30 July 2004

A Lull in the Action

Sorry I haven't posted anything in a few days. My DSL modem has been blinking (literally) since yesterday morning, so I'm reduced to using (1) my old (slow) computer and (2) a dial-up connection. Going back to dial-up after having a high-speed connection is like going back to black-and-white television after having color. You can't go back. Until I solve the problem, I'll post only sporadically. (You probably think I was doing that already!) It's been all I can do to post my travelogue of twenty years ago on AnalPhilosopher. Today is the third day of The Great Bike Ride of 1984 (Across Arizona). The journal is illustrated with photographs I took along the route. See here for the introduction.

27 July 2004

26 July 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 16

Several readers have asked me in recent weeks whether there is anything morally objectionable about raising animals humanely and then killing them painlessly. If the animals are raised humanely and killed painlessly, it is said, there’s no suffering being inflicted. Yes, a happy animal’s life is ended, but if it is replaced by an equally happy animal, how could it be wrong? The amount of happiness in the world is the same. Actually, the amount of happiness is greater, since presumably humans who consume the animal’s flesh and make use of its other body parts are made happier by it.

This line of thought will appeal to certain theorists: those who believe that the sole aim of morality is to maximize overall happiness. But notice that hardly anyone thinks this way about humans. Would it be acceptable to humanely raise and painlessly kill humans if there were a use for their body parts, or if, all of a sudden, many humans acquired a taste for human flesh? I suspect you will say no. But why?

Isn’t it because humans aren’t interchangeable? Each human has an inherent worth or dignity. Each life is precious. If we didn’t think this, we would not mourn the loss of an infant, for in most cases the infant can be replaced in a matter of months via another pregnancy. While we care very much about human happiness, we don’t think that the moral value of humans is exhausted by it. Happiness is just one dimension of human value.

Why is it different for animals? Why do people think that animals, but not humans, are interchangeable, and therefore replaceable? Why do we reduce animals to their happiness, such that, if one happy animal is replaced by an equally happy animal, nothing morally significant has been lost? I submit that this is irrational. Just as each human life is precious and irreplaceable, so is each animal life. That animals can’t protest their treatment as happiness-receptacles is morally irrelevant. Babies can’t protest. The severely retarded can’t protest. The senile can’t protest. You can be sure that if animals could protest, they would.

There needs to be a revolution in our thinking about animals. They are no more replaceable than humans are. Unless you are indifferent about replacing one of your children with an equally happy child, you should not be indifferent about replacing a cow or a pig with an equally happy cow or pig. It may be convenient to apply consequentialist reasoning to animals and deontological reasoning to humans, but there is no warrant for it. It’s as arbitrary as applying consequentialist reasoning to other races and deontological reasoning to one’s own race.

An Enemy of Animals

The man described in this story claims to care about animals, but his willingness to endorse (use?) violence in their behalf does them no good. In fact, it alienates many people who would otherwise support the cause of animal welfare and animal liberation. What part of self-defeatingness does he not understand? Even Peter Singer, a consequentialist, believes that violence is unproductive. Defenders of animals are in the right. They have the moral high ground. They should use the most powerful tool of social change ever invented: reason. They should eschew and condemn nonrational means, such as force, coercion, and manipulation.

I hereby call upon all of my animal-respecting and animal-loving friends and colleagues to repudiate violence. Nonviolent civil disobedience is one thing, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr showed, but violence toward either person or property is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for two reasons: first, because it's intrinsically wrong (i.e., wrong in and of itself, whatever its consequences); and second, because it has bad long-term consequences. (Thanks to Dan Gifford for the link.)

25 July 2004

Veal

Here is a page from the website of a veal producer. Notice the language that suggests that the farming techniques are for the calves' benefit. In fact, nothing is done for the calves' benefit. Every aspect of veal-production is profit-driven. The calf is a living flesh-making machine. It's enough to make a person cry. By the way, there's another side to the story. See here and here.

24 July 2004

Religion and Meat-Eating

I still get e-mail from people who say, in response to my posts, that meat-eating is allowed by their religion. This puzzles me. Do you disobey your god’s commands (or violate your god’s laws) by forswearing meat? Is vegetarianism prohibited by your religion? Will you go to hell if you decide to do better by animals than you have to? Surely the answer to these questions is “No.”

Let’s make a typology of actions. Every action is either permissible or impermissible. Every permissible action is either required or not required. So there are three categories of action:
1. The required (i.e., the obligatory or mandatory).
2. The impermissible (i.e., the prohibited or forbidden).
3. The permissible but not required (i.e., the discretionary or optional).
No religion, to my knowledge, requires meat-eating, although some religions forbid the eating of certain meats. So meat-eating is discretionary. The decision whether to eat meat must be based on nonreligious grounds, such as what effect it has on overall happiness or the amount of misery in the world.

Suppose you enjoy the taste of meat. You might reason that, since you enjoy it and it’s not prohibited by your religion, there is nothing wrong with eating it. But the meat you eat was produced, in all likelihood, in atrocious conditions. The animals whose flesh you consume were made to suffer terribly in its production. Do you think your god is indifferent to this suffering? Wouldn’t a rational god expect his or her subjects to refrain from inflicting suffering on his or her creatures, especially if the only reason for doing so is taste? Don’t say that animals lack souls. That’s irrelevant. The question is not whether animals have souls but whether they can suffer, and surely they can. Suffering does not require ensoulment.

Please don’t use your religious beliefs to rationalize self-interested behavior. That your religion doesn’t forbid meat-eating doesn’t imply that you should do it, all things considered, much less that you should do it no matter how the meat was produced. You have a responsibility to your god (I assume) to act wisely and benevolently. If you’re Christian, ask yourself whether Jesus would look kindly on factory farms and those who support them. I tend to believe that if there is a god, he or she will consign meat-eaters to hell, for they disrespect divine creation. But that’s a subject for another post.

From Today's Dallas Morning News

I was quite amused by Ira J. Hadnot's column about dogs going to heaven ("A dog is gone—will we meet again?" Religion, June 26).

I am sure it brought much comfort to ardent dog lovers. However, the only creation of God that has an eternal soul is mankind. Genesis 1:26 says, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Genesis 2:7 says, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

Dogs and other animals were just spoken into existence.

Dogs lack the intelligence of mankind and therefore are not capable of understanding what mankind has to do in order to go to heaven. Mankind has a choice. He can accept Jesus as his personal savior and go to heaven or reject him and go to hell. Dogs don't have the ability to make that choice.

