This week, there are two horrifying stories in the news about dogs being dragged to their deaths; in one case, an Oklahoma man named Antonio Ray is in court on charges that he dragged his pit bull to death behind his bike last month. Witnesses reported that the dogs' front legs were tied behind his back and that he was dragged for almost a half mile, until he died in a pool of his own blood.
And in rural Washington last Friday, another dog was tied to a car with a rope around his neck and dragged to his death, with his mangled and bloody body left in a parking lot like an old discarded mattress.
In the Washington case, the police have no suspects, but in the Oklahoma case, Ray, the suspect, has a lengthy criminal history which includes domestic violence and a host of other charges. There is a good chance that whoever killed the dog in Washington has a similar background, because social workers, law enforcement officials and academics all know that there is a strong connection between violence to animals and violence to humans--especially to child abuse and domestic violence.
Animal protection organizations like Animals & Society Institute and the Humane Society of the United States provide training to social workers and members of the law enforcement community on how to recognize signs of animal cruelty in children, in order to both prevent the abuse of animals, and to prevent this abuse from escalating into humans.
But until all members of society take cruelty to animals seriously, cases like these two horror shows will continue to occur. While most Americans are rightly horrified by these stories, we also continue to hear from people who wonder what the fuss is all about--after all, these are just dogs, right?
That's why educating the public about the connection between violence to animals and violence to humans is so important--it demonstrates why we must take this kind of violence seriously.
The sad news is that violence to animals, in and of itself, is not that great of a concern. For instance, we don't even know the name of Ray's dog. We know that he was a pit bull, and statistically, pit bulls are subject to the greatest level of human violence of all dogs. But we don't know his name, how he lived, and whether anyone will miss him. All we know is the horrific circumstances of his death.
Until our society begins to take cruelty to animals seriously, even without recognizing its relationship to human-on-human violence, I fear we will continue to hear stories like this. Both of these dogs matter, and those of us who want to live in a just and compassionate society need to mourn their deaths.
Joe the Plumber is currently touring the rust belt on behalf of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, to campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act.
So Joe the Plumber, who basically impersonated a working class plumber during the Presidential campaign and parlayed his fame into a quickie book deal, a TV infomercial, a gig as a "war correspondent," and a bunch of invites to Republican political events, is now not only a working class hero, but a working class hero who is working to defeat a pro-union piece of legislation.
The only explanation for hiring a "working class hero" to stump on behalf of big business and against organized labor is that Joe (or Sam) is no such thing at all.
Joe the Plumber is really just an insufferable opportunist who has hitched his fortune onto conservative commentators and organizations who are only too happy to use Joe's minor fame for their political agendas. And Joe's just as happy to reciprocate, pretending to be a financial analyst, an expert on Mid East policies, and a tax and budget expert. And now he, the unemployed, un-licensed plumber, is an expert on labor issues.
If America's working people fall for Joe's shtick this time, and see EFCA fail in Congress, well, then they deserve it, and deserve to have Joe as their spokesman.
This week, the Texas Board of Education is debating whether to teach science in science classes, or to let all of the state's students grow up to be idiots.
More specifically, they are deciding whether to allow teachers to teach evolution--which is one of the most important scientific theories EVER, and has been accepted as fact by all natural and physical scientists for over 150 years--without also teaching its "weaknesses."
Some Texas citizens think they know better than teachers and scientists, and many are arguing that Texas should continue teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific paradigms like evolution, which allows for local school districts to quietly slip Creationism into the curriculum.
The AP reports on the high level of intelligence of those in favor of keeping the current law: "'My grandfather was not a monkey!' one woman shouted at a crowd before the meeting began."
Definitely, we need to hear scientific testimony from people who think that evolution means that one's grandfather was a monkey.
Thankfully, the Board of Education did the right thing and voted to reject the "strengths and weaknesses" provision, and to allow teachers to teach evolution with out having to include Creationist critiques of the theory. However, the vote was 7-7, with half of the board (all Republicans) wanting to continue to teach evolution as if it were some ridiculous idea full of holes and flaws.
People who think God should be taught in science classes may not have monkeys for grandfathers, but they do have shit for brains.
Right wing radio crackpot Tammy Bruce called Michelle Obama "trash" yesterday. Her comments were in response to a visit by the First Lady to a school in Washington DC, and to her comments to the students.
