like saying if we see people killing puppies, fewer people will kill puppies. It’s garbage.

According to a survey by the Nippon Research Center, more than 95 percent of Japanese residents had never eaten whale. But the Japanese government has begun supplying schools with whale meat in an attempt to justify its slaughter. Additionally, Japan has begun bribing land-locked nations in Africa, and poor nations like Nauru and Togo, with aid in exchange for support of position within the IWC.

Whales are intelligent animals. Australia has taken the lead on their protection. For the US to take any other position is abominable.

Tom Maguire:

Enviros are enraged, and rightly so – Rich Lowry explains that Japan has been a rogue state for decades on this topic.

But can we blame Bush?  Yes we can!  Or at least, the Brit Independent can:

The deal which may do away with [the ban], which has been on the table for three years, was first thought to be merely a diplomatic compromise to end the perpetual confrontation at IWC meetings between the whaling nations and the anti-whaling countries. But recently it has become clear that it had a different purpose, and was cooked up in the US – by leading figures in the Bush administration, among them being Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who, until his conviction for taking unreported gifts in 2008, was the longest-serving Republican senator in American history.

One of the most powerful figures in US politics, Senator Stevens sought a deal with Japan after the Japanese caused problems for the US by objecting (as a bargaining counter in IWC negotiations) to the whale-hunting quota for Alaskan Inuit peoples, who have a traditional hunt for about 50 bowhead whales.

Senator Stevens is believed to have put pressure on the then-US Whaling Commissioner and IWC chairman, William Hogarth – whose budget, in the US National Marine Fisheries Service, Mr Stevens controlled as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee – to open talks with Japan, which Mr Hogarth duly did at the 2007 IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

Mr Hogarth’s proposals, which would have allowed the Japanese and others to restart whaling commercially, were eventually thrown out by the IWC. Yet the deal now back on the table is essentially a modified version of his original plan, which is even more favourable to the whaling states.

It is notable that the US, which used to have to negotiate its Inuit bowhead quota every five years, will get a 10-year quota if the new deal goes ahead.

Blaming Bush and the Eskimos – I knew it.  But if that is all the payback we get, I am surprised.

And can we find a flip-flip quote from Obama?  Yes we can!

As a candidate, President Obama said, “As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” (March 16, 2008 – Greenpeace candidate questionnaire)

Yeah, well, that was more than two years ago, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and no one thinks Obama has a little mind.

UPDATE: Alex Knapp

Doug Mataconis

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And He Walked His Days Under African Skies

Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker:

In the early nineteen-seventies, Mark and Delia Owens, two graduate students in biology at the University of Georgia, were seized by the idea of resettling in remotest Africa. They organized an auction, sold their possessions, and used the modest proceeds to buy camping equipment and a pair of one-way air tickets to Johannesburg. When they arrived, in January, 1974, Delia, the daughter of a Georgia trucking executive, was twenty-four years old. Mark, who grew up on a farm west of Toledo, Ohio, was twenty-nine, the divorced father of a four-year-old boy named Christopher.

Mark and Delia had scoured the map of Africa, searching for a site so isolated that its wildlife would have no knowledge, and no fear, of humans. They eventually found their way to a place called Deception Valley, in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. It was a perfect spot for the Owenses to make camp. The wildlife there had not been depleted by poaching, as it had been in other parts of Africa, and though the valley was in many ways an unforgiving place—temperatures can climb above a hundred and twenty degrees in summer—it was distant enough from the capital, Gaborone, to insure that they would be left alone to do their work. The Kalahari is virtually empty of people: the Owenses later wrote of living with only “a few bands of Stone Age Bushmen in an area larger than Ireland.”