Isn't it just like a loving God to make dogs for humans to love and enjoy? We have a great God.

Ann L. Wilson, Garland

23 July 2004

Factory Farming

Here is a page on factory farms by The Humane Society of the United States. If you insist on eating meat, at least be choosy about the source. If you buy factory-farmed meat, you are supporting a most abominable institution. But why not eschew all meat, even if it's produced "humanely"? Wouldn't that reflect a commitment not to treat sentient beings as mere means to your ends? Animals are not resources for human use and consumption. They are fellow travelers, with lives and interests of their own. The interest in life is an ulterior interest, one that is necessary for the flourishing of all other interests. To deprive an animal of its life is to deprive it of the most valuable thing it has.

22 July 2004

The Immorality of Eating Meat

If you eat meat purchased from a grocery store, you are supporting an institution—factory farming—that inflicts terrible deprivation and suffering (not to mention death) on animals. The suffering is your doing, even though you do not personally inflict it and even though you never experience it. You are paying people to inflict the suffering, which, in all likelihood, you could not and would not do yourself. I assume that you believe suffering to be bad (and therefore in need of justification), and I assume that your only reason for eating meat is that you like the taste. So why do you eat meat? It’s immoral (wrong) by your own standards.

One of my teachers at The University of Arizona, Ronald D. Milo, who is now retired, published a wonderful book twenty years ago: Immorality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984). His aim in the book is to describe the varieties (or sources) of immorality. He says there are six. Three of them involve belief, by the agent, that his or her action is wrong. In the other three, the agent does not believe that the action is wrong, even though it is. Two of the varieties involve bad preferences (or values); two involve lack of (rational) self-control; and two involve lack of moral concern (i.e., lack of concern for the interests of others). In effect, Ron created a two-by-three diagram of types of immorality. Here are his names for the six types, together with their characteristics:
1. Perverse wickedness. The agent believes (falsely) that the action is right, and acts accordingly; the agent’s moral defect is bad preferences (values).

2. Preferential wickedness. The agent believes (correctly) that the action is wrong, but does it anyway because of bad preferences (values).

3. Moral negligence. The agent does not believe that the action is wrong (even though it is); the agent’s moral defect is lack of self-control. (Put differently, one fails to prevent one’s desires and emotions from obscuring or distorting one’s judgment.)

4. Moral weakness. The agent believes (correctly) that the action is wrong, but does it anyway because of lack of self-control. (Put differently, one allows one’s desires and emotions to prevent one from acting on one’s judgment.)

5. Amorality. The agent does not believe that the action is wrong (even though it is); the agent’s moral defect is lack of moral concern. (Put differently, one’s lack of moral concern accounts for one’s not bothering to make any moral judgment.)

6. Moral indifference. The agent believes (correctly) that the action is wrong, but does it anyway because of lack of moral concern. (Put differently, one’s lack of moral concern accounts for one’s not acting on one’s moral judgment.)
I believe that meat-eaters exhibit all six types of immorality. Here is a brief discussion of each:
1. Perversely wicked meat-eaters believe that meat-eating is morally permissible, or even required, when in fact it is impermissible. This class includes (but is not limited to) those who believe that their god requires or allows meat-eating, those who believe that animals can’t (and hence don’t) suffer, and those who believe that animals lack interests (i.e., those who believe that animals have no moral status).

2. Preferentially wicked meat-eaters believe, correctly, that meat-eating is morally impermissible, but do it anyway, because they prefer the pursuit of some other desired end to the avoidance of wrongdoing. In other words, they believe that meat-eating is prima facie wrong, but not ultima facie wrong (wrong all things considered). This class includes (but is not limited to) those who believe that meat is essential to health and who assign a moral value to their health. They prefer their health (or the health of their loved ones) to the welfare of the animals whose flesh they eat.

3. Morally negligent meat-eaters allow their desire for animal flesh (or certain emotions) to obscure or distort their judgment. Their tastes prevent them from taking vegetarian arguments seriously, from thinking clearly, from reasoning soundly, from attending to the facts of animal suffering, &c. They are (culpably) ignorant that what they do is in violation of their own moral principles. This class has many members, unfortunately.

4. Morally weak meat-eaters believe, correctly, that they act wrongly, but don’t exercise requisite self-control. They fail to make their behavior conform to their moral principles. They succumb to temptation. If you’ve eaten meat for a long time and decide to give it up for moral reasons, you will be tempted to backslide. It’s only natural. If you fail to resist the temptation, you exhibit moral weakness. This class has more members than you might think.

5. Amoral meat-eaters lack moral concern for animals, or for certain animals (those they eat). As a result, they have no moral principles (convictions) pertaining to the act of meat-eating. They don’t even bother to consider whether it is right or wrong. They don’t see it as a moral issue.

6. Morally indifferent meat-eaters judge, correctly, that meat-eating is wrong, but don’t care that it’s wrong, and therefore do not act on their judgment. They are insensitive or indifferent to the feelings and interests of animals.
I should point out that Ron Milo does not apply his typology to animals. He does mention animals from time to time, however. If you’re interested in ethics, you should acquire and read Ron’s book. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

21 July 2004

With Friends Like This, PETA Doesn’t Need Enemies

Yesterday, as you may have noticed, I posted a New York Times story about PETA on both AnalPhilosopher and Animal Ethics. Someone who is too cowardly to identify him- or herself posted a comment: a quotation from my blog. Some time back, I had written that, “With friends like PETA, animals don’t need enemies.” Since nothing else was said, I’m left to speculate about the meaning of the comment.

My guess is that the writer thinks I contradicted myself. But how exactly is that? Suppose I believed that PETA did well in exposing cruelty in chicken-processing plants. Would it follow that PETA does well by animals, all things considered and in the long run? Of course not. Even bad organizations can act rightly, just as broken clocks are right twice a day. Even Hitler and Stalin, who were bad to the bone, acted rightly from time to time. Nobody, with the possible exception of Paul Krugman, is omnimalevolent.

What this incident shows, if anything, is PETA’s unscrupulousness. PETA’s operatives will do anything to achieve its goals. They have little or no respect for persons, property, or privacy. The animal-liberation movement must disavow such tactics. Ultimately, only rational persuasion will benefit animals. PETA resorts to force, coercion, and manipulation to achieve its ends. Certainly no self-respecting philosopher can endorse these methods.

Philosophers care at least as much about how one changes the world as that one changes it. A philosopher would rather not change the world at all than change it by using force, coercion, or manipulation. Philosophers, as such, are deontologists, not consequentialists. That is why they devote so much time and energy to identifying and classifying fallacies. A fallacy is an argument that, while psychologically appealing, is logically defective. A fallacy is a bad argument masquerading as a good one.