Obama noted that when she was growing up, African American kids often had to hide their intelligence or risk being mocked by the other kids for acting "too white." Of course, this still happens today, which is why Obama used this anecdote, to try to encourage young black kids to excel in school and to not worry about whether or not getting good grades was cool.
Because Tammy Bruce is ignorant of this very simple fact, she chose to lash out at Obama by saying "we've got trash in the White House."
During the Presidential campaign, Bruce, like other right wing idiots, called the Obamas "elitist" because "elitism" is code word for smart, and we have arrived at a place in this country where intelligence, thoughtfulness and education are characteristics to be mocked.
But now Michelle Obama is not only elitist, but trashy?
It's difficult to understand how an epithet used to disparage working class whites (and ignorant ones at that) could be used to criticize the highly educated First Lady. Perhaps because she was talking about herself? Or because she lapsed into a more "black" sounding accent when talking to the kids? (This is called code-switching and is done by millions of people who speak different dialects.)
Or perhaps it's because Tammy Bruce wanted to really call her "the N word" but couldn't risk it, and thought that trash would easily substitute.
Buster is an Irish hare who was found as a baby sitting in the middle of a road. Emaciated and dehydrated, he was taken into care with the intention of releasing him once he was weaned. Along the way, his caretakers discovered he was blind, so not suitable for release. Check out http://busterjourney.blogspot.com/ to find out the progress of this little guy, who is now a big handsome hare.
Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Africa this week and, in a continent that sees 2 million people die of AIDS every year, with 25 million dead so far, proclaimed that not only do condoms not protect against AIDS, they could make the crisis worse.
A statement like this, frankly, boggles the mind.
I understand that the Pope wants to encourage sexual relations only in the confines of a committed, loving, heterosexual marriage. While this of course means that Catholic gays and lesbians must either live a celibate life or choose damnation (and the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases), it also means that heterosexuals, even those who are faithful to their partners, cannot be protected from deadly diseases.
It is not just the immoral and irresponsibile who have sex outside of marriage and thus risk exposure to HIV and other diseases. Especially in Africa, where at least 50% of all HIV infections are now found in women and girls, victims are very often drawn from married women, whose partners have sex outside of the relationship.
In much of Sub-Saharan Africa, women are at especially high risk of AIDS not because they have sex outside of their marriage, although many do, but because many African cultures allow multiple sexual partners for men, and, for migrant workers, prostitutes. Because women in many African cultures cannot say no to sex, and because violence, and sexual violence, are very high in these cultures, women are especially at risk.
For a woman, then, even a committed and faithful one, a condom could be her only way of keeping herself safe, whether having sex with her husband, boyfriend, or other man.
For the Pope to ignore the realities of these women (and girls) is horrifying, and makes me feel as if he is more interested in maintaining strict control over believers than in protecting millions of lives per year.
Tonight HBO is airing the premier of a new documentary entitled "Death on a Factory Farm," which looks at the treatment of pigs at an Ohio pig farm. Based on undercover footage taken by the Humane Farming Association, the film shows how cruelly pigs and other animals raised in factory farms are treated.
Most people who eat meat think that, while it's true that animals must die in order for humans to eat them, they at least are treated well until they die. The reality is very, very different.
Animals raised on industrialized farms are little more than products, and are treated as such. There are only two laws in this country that protect animals--the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which mandates that most (excepting poultry and rabbits) animals are stunned before they are killed, and the 28 hour law, which mandates that animals transported on trains are given food, water and rest--which means that for the entirety of a farm animal's life, until the moment that they are killed, their lives are totally without legal protection.
The result is a life of unmitigated misery, in which farm animals are confined in situations without fresh air, sunlight, grass or straw; where they have no comfort, no love, and no companionship; and where conditions are so brutal that they must have their beaks or tails removed so that they don't cannibalize each other from the stress. Farmed animals are so sick from these conditions that they are pumped full of antibiotics from birth till death.
Why do we, a country which holds human rights and human dignity as two of our most prized values, allow for the most inhumane treatment of billions of animals per year? How do we reconcile their treatment with how we wish we were treated, and how we in turn treat our beloved companion animals?