[…]

In the Northern Province of Zambia they discovered a place that seemed to fit their needs. The North Luangwa National Park, named for the river that forms its eastern boundary, is twenty-four hundred square miles of mopane forests, grasslands, leadwood and sausage trees, and lagoons filled with hippos and crocodiles. Outside its borders is more wilderness, thousands of square miles of forests and plains inhabited, like the park, by a great range of Africa’s most extraordinary mammals. The profusion of wildlife has made the Luangwa Valley a dangerous place for humans. Each year, crocodiles, elephants, and lions kill dozens of people who live in the mud-hut villages that are scattered across the region.

By the time the Owenses arrived, in 1986, North Luangwa was, in their telling, a national park in name only, undeveloped, unvisited, unguarded, and inaccessible by vehicle for much of the year because of flooding. Mark Owens said of the park, “Here’s where civilization ends.” In a lecture at the National Geographic Society, in Washington, D.C., in 2006, he described the challenge of settling in North Luangwa. “We had to first survey a way in from the air. And we found an old poachers’ route that snaked its way down the three-thousand-foot Muchinga Escarpment,” he said. “So we set about doing that . . . encountering creeks and rivers and streams, of course, that had to be crossed. And no way to cross except these footbridges.”

In “The Eye of the Elephant,” the book the Owenses published in 1992 about their experience in Zambia, they described the moment they realized that they could find contentment in North Luangwa. They were visiting the confluence of the Mwaleshi and Luangwa Rivers for the first time. “The floodplains near and far are spotted with wild animals: six hundred buffalo grazing across a grassy plain; fifty zebras ambling toward the river to drink; a herd of waterbuck lying on a sandbar downstream,” Mark wrote. “Where the two rivers join is a large pool crowded with a hundred hippos, their piggy eyes on us, their nostrils blowing plumes of water in the setting sun as they twiddle their ears. After our tangle with the bramble and the broken woodland, Africa has won us back.”

[…]

The Owenses, operating out of the park and out of an office in Mpika, the largest town in the area, had trained, fed, clothed, and armed about sixty motivated scouts in the park. Their small industries kept people employed. Medical care for the villagers had also improved; over time, the Owenses supplied clinics, held workshops in AIDS prevention, and trained traditional birth attendants. The most significant advance, though, came from outside the park. In 1989, the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species voted to ban the selling of African elephant parts. As legal importation became impossible and legitimate dealers abandoned the business, the price of ivory dropped by as much as ninety-six per cent. The number of poached elephants in North Luangwa decreased, too; the Owenses reported twelve dead elephants in 1991, compared with a thousand the year they arrived.

Still, poachers continued to infiltrate the park, and to the Owenses they seemed more dangerous than ever. Word reached them that one band of commercial poachers had targeted them for assassination, blaming them for ruining their business. These threats—and the shooting of an elephant near their camp—provoked Mark to intensify his antipoaching activities. For some time, he had made regular night flights over the park, in search of meat-drying racks and the campfires of poachers; he would fly low, intentionally backfiring the plane and frightening away the hunters.

[…]

ABC dispatched a crew to North Luangwa in 1994, led by a producer named Andrew Tkach, with Deborah Amos as the reporter. Tkach returned in the summer of 1995, with Meredith Vieira in Amos’s place. The episode aired nationally on March 30, 1996. The hour-long show, titled “Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens Story,” opened with an onscreen warning: “The following program contains some scenes of violence which might be upsetting to viewers.” Diane Sawyer, who shared anchor duty on the show with Barbara Walters, introduced the broadcast from New York. “They went halfway around the world to follow a dream,” Sawyer said. “An idealistic American couple—young, in love. But a strange place and time would test that love.”

Mark Owens is seen early in the documentary wearing camouflage, and with a pistol at his waist. “It was like going back in time to a time before, when all was right with the earth,” he says. Meredith Vieira, who is now the co-host of NBC’s “Today” show, was then the chief correspondent for “Turning Point” and appears throughout the program. “This is the real Africa, the way it was two hundred years ago,” Delia tells Vieira. Vieira, who is shown accompanying the Owenses on a walk to see a family of elephants, describes North Luangwa as an “uncharted wilderness,” and discusses the difficulties the Owenses faced in combatting poachers: “For more than three years, the Owenses begged unsuccessfully for government support.” Vieira reports that the Owenses, frustrated, decided to work around the government.