The larger point is this. My posting news items, editorial opinions, and letters to the editor does not constitute an endorsement of the views they express. Anyone who reads my blog regularly should know this. Perhaps the coward isn’t a regular reader.

20 July 2004

From Today's New York Times

U.S.D.A.'s Testing Problem

In the past seven months—ever since a case of mad-cow disease was discovered in Washington State—the United States Department of Agriculture has been working hard to reduce the risk of the disease spreading. It is slowly introducing restrictions on how the most susceptible bovine tissues can be used, and it has found money to begin developing a national animal-identification system. But there are still gaps in the department's efforts to guarantee a safe meat supply. One is chronological. America squandered a decade in which it could have been absorbing the lessons learned from the British mad-cow crisis. The other critical failing is the U.S.D.A.'s testing program itself.

In Britain and Japan, every cow bound for market is tested for the disease. The number of cattle tested in the United States has risen tenfold, but is still just a small fraction of the national slaughter herd. And in a draft report, the department's inspector general has sharply criticized its new testing program. The chief objection? Testing is voluntary, which undermines the statistical validity of the program. The new rules' design assumes what only careful testing can confirm, that mad-cow disease is probably very scarce in this country.

Agriculture Department officials have said that the inspector general's draft report contains nothing that "would suggest there has been any compromise to public health." But it is impossible to know whether public health has been compromised without a competent testing program. Quite clearly, the U.S.D.A. balks at the cost and logistics of mandatory inspections of cattle at meatpacking plants. And it seems convinced that the threat of mad-cow disease can be evaluated by voluntary inspections of cattle that appear sick. But one reason other countries are so strict about inspections is that mad-cow disease can be present in cattle that look healthy. The best way to ensure public safety and global confidence in the American beef market is to require testing that is stringent and extensive enough to tell us how safe we really are and how confident we really should be.

From Today's New York Times

KFC Supplier Accused of Animal Cruelty

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

An animal rights group involved in a long legal dispute with Kentucky Fried Chicken about the treatment of the 700 million chickens it buys each year is to release a videotape today showing slaughterhouse workers for one supplier jumping up and down on live chickens, drop-kicking them like footballs and slamming them into walls, apparently for fun.

After officials of the KFC Corporation saw the videotape yesterday, they said they would seek dismissal of the workers, inspect the slaughterhouse more often and end their relationship if the cruelty was repeated. The company that owns the slaughterhouse, the Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, the country's second-largest poultry processor, said it was "appalled" by the tape.

Animal rights groups have long complained that sheer malicious behavior-on top of the expected confinement and bloodletting-goes on in slaughter plants, but this is the first time such graphic proof has been produced. The tape was taken surreptitiously by an investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who worked from October 2003 to May 2004 at a Pilgrim's Pride plant in Moorefield, W.Va., that won KFC's "Supplier of the Year" award in 1997.

KFC and its parent, Yum Brands, have repeatedly committed themselves to a promise that all suppliers would treat animals humanely. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for KFC said the company "wouldn't tolerate the type of behavior in the video."

KFC "will require that the employee or employees responsible be terminated," said Bonnie Warschauer, director of public relations, and further violations will "result in termination of our relationship."

Prominent veterinarians, including those on the company's animal welfare advisory board, called for shutting the plant and dismissing or prosecuting its managers. Dr. Ian J. H. Duncan, an animal and poultry science professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, who is a KFC adviser, said the tape "contains some of the worst scenes of animal cruelty that I have ever witnessed."

A Pilgrim's Pride spokesman said the company had an anonymous report about poultry mistreatment at the plant in April and had made it clear to its workers that "any such behavior would result in immediate termination." In light of the tape, the company said, it will reopen its investigation.

The tape includes loud music the workers listen to, the screeching of the birds and the sound of each hitting the wall. When released, it will be on a Web site of the animal-rights group, which is known as PETA, at kentuckyfriedcruelty.com.

The undercover investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation and still does undercover work for the group, said in a telephone interview that he saw "hundreds" of acts of cruelty, including workers tearing beaks off, ripping a bird's head off to write graffiti in blood, spitting tobacco juice into birds' mouths, plucking feathers to "make it snow," suffocating a chicken by tying a latex glove over its head, and squeezing birds like water balloons to spray feces over other birds.

He said the behavior was "to alleviate boredom or vent frustrations," especially when so many birds were coming in that they would have to work late.

On April 6, one day he filmed, workers made a game of throwing chickens against a wall; 114 were thrown in seven minutes. A supervisor walking past the pile of birds on the floor said, "Hold your fire," and, once out of the way, told the crew to "carry on."

On another day, he said, the supervisor told the crew to kill correctly because inspectors were visiting.

To document cruelty and position his tiny camera, he said, he spent eight months working in the "hang pen," where workers attach newly arrived chickens by their feet to a conveyor that carries them upside-down through an electrified "stun bath" and then into the whirling blades of the throat-cutting machine.

KFC says all its suppliers train their workers in animal welfare, but the investigator said Pilgrim's Pride had nothing on the topic in its orientation manual and the only instruction he received was after five months, and then only in how to wring a chicken's neck by hand. The Web site of Pilgrim's Pride does not note any animal welfare policy.

Last year, PETA sued Kentucky Fried Chicken and called for a boycott, demanding that it require its suppliers to give chickens more room in factory barns, stop forcing growth so rapid that it cripples birds, and to gas birds before hanging them so they feel no pain.

The group has won similar concessions from Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's.

Yum Brands did not do as PETA requested, but its KFC Web site says the company is "committed to the humane treatment of animals." It describes steps taken to assure such treatment, including creating an advisory council and promising to "only deal with suppliers who provide an environment that is free from cruelty, abuse and neglect."

Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-known veterinary scientist who designs plants for humane slaughter, called the behavior shown on the videotape "absolutely atrocious."

Dr. Grandin is on KFC's animal welfare advisory board, but said PETA had not told her when it sent her the tape this month where it had been taken. "They need to fire the plant manager," she said.

Both Ms. Warschauer of KFC and a spokesman for Pilgrim's Pride said they would ask Dr. Grandin to visit the plant.

PETA said it planned to ask a West Virginia prosecutor to prosecute plant employees and managers under state laws that make torture or malicious killing of animals a felony. It has also written to KFC and Pilgrim's Pride, asking them to use gas to knock the animals out before they are killed and to mount video cameras to forestall employee cruelty.