No one, except for the psychopaths among us, would tolerate some of the ways in which farm animals are treated, and which are included in this film: "...piglets being tossed into crates from across a room, impregnated sows held in pens that don't allow them to move, an unhealthy piglet being slammed against a wall to euthanize it, and a sick sow being hung by a chain from a forklift until it choked to death..." Yet while we don't tolerate this kind of treatment, we all allow it to continue, unabated, because most Americans continue to do the one thing that allows it: eating meat.
It seems like every month or so, some zoo somewhere sends out publicity photos and videos of a brand new baby animal, and animal lovers around the world spend countless work hours ogling the brand new baby giraffe/orangutan/elephant.
If you don't believe me, check out Zooborns.com, a website that specializes in photos of baby zoo animals.
Yet the untold story is that while zoos celebrate the new baby animals, which mean more visitors and thus more profits, many zoos can't actually afford to keep those animals. In fact, one of zoos' dirty little secrets is the way that they "retire" old zoo animals, by selling them via the exotic animal trade to other zoos, to roadside zoos, into the pet market, and sometimes, into canned hunting operations where they'll be shot point blank by some rich asshole like Dick Cheney.
Usually, however, the babies are safe. But not always.
The Basel Zoo in Switzerland recently celebrated the birth of little Farasi, an African hippopotamus born in November. The zoo has no room to keep him, and in cases like this, the zoo's policy is to kill "surplus" animals and to feed them to the carnivores. Because of public protest, the zoo is trying instead to find a new home for the hippo.
Whether or not Farasi gets fed to the lions or ends up in another zoo, this story brings up an important issue that the public (and especially the zoo-going public) needs to know about. As long as we buy the zoo industry's spin that zoos are about education and conservation, and that captive breeding programs somehow help conserve species or aid wild animals, then we will be shocked at stories like this one.
But the reality is that zoos are not in the business of conservation, or even education. They're in the business of displaying animals as entertainment for a paying public, a public that loves animals. So what if a photogenic baby hippo has to lose his life to help the zoos' bottom line?
The last couple of days have seen so much right-wing insanity it seems much more efficient to just include them all in one post.
--South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is one of a handful of Republic governors (including Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska, and Idaho) who is planning on turning down the federal dollars--most earmarked for education--for his state included in the Stimulus package. This will result in the loss of 7,500 teachers and the continued state of disrepair for South Carolina schools. (Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says that those governors who turn down stimulus funds in a recession are not putting their citizens' welfare first, and are not acting in accordance with Christian values.) --Fox News crackpot Glenn Beck blames liberal "political correctness" and the "disenfranchisement" of conservatives during the Obama administration for the killing rampage in Alabama. --Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for the Bush administration, publically said that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. --Republican Congressman David Vitter and John Shadegg are proposing a new stimulus plan that would reinvigorate the economy by opening up new areas of protected land for oil drilling, and would remove many of the environmental regulations that oil companies dislike. --Republican party head Michael Steele once again stuck his foot into his mouth when he said that abortion should be a woman's choice during an interview with GQ Magazine; he later had to apologize and "clarify" his statements. --Republicans have been up in arms about President Obama's use of teleprompters, as if teleprompters are some sort of new agey, left wing conspiracy (and as if every Republican lawmaker does not rely on them). --Cook County (Illinois) Republican Chair Gary Skoien was evidently caught by his wife cavorting with two prostitutes in his children's playroom --Chuck Norris wants to run for the President of Texas, once Texas secedes from the United States.
But in better news:
--President Obama signed an executive order rescinding George Bush's ban on federally funded embryonic stem cell research; this order will mean that scientists can now use stem cells from embryos created for in vitro fertilization procedures, and which would have been otherwise destroyed, in order to find the cures for human diseases. --The White House is reviewing the idiotic "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that has resulted in the firing of over 12,500 gay service members (and 11 in January alone) since it was made official policy in 1993. Let's hope they make the right decision and scrap it entirely. --President Obama this week created a White House Council on Women and Girls in order to address issues that specifically impact women
Last night's American Idol was better than usual, with a handful of excellent performances, some so-so performances, and a couple of really terrible ones. The theme for the evening was Michael Jackson songs, and, surprisingly, there was far fewer cringe-worthy performances than one would expect given the choice of songs.
Sadly, Anoop, my favorite, gave us one of the weakest performances of the evening, and may be at the end of his rope.