The confrontation with poachers brought troubles. Delia Owens tells Vieira that “there were several assassination teams that were sent down by poachers with the intent to kill us. I mean, lions don’t frighten me nearly as much as humans.” Vieira’s voice-over suggests that the threats created trouble in the marriage, and Delia says of her husband, “He was just out there. I couldn’t reach him anymore. He had become—he doesn’t like for me to say it, but I think he had become truly obsessed.”

The film cuts to Mark Owens: “To fly at night, to be shot at time and again, even to be hit, to go back up and keep doing it night after night without—without a military to support you, knowing that you’re ruining your marriage—”

Delia Owens says, “I kept saying to Mark, ‘If you die, then we’re going to lose everything. Then we won’t be able to save the park.’ I was so sick with worry. And you shouldn’t love anybody that much, but I did, so I just reached the point I just couldn’t take that anymore.”

The documentary suggests that the conflict between scouts and poachers had grown violent. Mark Owens is seen supervising the scouts’ firearms training, and at various points in the broadcast he carries a pistol, a hunting rifle, and an AR-15 automatic rifle. Later, he orders his scouts, “If you see poachers in the national park with a firearm, you don’t wait for them to shoot at you. You shoot at them first, all right? That means when you see the whites of his eyes, and if he has a firearm, you kill him before he kills you, because if you let him get—if you let him turn on you with an AK-47, he’s going to cut you in two. So go out there and get them. Go get them, O.K.?”

He explains to Vieira, “I’m not comfortable at all with it. I’m absolutely uncomfortable with it. Sometimes poachers are killed and occasionally scouts have been killed.”

There is no mention in “The Eye of the Elephant” of incidents in which scouts killed poachers. But on “Turning Point” Owens says, “On some occasions, I do pick scouts up, and if they’ve killed anybody they aren’t going to tell me.”

Delia tells Vieira, “It was a moral dilemma that we had to go through. But we made the decision: Yes, we would continue to support the scouts.”

Then comes an arresting sequence, one seldom seen on national television: the killing of a human. Vieira introduces the scene: “We were allowed to accompany patrols in Zambia after we agreed not to identify those involved, should a shooting occur. On this mission, we would witness the ultimate price paid by a suspected poacher.” A game scout in a green uniform walks in what appears to be a recently abandoned campsite. A pouch on the ground contains shotgun shells, and the scout removes a few of them to show the camera. The scout waits for the person camping there, a suspected poacher, to return. A new scene begins, and Vieira continues her voice-over: “Our cameras begin rolling again after a shot is fired at the returning trespasser.”

Amy Davidson at New Yorker:

Although Mark Owens had no military experience, he came to treat Zambia as a war zone (one Zambian described how “he ‘Apocalypse Now’ed into the [safari] camp with his helicopter”), equipping and training anti-poaching game scouts for confrontations with poachers. The shooting of a suspected poacher and the apparent moment of his death was filmed by an ABC crew that had come to Zambia to document the Owenses’ work; the case remains an open homicide investigation in Zambia.

[…]

Goldberg writes that in the ABC documentary, Meredith Vieira, the correspondent (who was not present at the shooting), says in a voice-over, as the shots are fired, “The bodies of the poachers are often left where they fall for the animals to eat.” She pauses, and says, “Conservation. Morality. Africa.” Those are broad words that, in this case, answer little. Goldberg spent a long time on this story, and travelled to Zambian villages, small New England towns, and an isolated ranch in Idaho to try to get some answers. In the course of his research, a witness to the shooting named the man who fired the first and final shots—someone who had not previously been publicly known as a suspect. (The man denies that he was involved.) But there are other, harder questions raised by Goldberg’s piece that go beyond the murder mystery. Is it acceptable for a human to be killed in a fight over animals? What is the responsibility of a journalist who sees such a thing? And what does it mean to simply say “Africa”—what view of Africa and of Africans put these events in motion?