The PETA investigator said he would testify, calling it "the right thing to do."

Several American and British veterinary experts to whom PETA sent the videotape expressed disgust.

"I have visited many poultry slaughterhouses but I have never seen cruelty to chickens to the extent shown in this video," said Dr. Donald M. Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University and chairman of the European Union's animal welfare scientific committee. "It would be grounds for a successful prosecution for cruelty to animals in most countries."

Compartmentalized Thinking

Suppose I tell you that I don’t care about Ohioans. When I act, I disregard their interests. They are as nothing to me. You would be aghast. “Why treat Ohioans differently from others, such as Texans?” you ask. Because they’re Ohioans, I say. I don’t care about Ohioans. “But why not? They have the same interests you and I do. They can suffer every bit as much.” “I know, but I just don’t care about them,” I reply.

You would rightly accuse me of inconsistency. Unless I can point to some morally relevant difference between Ohioans and nonOhioans that would justify my differential treatment, I act wrongly in treating them differently. As Aristotle pointed out long ago, justice consists in treating like cases alike and different cases differently—and in strict proportion to the differences.

This is the situation of people who eat meat. Unless they’re stupid, they know that the meat they eat is the result of a process that inflicts a great deal of undeserved suffering. They would never think to inflict such suffering on a fellow human. “Why treat animals differently from humans?” I ask. “Because they’re animals,” you say. “I just don’t care about animals.”

One reader accused me of going emotional. Where’s the emotion in what I just wrote? It’s an argument. I’m claiming that meat-eaters are inconsistent in treating suffering differently depending on the species of the individual who suffers. If you think animals don’t matter, morally, then the burden is on you to point to a morally relevant difference. If you think blacks don’t matter, morally, then the burden is on you to point to a morally relevant difference. Can we agree that this is where the burden lies?

Racists disregard or discount the interests of other races. Sexists disregard or discount the interests of the other sex. Ethnocentrists disregard or discount the interests of other ethnicities. Nationalists disregard or discount the interests of other nationalities. Speciesists disregard or discount the interests of other species.

One reader said that not all the animals he eats have suffered. Does he know that? If you buy meat in a grocery store, the probability is near 1.0 that it came from an animal that was made to suffer. Do you know the facts about factory farming? If not, then you’re culpably ignorant. There is no excuse for not inquiring into the means by which all of the products you use were produced. Would you buy a pair of sneakers if you had reason to believe that they were made by slave labor? What if you went out of your way to remain ignorant of how your sneakers were produced? Does that exculpate you? Surely not. Personal responsibility means being responsible (accountable) for whatever went into the products one buys. If you buy sneakers made with slave labor, you enslaved someone. That you didn’t see the sneakers made is irrelevant.

Unless you know for a fact that the animal whose flesh you eat did not suffer, it is morally irresponsible for you to eat its flesh. I suspect that only a tiny fraction of meat consumed satisfies this requirement.

Another reader asked what meat-eating has to do with war, since I discussed the two issues in a single post. The obvious answer is that both involve the infliction of harm. Any reasonable person, and certainly a philosopher, should strive to develop a coherent view of the permissibility of harm-infliction (including killing). If you think that the suffering of Iraqis counts for as much as the suffering of Americans, how can you consistently discount or disregard the suffering of animals? Why do you insist that Iraqis be given full moral consideration but allow that animals be given less than full moral consideration (or none at all)?

As every psychologist knows, people compartmentalize their thinking. It’s a defense mechanism, a way of avoiding cognitive dissonance and uncomfortable feelings such as guilt and shame. For example, people have a view about abortion, about capital punishment, about war, about meat-eating, about suicide, and about self-defense. Is there an underlying principle for these views? Shouldn’t there be? Isn’t it the job of a philosopher to induce people to work out a coherent ethic of killing?

One reason people are so testy about my posts on animals is that they’ve compartmentalized their thinking. I can see it in their letters. They put animals into a separate moral category. Either animals don’t count at all or they don’t count for as much as humans. This compartmentalization allows people to eat meat with a clear conscience. Well, I’m here to dirty your conscience. Stop compartmentalizing and start being consistent. Unless you can cite a morally relevant difference between humans and animals that justifies discounting or disregarding the suffering of the latter, you are irrational and irresponsible. Why not stop eating meat until you’ve thought things through? Isn’t that what a conscientious person would do?

By the way, one person keeps saying that animals aren’t innocent. What the hell are they, guilty? For the last time, animals are innocent in the same sense as Iraqi children. All this means is that they don’t deserve to suffer. If you care about the suffering of Iraqi children, you must, to be consistent, care about the suffering of animals. Suffering is suffering, whether it’s in a black body, a white body, an Iraqi body, an American body, a human body, or an animal body. Suffering is intrinsically bad. Therefore, it is prima facie wrong to inflict it. Since there is no need or other justification for inflicting it on animals, it is wrong, all things considered, to do so. That’s my argument. If you can’t find anything wrong with it, then either stop eating meat or admit that you’re too weak to do so.

19 July 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

It is possible to lower cholesterol levels significantly if substantial dietary and lifestyle changes are made.

No one would deny the role that cholesterol-lowering drugs have to play in the battle against heart disease, but many people's lives and billions of dollars in money spent on medicine and related health care costs could be saved if people were aware of the important results in the battle against high cholesterol and heart disease that have been made as the result of a diet that eliminates or almost totally eliminates animal products and consists primarily of unrefined grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, coupled with moderate exercise.

MICHAEL PITKOWSKY
Bronx, July 13, 2004

Selective Concern

I’ve made a decision. Henceforth, when someone tells me that he or she opposed the war in Iraq, I’ll ask why. If the answer includes concern for innocent Iraqis who were killed during the war, I’ll ask whether the speaker eats meat. If the answer is yes, I’ll end the discussion.

How can I take seriously someone who professes concern for innocent human beings but willingly inflicts terrible suffering on innocent nonhuman animals? This is as flagrant an inconsistency as can be imagined. That people don’t notice it testifies to an almost infinite human capacity for denial, delusion, rationalization, and self-servingness.

Someone might say that there are morally relevant differences between humans and animals. Of course there are. But to say that there are morally relevant differences between X and Y is not to say that there are no morally relevant similarities between X and Y. Two beings can be alike in some respects but different in others. Suppose one of my children has been bad and another good. There’s a morally relevant difference between them that would justify differential treatment; but this doesn’t mean the bad child loses all moral status.