Adam did an amazing job snarling and stomping his way through "Black or White," and deserved all the praise that he got, even if Paula did go a little insane in her comments. Allison, the sixteen year old who sounds (and looks a bit) like someone who's spent the last forty years of her life sucking down Marlboros and Jack and Cokes, sang "Give in to me," one of the evening's best. I thought Alexis also did a great job with her rendition of Dirty Diana, although the judges didn't seem wowed. I still think she'll survive, although millions of teenybopper voters may be confused by her phone number (thanks to the sex line snafu) that may leave her at the bottom anyway. My other top picks for the evening are Lil Rounds and Matt, whose work on the piano was, I thought, amazing.
I wasn't moved, however, by Kris, who played a guitar that we never even heard, or by Danny, who the judges continue to adore, but who, to me, continues to perform admirably by not extraordinarily.
The bottom of the list would have to be Megan, whose singing I honestly love (even last night) but whose performance of "Rockin Robin" was frankly embarrassing, thanks especially to her twitchy and juvenile dancing throughout. Also pulling up the rear for me is working guy Michael, blind guy Scott, Puerto Rican Jorge, and teeny bopper Jasmine, all of whom sang nicely but bored me to tears.
And then, sadly, we have Anoop.
Anoop has been my favorite since his first audition, when he charmed the judges and the audience with his nerdy intelligence and sweet singing. But I am beginning to realize that nerdy and sweet alone won't get Anoop to the top.
The AP reports on a study in Current Biology that demonstrates that animals can plan ahead. The study include a story about a chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo who collects rocks and, when irritated at zoo visitors, throws them at the visitors. The chimpanzee featured in the study, Santino, also was observed breaking up stones that are too big to throw, into pieces that would work better for his planned task.
This account clearly demonstrates that animals (or at least primates) do not just react instinctively, but think, plan, and take careful action--just like we do.
It's been forty years since primatologist Jane Goodall first observed chimpanzees making, and using, tools. After her discovery, anthropologists had to re-examine the human/animal border, since tool making had always been one of the major lines of demarcation.
Now, with the latest observations, we have to move the line separating humans and animals yet again, because clearly, thoughtful planned behavior is no longer a human characteristic.
The more we find out about the capabilities of non-human animals, the more we will also need to begin re-evaluating our treatment of them. Because if we can no longer justify the extreme levels of exploitation and abuse that we inflict upon animals on the basis of their lack of rationality, we must eventually come up with an entirely different way of treating them.
The Humane Society of the United States just released a disturbing new video about the care and treatment of chimpanzees and monkeys at the New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) at the University of Louisiana.
The undercover investigation revealed routine abuses, both physical and emotional, on some of our closest relatives, and the intense suffering and distress that results. In violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), monkeys and apes are living in barren cages, with no environmental enhancement or social contact, and are subject to painful procedures. The animals respond by screaming, crying, rocking, and self-mutilating.
Primatologists Roger Fouts and Jane Goodall viewed the evidence, and both expressed horror at the way the animals are treated. Chimpanzees are not only our closest living relative, but are endangered; yet US law (unlike any other western nation) still allows for the use of these intelligent, social and sensitive animals in medical research, as well as in the pet trade and for entertainment.
HSUS has provided the video and other evidence to the USDA. In response, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that the agency will investigate the treatment, and will enforce the AWA. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator Mary Landrieu both also called for an investigation. Predictably, NIRC released a statement defending their practices and saying that the video "distorts" the treatment of the animals.
At the same time, Congressmen Edolphus Towns, David Reichert, Jim Langevin, and Roscoe Bartlett have once again introduced the Great Ape Protect Act into Congress, which would end the use of chimpanzees as laboratory animals and provide for the humane retirement of living research chimps.
Let's hope this year this important piece of legislation passes, freeing over 1,000 chimpanzees from the most wretched form of existence imaginable. Unfortunately, the thousands of other primates who live in similar conditions will get no respite from their suffering.
After last night's wild card nominees were chosen, I'm eagerly awaiting tonight's episode, and at the same time, am a bit perplexed by some of the judge's choices.
While I'm thrilled that they brought back talented (and dreamy) Anoop, I am confused about some of the other choices.
Tatiana--really? Did she ever sing good enough to make it into even the semi-finals? I have to wonder if she's on deck again because of the obvious drama that she will bring to the show. Many of the finalists have been, as Simon says, forgettable, and that is a term that can't be used to describe Tatiana.