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Jeff has a piece in this week’s New Yorker that checks in, I’ve heard, at some 17,000 words. It’s a rather incredible take on a group of American preservationists who head to Africa and promptly lose their minds. Most impressive to me is just watching is the second half of the piece where we watch Jeff chase down lead after lead until he lands in square in front of his quarry:

The Owenses became involved in a state-sponsored effort to trap and tag the region’s few remaining grizzlies. Darrell Kerby, a former mayor of Bonners Ferry, the nearest town to the Owenses’ ranch, said that, over time, Mark Owens became more moderate in his approach to his neighbors. “He realized he couldn’t come in and just tell people what to do,” Kerby said. “This isn’t Africa.”

One day this winter, I made a visit to their ranch. The Owenses had long declined to speak with me. It was snowing when I arrived, and the clouds had settled on the slopes of the mountains behind their log cabin.

As I pulled up their drive, I saw Delia Owens emerging from a barn on the property. She was feeding hay to a herd of deer that had gathered near their cabin. Delia became agitated when I introduced myself. “I’m going to have a stroke right now. I’m going to have a heart attack,” she said. “How in the hell did you find us?”
He found you by being a bad-ass. When I was young, my first editor used to say he liked to take writers and make them reporters, not the other way around. The assumption was that writing was something more innate. I’m not totally convinced of that, as I think reporting often comes from an insatiable curiosity.

Nevertheless, I was a writer who, as he saw it, had to be made into a reporter. It took years for me to develop the work-ethic and willingness to make call after call after call. As a consequence, I’ve always fetishized great reporters, and deified great reporters who could also write. It’s something to read this piece. I feel like I’m there with Jeff making all those calls. Check it out. It’s a ripping good time

Stephanie Clifford and Brian Stelter in NYT:

That confidentiality, Mr. Goldberg writes, prevented some crew members from speaking openly about the shooting. “What kind of confidentiality agreement could you possibly have that prohibits you from identifying a perpetrator of a homicide?” said Mr. Goldberg, now a national correspondent at The Atlantic, who began reporting the story in 2001. “There are still mysteries here.”

It was only once the footage was shown in 1996 that the Zambian government began an investigation into the shooting. Biemba Musole, a Zambian deputy commissioner in charge of criminal investigations, was blunt in an interview with Mr. Goldberg. “The ABC News show is an accessory to murder,” he said, according to the article.

An ABC spokesman, Jeffrey Schneider, said the network had not heard from the Zambian government about an investigation.

Lawyers for the Owenses say there was no evidence that a killing even took place. “No evidence at all was found that anybody had been killed — no missing persons report, no nothing,” said Donald Zachary, a lawyer for the couple. “The whole premise that there was a killing seems to be unsubstantiated.”

Their lawyers also said it was unclear that the ABC footage was filmed in the same location as the couple’s work. In a letter to donors after the documentary was shown, the Owenses said they were not involved in the events.

Mr. Schneider of ABC emphasized that the executives and producers involved in the 1996 report no longer worked for the news division.

“Today, when we enter into any kind of agreement involving confidentiality, we try very hard to walk all the way around it, to ferret out every potential legal and ethical question that could arise, and then make a decision about how to handle confidentiality,” Mr. Schneider said in an interview.

Ms. Vieira, now a host of “Today” on NBC, said in a voice mail message on Sunday that the shooting took place before she arrived in Zambia. “I thought it was never clear who had fired the gun,” she said.

Ms. Vieira also said she had no “real recollection” of an agreement not to identify the people on the patrols.

“I don’t believe that ABC would — if they knew that somebody had killed someone, I don’t think they would be complicit,” she said. “I would find that hard to believe.”