Follow along with me. Sentient beings, i.e., beings who have the capacity to suffer, have an interest in not suffering. Suffering is intrinsically bad. Therefore, it’s prima facie wrong to inflict suffering. This means that, unless there is a good reason to inflict suffering, it is wrong to do so. But what is the good reason for making animals suffer? That you like the taste of their cooked flesh? If that’s a moral reason at all, it’s extremely weak. Certainly it’s not strong enough to justify the infliction of pain! How would you like it if someone put his or her trivial interests ahead of your significant interests? You would be outraged. Morally outraged.

Meat-eaters are walking contradictions. They violate their own moral principles. How can I take seriously someone whose heart bleeds for innocent Iraqis but who happily kills and eats innocent animals? I can’t. Until meat-eating opponents of the war in Iraq change their diets, they forfeit their right to be taken seriously.

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 15

I’m always stunned to hear intelligent people defend meat-eating on the ground that animals kill and eat each other. (See here.) To quote Ronald Dworkin from another context, this is an “album of confusions.”

First, not all animals kill and eat each other. Some animals are herbivores. Perhaps we should emulate them rather than omnivores or carnivores.

Second, what’s the underlying principle? Is it that we may (morally) do anything any animal does? But surely that’s not acceptable, for it implies, inter alia, that we may dominate other humans. Do we really want to look to animals for moral guidance? Any less-inclusive principle runs the risk of being self-serving. People who want to eat meat will justify it by citing the fact that some animals eat meat; but they won’t cite animal behavior as justification for behaviors they dislike, such as incest and conquest.

Third, even if it’s in our nature as human beings to eat meat, it doesn’t follow that we may. It’s in our nature as human beings to do many things that are wrong, such as inseminate women against their will, aggress on others, disregard the interests of those of other races and religions, and deceive others. That something is natural for humans goes no way toward showing that it’s morally permissible. This violates Hume’s law, which prohibits inferences from “is” to “ought.”

Fourth, there’s a relevant difference between humans and animals. Only humans are moral agents. (Animals are moral patients.) Only humans have the capacity to reflect on their desires and act against them. Only humans can act on the basis of principle. Only humans are responsible for their conduct. To blame an animal for harming another animal would be as absurd and pointless as blaming lightning for causing a fire. Since humans can decide how to act, we must decide, using reason, how to act. This difference between humans and animals imposes a special responsibility on humans. With moral agency comes responsibility. To say that we ought to act as animals do is to shirk this responsibility and become mere animals. It is a rationalization of something one wants to do but can’t justify doing.

By the way, I wrote about this confusion on 26 April (see here), but I keep getting letters from people that suggest that they haven’t read or understood it. Some things bear repeating.

18 July 2004

PETA's Unsavoriness

I don't understand how anyone with any intelligence could have anything to do with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). If you care about animals, work in their behalf. You don't need to belong to an organization to do this. Be independent. Avoid entanglements. Think for yourself. See here for the latest instance of PETA's unsavoriness.

It's outrageous that many people on both sides of the animal-rights issue identify the animal-rights movement with PETA. PETA is no more the animal-rights movement than the Republican party is conservatism or the Soviet Union Marxism. It is a corruption of the movement. It sets back the movement. PETA is the worst thing to happen to animals. If you care about animals, stop supporting PETA.

Richard Sorabji on Western Attitudes Toward Animals

Unfortunately, the Stoic view of animals, with its stress on their irrationality, became embedded in Western, Latin-speaking Christianity above all through Augustine. Western Christianity concentrated on one half, the anti-animal half, of the much more evenly balanced ancient debate. Although there were other strands in Western Christianity, I think this accounts for the relative complacency of our Western Christian tradition about the killing of animals. The ancient philosophers were less complacent. In the eighteenth century the tide began to turn, and in the last fifteen years it has accelerated, with a widespread rethinking of our treatment of animals. But I do not believe that the right defence of animals has yet been found. The modern philosophical defences seem to me to be too one-dimensional. What is clear, however, is that we should treat animals very much better than we do. My own diet has changed as a result of reflecting on the ancient texts, at least when I am choosing for myself, although I still enjoy whatever food I am served by others. I do not mention that as a particularly compelling position, and I have no wish to tell anyone else what to do. I explain in the concluding chapter why I think decisions must be complex, and suggest an alternative approach.

(Richard Sorabji, Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate, Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 54 [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993], 2-3)

17 July 2004

Shelbie

One of the worst things to happen to me in my forty-seven years of existence was the loss of my beloved canine companion Ginger on Thanksgiving day 2000. I was a zombie for weeks. I was deep into marathon training when she died, but I knew I had to keep going. Near the end of the marathon, seventeen days after her death, I started thinking about Ginger and began to cry. That affected my breathing, so I had to think about other things. Ginger was the sweetest, smartest, most beautiful dog in the world, with the exception of Sophie, with whom she was tied. I still talk to Ginger on every walk, as silly as that may sound.

Sophie and I got on for nearly three years by ourselves. I knew we needed a puppy, but I was afraid it would disrupt our lives and remind me of Ginger. Okay, I felt guilty about trying to “replace” Ginger. Finally, a year ago today, I drove to the North Texas Humane Society in Fort Worth. I made the rounds of dogs and was about to go home empty-handed. I wanted a particular age, sex, and breed, and no dog in the shelter filled the bill. Before leaving, I decided to make one more pass through the small-dog area. This time I saw Shelbie, a three-and-a-half-month-old stinker. She had just been put in a cage, probably because she had just gotten her shots. She walked toward me, nuzzled my hand, and stole my heart. Within two hours, she was home with Sophie and me.

The first couple of days were hard. As expected, I felt guilty, as if I were dishonoring Ginger’s memory. But mercifully it passed. Each day brought more joy into our lives, replacing the awful sadness. The past year has been one of the happiest of my life, and I’ve had many happy years. Shelbie is every bit as sweet, smart, and beautiful as Ginger. I love her dearly. She learns from and plays with Sophie, who, at eleven and a half years of age, is kept young by the upstart’s energy and playfulness. How did I get lucky again? I am thrice-blessed. Here is Shelbie the day I brought her home (eleven pounds) and here she is today (45.5 pounds) with Sophie.

Who Moved My Truth?

Ally Eskin has a thoughtful post about meat-eating. See here. To answer Ally's question about what to do about the cows, pigs, and chickens we stop eating, what happened to the horse-drawn carriages and Edsels people stopped buying? Did their manufacturers continue to produce them? No; they stopped making them. We'll stop making cows, pigs, and chickens.