The other wild cards weren't terrible picks, but they weren't really my picks either. I wanted to see Jackie Tohn come back, and like Arianna, although she did a horrific job the other night. I am happy to see Jasmine back, and like Jesse and Megan as well. But the others leave me feeling blah. And something about Von Smith--I have to look away when he sings, because he makes me uncomfortable.
Beyond the wild card choices, America's choices leave me with mixed feelings. Some of the top twelve clearly deserve to be here, based on talent alone: Alexis, Adam, Allison and Lil Rounds. But I think some of the finalists won votes thanks to their personalities or backstories: Danny (dead wife), Michael (working guy), Jorge (first Spanish speaker), and Scott (blind). They're not bad singers, but I don't think they're finalist quality.
Still, this season has some great performers, and I'll admit that the backstories do make for interesting watching.
But if Anoop doesn't make it onto the finals tonight, I will be DONE with this show. DONE.
Since Michael Steele's groveling apology to Rush Limbaugh for daring to say that his ugly, incendiary radio show is ugly and incendiary, conservatives and liberals alike are saying that Steele's reign as leader of the GOP is coming to a quick end, and that Limbaugh is now the defacto leader of the party.
(By the way, we can all follow Steele and other apologists like Congressman Phil Gingrey and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and can send our own apologies to Rush via the website I'm Sorry Rush.)
I hope all Republicans are excited about these developments, and about their new leader Rush.
I'm sure that they're thrilled, for example, that they have as their new King a man who says that poverty levels are lower today than in the 1950s, that the poorest Americans are better off than middle class Europeans, that nicotine is not addictive, that condoms don't protect against AIDS, that there are more Native Americans alive today than when America was colonized, that American women were better off before feminism, and that Sarah Palin is qualified to be President. You certainly can't argue with facts like these!
I know this isn't new news, but I guess I haven't been following Oprah's book club lately, and didn't realize that Joe the Plumber has "written" a book.
It's been reported that this douchebag, who is now one of the leading experts in the Republican party on such diverse topics as the economic disaster and the Palestinian/Israeli confict, has been doing readings at book stores to less than full crowds.
Yet my question is: how did he even get a book deal to start with? How did this semi-employed plumber manage to write one, and get it accepted and published within the few short months since he's enjoyed his fame? And why did anyone--anyone at all--show up at his book signings?
If I sound a bit bitter, it's because I am.
I've written or co-written six books, and all of them have taken years' of work, and sometimes dozens and dozens of rejection letters from publishers and agents. And then, once the books made it into print, publicizing them is yet more work, as is trying to get people to buy the books. So Joe's dozen attendees at his recent book signing at a Borders' in DC, while not Stephen King-worthy, is still pretty good, for a man who until a few months ago was an unknown plumber.
Granted, it appears that Joe hasn't gotten a lot of reviews for the book. In fact, in the "editorial reviews" section of the book's Amazon page, where reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Booklist are typically posted, Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream has posted quotes from folks like Margaret, who writes: "I had some major goosebumps several times. Read this book! You will be truly inspired" or from Glynnis who says " I just finished reading Joe's book and all I can say is WOW! I love how he thinks and expresses himself. I laughed during every chapter - it was so entertaining!"
Well, at least I didn't have to rely on my friends to write things like "I laughed, and I cried" as a substitute for my books' editorial reviews.
Unbelievably, more prominent Republicans are joining Rush Limbaugh in openly hoping that President Obama fails.
Oh, they say that they don't want him to fail in bringing the global economy back from the edge of disaster. They say they want his policies to fail, or as the Red State blog states, they want him to fail at "destroying liberty and freedom," since that is so obviously our communist President's intent. In fact, if Obama succeeds, that will result in, according to these crazies, the failure of the American dream, and, in fact, America itself.
For me, the American dream is about freedom, and liberty, and democracy, and equality, and human rights for all. What George Bush gave us, on the other hand, was a steady erosion of those freedoms in favor of a system in which corporate pals of the President accumulated vast amounts of wealth at the expense of the environment, the economy, and the vast majority of Americans.
What a disgusting bunch of selfish hypocrites. After they've championed policies for the past eight years that resulted in a astounding wealth for the few and greater poverty for the many, the gutting of this nation's environmental laws, a ginormous deficit, and a loss of civil freedoms, they pretend as if President Obama's policies will make things worse?
At least it will make it harder for Republicans to accuse Democrats, as they typically do, of being anti-American.