C Neal at The Vigorous North:

These crimes, and the American media’s permissive, even reverent attitude towards them, illustrate some uncomfortable truths about traditional environmentalism. First, it illustrates the arrogance of the myths we keep about an Edenic, pre-civilized nature, or of Nature as a place where there are no people. The truth is that people have lived in the wild for a million years, and they have important roles in natural ecosystems – we’re part of nature, not above it.

Many of the alleged “poachers” in Zambia were recent descendants of natives who had hunted in North Luangwa for generations before British colonialists expelled them to create an artificially human-free “park” in the 19th century. Americans did the same thing to Blackfoot tribes in Glacier National Park and to the Nez Perce who lived in Yellowstone. The idea of a wild frontier without human neighbors is closely bound to the history of atrocities from American and European colonial ambitions.

Second, the Owens story reveals how, as with any important cause, environmentalism can sometimes grow to seem so important to its adherents that it supersedes their own sense of humanity. Mark Owens claimed to be sickened at the gunfire exchanged between his patrols and the poachers. But nevertheless he went out every night in his plane to do battle with them. For him, protecting (and perhaps avenging) the lives of the park’s elephants was more important than human life – even if it ended up being his own.

I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s a substantial Maine connection to the story as well. Goldberg’s report takes a taut 17,000 words to cover all the angles, and for such a complicated story – one that spans several decades and involves dozens of characters – the article maintains a tight sense of suspense throughout. I won’t even bother linking to the online version – find or borrow a copy of the magazine and enjoy it over the course of a long evening.

Louisa Lombard:

As I read, I kept waiting for the climax. OK, I thought, so the Owenses were perhaps involved in the murder of one person. What else? This thought was immediately followed by another: has my time in Central Africa made me so cynical that I no longer react with outrage to the killing of an unarmed “trespasser”? Perhaps.
But I think my reaction stemmed less from cynicism than from Goldberg’s relentless focus on this one charismatic American couple at the expense of placing them within a larger perspective — a larger perspective that would in fact have been more chilling. For many people are killed every year in the name of combating poaching across the continent.
In CAR, militarized anti-poaching is done by a parastatal “project” funded by the European Union. (The project will end in July, at which point it will be replaced; its successor aims to critically examine the management of space in CAR, which hopefully will diminish the death toll of poachers, anti-poaching guards, cattle, elephants, and other animals.) In the past twenty years, this work has been done by French soldiers (“securing the borders”); an American conservationist (his efforts never really got off the ground, though, because the South African mercenary in his employ got into diamonds and attempted murder and other scandals); Russian former French Foreign Legionnaires funded by safari hunters…I could continue.
The well-armed poachers come in increasingly large groups (up to one hundred strong, with camels and donkeys), and, according to the anti-poaching guards, they shoot first. These are not people you can ask nicely to please not kill the elephants and go home. The poachers, who generally come from Sudan, used to target CAR’s north and east, closer to home. But they’ve killed all the elephants there, and the poachers have now penetrated as far as the southwest, and even Cameroon. Because of this dire situation, appearance alone suffice as justification for the guards to kill an interloper. It is war between the anti-poaching guards and the poachers and cattleherders who seek to profit from CAR’s vast, sparsely-populated terrain. Only it’s a war that is largely hidden from the outside world.
(I once spoke with a man who does militarized anti-poaching work about the fall from grace of one of his predecessors. The predecessor had apparently mutilated, or allowed his men to mutilate, the corpses of poachers they killed. I suggested that this was why he had been kicked out. My interlocutor, though, disagreed. The problem was not that he mutilated bodies. The problem was that he took photos, and, when he had a falling out with a few people, those photos made their way into the European press.)
There is a case to be made for militarized anti-poaching work. Richard Leakey makes it eloquently in Wildlife Wars, his book about his tenure as head of the Kenya Wildlife Services. It is a difficult issue that demands a sustained examination. But focusing on Owenses, and the fall-out from one particular incident, risks masking that what they appear to have done/abetted slots uncomfortably into a widespread division of labor in the conservation world. I once spoke with a director at a reputable international conservation organization, who explained his personal opinion: militarized anti-poaching work is necessary, and our programs would be useless without it, but we can’t do it, or say we support it, because of the outcry. Donors wooed with fundraising entreaties full of photos of furry friends would be scandalized. Again, the message is that it’s OK as long as it is hidden.