16 July 2004

Tugboat

Tyler Hamilton is one of the best bicyclists in the world. He's currently competing in the Tour de France. Sadly, his longtime canine companion, Tugboat, died the other day. Not surprisingly, Tyler did poorly today in one of the Tour's most important stages. Here is the blurb that appeared at cyclingnews.com:
Not just a dog

Tyler Hamilton is in mourning for his friend Tugboat. For if the old adage that a dog is man's best friend [is true], Hamilton's big, friendly golden Labrador retriever was quite a buddy. Cyclingnews had the fortune to meet Tugboat a few years ago in Paris at the end of the Tour de France when Ty's wife Haven brought their beloved pet to the end of the Tour. Today we spoke to Hamilton before Stage 11 where the usually stoic New Englander told us about his emotional roller-coaster surrounding the loss of his best friend.

"Tugboat was like a family member to me," he said. "A lot of people don't know me or know the situation; they might think 'oh he's just a dog' but for me, it's hard, it's hard . . . just as hard as losing a family member. But life goes on and certainly (the loss of Tugboat) is a hundred times harder than what I went through last year." [Hamilton rode most of the 2003 Tour with a fractured collarbone.]

When we asked Hamilton if he thought the spirit of Tugboat might be with him during the rest of the Tour, Ty smiled and said "Yeah, I've got his tag right here," showing us Tug's red ID tag held around his neck on a white ribbon.
I send my condolences to Tyler and Haven.

15 July 2004

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith,

I have enjoyed your columns on Tech Central Station from day one. I often find my self rereading some of them, and your columns are one of the reasons I am hooked on TCS. I am glad I found your blog. However, I will probably skip over anything on your blog about animal rights just as I skip over anything about same-sex unions on Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Now exchanging views with a doctor of philosophy could be akin to wrestling against Randy Savage but, I will stick my toe, perhaps my foot into the ring (and not into my mouth) concerning animal rights with this question-slash-statement:

Don't other animals eat other animals? Aren't there more animals being consumed by non-human animals (including bugs, fish, etc; a non-human is a non-human) than by humans? Don't they do it as a function of biology and evolution? While they haven't evolved with a moral sense as deep as ours don't they have some moral sense? Isn't it possible that some animals know the difference between life and death and some even show signs of grieving (such as the elephant)? Don't we have some kind of duty to stop their immoral behavior too since that is where most of the "killing" occurs?
Respectfully,
Christopher Pugh
Austin, TX

14 July 2004

Animals

I’ve received several letters from people who don’t like my posts on animals. Some of them are nasty. One reader said I was on the verge of becoming Andrew Sullivan, who is obsessed with homosexuality. I replied that, just as I stopped reading Sullivan’s blog, he should stop reading mine.

But I’ve been thinking. My decision to stop reading Sullivan’s blog was based on more than the fact that he writes a lot about homosexuality. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that he won’t listen to reason. He tars opponents of homosexual “marriage” as “the religious right,” implying that the only basis for objecting to homosexual “marriage” is religious. He knows better. Many of us oppose it on secular grounds. I also think Sullivan is disingenuous in calling himself a federalist (he’s not) and in not taking seriously the possibility—indeed, the high probability, according to many constitutional scholars—that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution will be used to force homosexual “marriage” on all states. When I made this argument to him, he retorted, “It’s never been applied to marriage.” I guess that means it can’t be or never will be.

In short, I object to Sullivan’s irrationality, not to his interest in homosexuality.

Am I as irrational about animals as Sullivan is about homosexuality? I don’t think so. I’m perfectly happy to argue about the moral status of animals, which I’ve been doing for more than two decades. I teach the subject. I’ve published essays on it. I don’t resort to name-calling or manipulative rhetoric, as Sullivan does. I take pains to make relevant distinctions, to get my facts right, and correctly to characterize my opponents’ arguments before criticizing them. I’m committed to rational persuasion as a means of social change.

I believe that meat-eaters have inconsistent beliefs. They believe (1) that suffering is intrinsically bad; (2) that, as such, it must be justified; and (3) that the animals whose flesh they consume were made to suffer in its production. It follows logically from these beliefs that meat-eating is morally questionable. In philosophical terms, there is a strong prima facie case against consuming animal products. And yet, when I point this out, I get everything from denial to evasion to ridicule to abuse.

In my judgment, the most important moral issue in the world today is the status of nonhuman animals. Nothing else, even war, comes close. Why, believing this, would I forbear to discuss it? That readers of my blog prefer not to hear me discuss it may signify discomfort on their part. They grew up eating meat and enjoy it. They don’t like feeling guilty as they consume animal flesh. I make them feel guilty, for I remind them that they’re not living up to their own moral principles about not harming others. Please note: I’m not imposing my values on you. I’m imposing your values on you. Don’t react defensively or angrily. I’m trying to help you. I want you to have a coherent set of beliefs. I want you to live up to your moral principles. I want you to be a good person. Ask yourself whether your values commit you to changing your behavior. Follow my reasoning. If there’s something wrong with it, say so.

Some people say that animals don’t count for as much as humans or that they don’t have the same rights as humans. That’s irrelevant. If animals have any moral status at all—if they’re anything more than objects—then it’s wrong to eat them, because eating them is unnecessary. But surely, as sentient beings, they have at least some moral status. Any being that can suffer has an interest in not suffering. Isn’t it a requirement of rationality, and therefore of morality, that one take all relevant interests into account before acting? Is your interest in satisfying your taste sensations more important than an animal’s interest in not suffering? That, ultimately, is the question you must confront. Don’t evade it. Confront it. The unexamined life is not worth living.

13 July 2004

Len's Inconsistency

Len Carrier is my co-blogger on The Ethics of War. He opposed the war in Iraq. What would Len say if, during our discussion of the war, I said that Iraqis don’t count for as much, morally speaking, as Americans? He would deny it. He would say that Iraqis can suffer just as much as Americans, that their lives are just as valuable, and so forth. If I persisted, he would say that I’m racist, ethnocentric, or unacceptably nationalistic. He would say that I draw a moral line in an arbitrary place.

But that’s exactly what he’s doing with respect to animals. Len says he eats meat. But this inflicts terrible suffering on the animals whose flesh he consumes. If Len believes that suffering has moral significance, then its infliction must be justified. What is his justification for inflicting it on animals? Do his tastes for animal flesh justify it? Would my taste for Iraqi flesh justify killing and eating them? Would my interest in sport shooting justify my picking off random Iraqis?

People who discount or disregard the interests of other races are racists. People who discount or disregard the interests of the other sex are sexists. People who discount or disregard the interests of other nationalities are nationalists. People who discount or disregard the interests of other species are speciesists. If Len says that animals don’t matter, then I say that Iraqis don’t matter. If the former is rational, then so is the latter.

Len’s professed concern for innocent Iraqis rings hollow when he blithely inflicts terrible pain and suffering on innocent animals for his gustatory pleasure. And please, Len, don’t say that animals aren’t innocent. What are they, guilty? Animals are innocent in the same sense in which Iraqi children are innocent. If the interests of the latter must be taken into account in our deliberations, then so must the interests of animals be taken into account. Your eating meat shows that you do not take them into account. You are a walking contradiction who cannot be taken seriously. Before you respond to this post, read—and think about!—this essay by Mylan Engel.

12 July 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 14

Every social movement has both moderates and extremists. The difference is what they are willing to do—or, more precisely, not willing to do—in pursuit of their objective(s). They share ends, but not means. Some extremists are willing to harm others to achieve their goals, thinking, perhaps, that nothing will ever change if one works within the system. This was the agonizing choice Dr Martin Luther King Jr faced. Given his goal of a colorblind society, which means were best calculated to bring it about? He could have worked within the system, but he believed that that would never change anything, since the system was rigged against people of color. So he decided to disobey the law. But this disobedience, he insisted, had to be nonviolent. It was a form of communication, an initiation of dialogue with those who stood in the way of a just society.

Moderates face a dilemma. Either they repudiate their extreme colleagues or they do not. If they repudiate them, they risk alienating them and losing their energy and resources. If they do not repudiate them, they risk alienating their audience. Many people favor social change but are not willing to endorse or accept just any means to that change. They are, in philosophical terms, deontologists. They believe that evil may not be done that good may come. They believe that the end does not justify the means.

Many people, such as my Ethics of War co-blogger Len Carrier, sincerely believe that the war in Iraq was a mistake. They may believe that some good has come from the war, but not enough to justify the costs. Others take it to absurd extremes, propounding conspiracy theories about why the United States went to war, making personal attacks on those who waged it, and doing everything possible to undermine the war effort. When presidential candidate Wesley Clark was asked to repudiate some of the wild assertions made by one of his supporters, Michael Moore, he refused to do so. This was unfortunate (and telling), for it made it seem as though he were just as irrational as Moore, and nobody wants an irrational president. I know I don’t.

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about war in Iraq in a post ostensibly about animals. It’s because there’s a parallel. Many people believe that factory farming and other horrific practices must be abolished. But by what means? Some people advocate working within the system, trying to muster support for enactment, amendment, or repeal of laws. Others are impatient with this, thinking, as King did, that nothing will ever change by working within the system. Some of the impatient ones take extreme measures, such as destroying property or injuring or killing persons. This is a serious problem for the animal-liberation movement. If the aim is to change minds, resorting to violence may be counterproductive.

I’m a moderate when it comes to animal liberation. I believe that in the long run, the most effective means to social change is rational persuasion. Not force, not coercion, not manipulation. The people I persuade will manifest their changed attitudes and beliefs both in their personal lives (by changing their diets, for example) and in their political behavior. We live in a democracy. Each of us is entitled to vote our consciences. My goal is to work on consciences. I believe this is also the goal of Peter Singer. Perhaps we philosophers are na├»ve, but we are committed to reason. We would rather not persuade at all than persuade by nonrational means.

Some people are frustrated by the slowness of this process. But look how much progress has been made in the past hundred years. The moral and legal status of nonhuman animals has improved considerably. No, it hasn’t changed nearly enough. There is a great deal of work yet to be done. It breaks my heart to see how animals are abused and neglected day in and day out. But I’m convinced that resorting to violence against person or property in the name of animals is not the way to go. It may be personally satisfying, but it doesn’t ultimately help the animals we profess to care about.

I hereby repudiate organizations such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth First! to the extent that they advocate, endorse, tolerate, or engage in violent actions. Everyone who cares about animals should do the same. This is not a betrayal of the cause. It is fidelity to the cause. The betrayers are those who, looking only at the short run or their own satisfaction, undermine public support for the goal of protecting animals.

11 July 2004

David Hume (1711-1776) on the Impotence of Reason

Since morals . . . have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows, that they cannot be deriv'd from reason; and that because reason alone, as we have already prov'd, can never have any such influence. Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.

(David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, Book III ["Of Morals"], Part I ["Of Virtue and Vice in General"], Section I ["Moral Distinctions Not Deriv'd from Reason"], Paragraph 6 [1740])

Conservatism and Animals

See here for my lengthy post on whether conservatism is compatible with concern for animals.

From Yesterday's Dallas Morning News

Bans on cattle feed debated

Officials say new limits not needed; critics say consumers are at risk

By KATIE FAIRBANK

Six months after promising to remove chicken waste, food scraps and blood from cattle feed systems, federal officials said Friday they aren't sure whether the bans are needed.

The restrictions were announced in January soon after mad cow disease was found in a Holstein in Washington state.

But the rules were not instituted and are now up for public comment along with other possible feed restrictions, including bans on animals that die on farms or can't stand up when they're taken to a slaughterhouse.

The earliest any of the rules under consideration could be instituted would be the end of the year.

Federal regulators say that if cows with suspicious symptoms are kept out of the system, there should be no worries about specific products.

"Based on all of the measures that have been offered, if we did some of these, would we need to do all of them?" asked Dr. Steven Sundlof. The director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine with the Food and Drug Administration spoke during a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Critics of the feed practices say the government has caved in to the meat industry and the exceptions put consumers at risk of mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

"This is something that could have a health impact," said Tom McGarity, a professor of food safety law at the University of Texas Law School and president of the Center for Progressive Regulation. "American consumers will remain unprotected as ranchers and feedlots continue to feed cow blood to calves and potentially contaminated chicken litter to cattle for the foreseeable future."

Calves are fed blood because the milk that is produced is sold to human consumers.

Chicken litter is a cheap, readily available feed, and plate waste is food left over at restaurants that is sent to rendering plants and added to feed.

Carol Tucker Foreman, food policy director of the Consumer Federation of America, said she didn't understand why the government didn't ban poultry litter and cows' blood as cattle food now and make adjustments later if more stringent rules are put in place.

"Instead they choose to do nothing," she said.

Richard Wortham, executive vice president of the Texas Beef Council, said the meat industry is just "trying to protect the food supply. If there are any additional safeguards that need to take place, they need to be based on science."