Ross Douthat:

But the prosecutorial spirit of Goldberg’s story notwithstanding, its vivid and meticulous reporting also makes it remarkably easy to relate to the Owenses’ trajectory. The endpoint proved deadly, but the couple was working, from the first, in an incredibly difficult situation, trying to save some of the world’s most remarkable animals from destruction with little or no assistance from the Zambian authorities (such as they were). The poachers seemed to have all the advantages: Money, guns, tight connections to the locals, and the gangster-ish ability to cross the legal and moral lines that the conservationists tried to respect, at least at first. To the Owenses, it no doubt felt like they had become players in a Western — Shane confronting the cattle barons, Gary Cooper taking on the Miller gang, Ransom Stoddard facing off against Liberty Valance. And we all know how those stories are supposed to end: With fundamentally-virtuous people doing what had to be done to tame a lawless country, and leaving the delicate ethical arguments about ends and means to the next generation.

This wasn’t a movie, and Zambia wasn’t their country. But if it’s important to stand outside the Owenses’ strange story and pass judgment, it’s also important to step inside it and recognize how understandable every step they took probably felt, how easy it was to justify going to extremes, and how the fine the line can be between heroism and something much darker. And it’s the great virtue of Goldberg’s piece that it allows you to move between these two perspectives, by exposing not only its subjects’ apparent crimes but also the fraught and hard-to-fathom context in which they happened.

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Filed under Africa, Animal Rights, Crime, Mainstream

Fido’s Bark Sounds Suspiciously Like “Activist Judges!”

Heather Horn at The Atlantic:

Robert Stevens of Virginia made videos about pit bull fights. He was prosecuted under a law banning depictions of animal cruelty–“a 1999 law intended,” in the words of the Associated Press, “to limit Internet sales of so-called crush videos, which appeal to a certain sexual fetish by showing women crushing to death small animals with their bare feet or high-heeled shoes.”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down that law, ruling that in its “overbreadth” the law violated the First Amendment right to free speech.  Of course, the Supreme Court isn’t declaring animal cruelty legal–there are still plenty of state laws banning such cruelty. But the effective re-legalization of animal-cruelty videos is sure to upset animal rights groups. So what was the court thinking? Here’s a summary of the developments, in which all but one of the justices decided this law went too far.

  • Why This Law in Particular Is Unconstitutional Determining which categories of speech can and can’t be banned, argues Chief Justice Roberts for the court, should not be a matter of cost-benefit analysis: “The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.” The court decided child pornography was exempt from First Amendment protection only because, in that case, “the market for child pornography was ‘intrinsically related’ to the underlying abuse.” Though one might argue that the market for crush videos is similarly related to the underlying abuse, this law forbids far more than crush videos.

However “growing” and “lucrative” the markets for crush videos and dogfighting depictions might be … they are dwarfed by the market for other depictions, such as hunting magazines and videos, that we have determined to be within the scope of [the law in question]. We therefore need not and do not decide whether a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. We hold only that [this law] is not so limited but is instead substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.

  • That’s Ridiculous This ruling, writes Justice Alito in dissent, “has the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos and is thus likely to spur a resumption of their production.” The case under discussion is about dogfighting, and the courts should be deciding “whether the videos that respondent sold are constitutionally protected.” But even if the courts do feel the need to rule on the question of the law’s “overbreadth,” he still doesn’t think this law “bans a substantial quantity of protected speech.”