The FDA did enact one ban Friday: Brains and other cattle parts that could carry mad cow will no longer be used in cosmetics and dietary supplements.

Those cattle parts are not in the food supply because of an Agriculture Department ban.

The ban affects products made from animals 30 months of age and older, which the government says are more at risk.

A loophole for tallow remains. Tallow is a processed fat made from cattle that is used in cosmetics, but the FDA said that the high heat and pressure used to make it minimize the risk.

Consumer groups applauded the cosmetic and supplement decision.

"I think taking the steps to keep specified risk materials out of FDA-regulated food and dietary supplements and cosmetics is a worthwhile thing to do," said Ms. Tucker Foreman.

"But if you're talking about reducing risk, it would reduce risk a lot more by dealing with the feed issues."

10 July 2004

Animal Rights

Some time back, Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a list of essays on the moral status of animals. I've been linking to the essays one at a time. Here is an essay on animal rights.

08 July 2004

07 July 2004

Justice

My friend Butch had to euthanize his ten-year old canine companion, Justice, who developed a prostate problem that affected other organs. Having lost my Ginger nearly four years ago, I know how Butch feels. If it's any consolation, Butch, you gave Justice a great life. You were loyal to him to the end, as he was to you throughout his life. He is no longer in pain. Don't reflect on what you lost or on what might have been. Reflect on what you and Justice had—the quiet times you spent together, the things you did, the joy and comfort each of you gave the other. Rest in peace, Justice.

06 July 2004

A Puzzle

Anyone who cares about the amount of suffering in the world and wants to do something about it should be concerned about nonhuman animals. Nothing humans do to one another comes close to matching the enormity of what they do to animals. If you eat beef, for example, you are contributing quite directly to a practice that treats sentient beings as little more than flesh-making machines. If you don’t believe me, read this story from The Washington Post. (Here is the same story on a different site.) If you’re not crying by the end of it, you’re not functioning properly.

I’m puzzled by people who care a great deal about the feelings and social status of homosexuals but not at all about animals. Even if you think animals count for less than humans, this is irrational. No homosexual is confined, castrated, and chopped to pieces while alive, the way the cow whose flesh you eat was. All you have to do, if you’re a feeling, thinking person, is stop contributing to the horror. Stop rationalizing your behavior. Stop pretending that the animals whose flesh you eat lived happy lives and died painless deaths, for it’s almost certain that they did not.

05 July 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 13

There’s a difference between having a right and being able to assert it. I sometimes hear it suggested that, since animals can’t assert rights, they don’t have any. But this is a non sequitur. Babies can’t assert rights, but surely they have them. The senile can’t assert rights, but surely they have them.

Rightholders can be represented by others. This is done every day when people hire attorneys (or when guardians are appointed for the incompetent). An attorney, literally, is someone who works at the turn of—i.e., in behalf of—another. Actually, attorneys both work in behalf of their clients and speak on behalf of their clients. There are plenty of people who are able and willing to work in behalf of and speak on behalf of animals. Thus, animals’ not being able to assert their rights has nothing to do with whether they have rights to be asserted. Don’t confuse the two.

Sometimes I think animals get shafted because they can’t stand up for themselves. It’s a case of might makes right. When humans are abused, they cry “injustice,” “exploitation,” “oppression,” and “unfairness.” This rallies others to their cause. Animals don’t speak this language. But they have interests, like humans; and their interests can be wrongfully set back. The law is changing, albeit gradually. A hundred years from now, the legal status of animals will be very different from what it is today. Wrongs that now go unrecognized and unremedied will be seen for what they are and dealt with accordingly.

If you’re skeptical that this will happen, look at slavery. It took a long time for people to see the evil in human chattel slavery, evil that seems as obvious to us as that there are people. It required a paradigm shift. It’s only a matter of time before people see the evil in treating animals as property.

03 July 2004

Peter Singer

Pablo Stafforini, creator of Peter Singer Links, has posted some new material. Here is a newspaper column from a year or so ago entitled "Some Are More Equal."

02 July 2004

Texana

I lived the first twenty-six years of my life in Michigan, followed by five in Arizona and now sixteen in Texas. Some things were the same in these three states, but many—including climate, geography, flora, and fauna—were different. I’m blessed to have lived in such different environments. If I never live anywhere else, and I probably won’t, I can say that I experienced three distinct regions of the United States: the Great Lakes, the desert Southwest, and the Southern Great Plains.

One of the animals I never saw until I came to Texas in 1988, and which seems to be identified with Texas in people’s minds, is the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus). According to my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals (1980), this is “the only North American mammal armored with heavy, bony plates.” The armadillo is a little tank. When threatened, it curls into a ball, too large to be eaten and too hard to be bitten into. Who says evolution isn’t ingenious?

The field guide contains this bit of lore: “The Spanish conquistadors first encountered this strange creature and named it the ‘little man in armor.’ It spends most waking hours digging for food and building burrows, grunting almost constantly.” The map shows a range from West Texas northward into Nebraska and Missouri and eastward to the Atlantic coast, with all but the southernmost tip of Florida covered. While I’ve never touched an armadillo or been close to a living one, I see them flattened on highways quite often. The other day, while returning home from an errand, I narrowly missed either an armadillo or an opossum.

The field guide says that, “For such a clumsy-looking animal it is surprisingly swift. It can swim short distances, gulping air to inflate its intestines for increased buoyancy, and can cross small streams by walking underwater on the stream bed.” And then, disappointingly, there is this: “Its meat tastes somewhat like pork, and its decorative shell is used to make bowls or baskets.” Who would eat such a cute little critter?

01 July 2004

The Rest of the Story

Keith, below is the story that should have accompanied the catfish images I sent yesterday (see here). I accidentally deleted the text while trying to import it into the flash document. My friend kindly resent it to me this morning, so here it is. Sorry about that . . . Joanna

FISH STORY FROM WICHITA EAGLE NEWSPAPER

This story was published in the Sunday Wichita Eagle newspaper a couple of weeks ago. It happened in a housing development around 119th Street South and Maple. A resident in the area saw a ball bouncing around in the development's pond and, when he went to investigate, he saw a flathead catfish who had obviously tried to swallow a child's basketball which had became stuck in its mouth. The fish was totally exhausted from trying to dive but unable to because the ball would always bring him back up to the surface. The resident tried numerous times to get the ball out but was unsuccessful. He finally asked his wife to cut the ball in order to deflate it and was then able to release the catfish.