SCOTUSBlog:

While the Court conceded that Congress had passed the law to try to stop interstate trafficking in so-called “crush videos,” showing the actual killing of cats, dogs and other small animals by stomping or other intensely cruel methods, it said the resulting law itself reached far more than that kind of portrayal.  Limiting the law’s reach to those depictions, the opinion said, would require the Court to give “an unrealistically broad reading” to the exceptions Congress wrote into the law.

As written, the Court said, the law “creates a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth.”  Noting that the government had given assurances that it would enforce the law only against commercial portrayals of “extreme cruelty,” the Chief Justice wrote that the Court would not uphold an unconstitutional law “merely because the government promises to use it responsibly.”

The Justice Department had defended the law by arguing that portrayals of animal cruelty, as a group, simply had no protection at all under the First Amendment, in the same way that obscenity, libel and fraud are unprotected.  The Court rejected that argument, saying that the 1999 law regulates expression of the basis of its content, its message. That makes the law invalid under the First Amendment, the Court said, unless the government can overcome that presumption.

Roberts wrote: “The Government proposes that a claim of categorical exclusion should be considered under a simple balancing test: ‘Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”  Calling that “a free-floating test for First Amendment coverage” and a “highly manipulable balancing test,” the Chief Justice said the test was “startling and dangerous.  The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative costs and benefits.  The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.  Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.”

Recalling its precedent putting child pornography outside the First Amendment, the opinion said that the Court had done so because the depictions of such pornography was necessarily linked to actual abuse of children in the production of such materials.  That approach, and other cases discussing what the First Amendment does not protect, the Court added, “cannot be taken as establishing a freewheeling authority to declare new categories of speech outside the scope of the First Amendment.”  While there may be some categories of speech not yet identified that could be placed outside the First Amendment, “there is no evidence that ‘depictions of animal cruelty’ is among them,” the Court said.

The Court then went on to analyze the 1999 law under traditional First Amendment principles, and found it went too far.  The law makes it a crime, with up to five years in prison, to make, seell or possess a “depiction of animal cruelty,” if any of those acts is done for commercial gain.  It defines “animal cruelty” depiction as one in which a living animal “is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed,” provided that the action violates a federal or state law.  The law says that it does not apply to depictions if they have “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.”

American Constitution Society

Ed Morrissey:

The problem, as QandO’s Bruce McQuain also notes, is that the act of filming is neither violent nor criminal.  The actual violent act should result in prosecution for those who committed it, including the videographer if he was part of a conspiracy to commit illegal and inhumane acts against animals.  The videotape would make a crucial and strong piece of evidence for trial.  However, criminalizing the acts of videotaping and publishing puts other kinds of publication at risk — for instance, videos of legal hunting, among other things, or even publication of cruel acts as a means of exposing and stopping them.

However, that’s an argument that also cuts both ways.  Laws against child pornography specifically target the act of photography and publication.  The laws do not specify that a separate act of molestation or rape occur for prosecution — and most people would agree that it shouldn’t require such a basis.  Just the act of possession can result in long jail times and a lifelong identification as a sex offender.  Using the logic of this decision, wouldn’t it tend to undermine the basis for those laws as well?

Of course, the government didn’t help its case by failing to prosecute anyone under the intended purpose of the law, the purveying of “crush videos.”  The law has been in existence for eleven years, apparently resulting in no trials at all.  One has to wonder why Congress bothered to pass the law at all instead of just leaving the jurisdiction to the local and state authorities for cruelty to animals, except that it was obviously an attempt by Congress to create an artificial crisis just to look responsive to it.

Ann Althouse:

Good. This doesn’t — of course — mean that you can’t punish acts of cruelty to animals.

Balk at The Awl:

Crush videos—films in which attractive women smush small animals under their heels—are once again legal after the Supreme Court struck down a law preventing the depiction of animal cruelty. (Animal cruelty itself is still illegal in many places.) The Court, in a 8-1 decision, found the law to be an overly broad restriction that violates the First Amendment.

UPDATE: Stanley Fish at NYT

Will at The League

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Filed under Animal Rights, Supreme Court, The Constitution