Archive for the ‘Sarah Palin’ category

Happy Birthday Sarah Palin

February 11, 2009

I’m very happy to share my birthday, not only with chicks such as Jennifer Aniston and Sheryl Crow, but also with a sweet child of mine, born seven years ago today. I also never fail to share my birthday with a respiratory virus, but that’s what you get for coming into the world in the middle of February.

This morning I checked out my favourite blog from Alaska, The Mudflats, which I came to enjoy in the few months preceding the U.S. elections. I keep going back, because the writer is funny, informative and regularly receives visits from a wild moose named Brian. To my dismay, I found out that I also share my birthday with wildlife enemy no. 1 Sarah Palin. Like much of the world, I was first perplexed, then developed a disturbing combination of amusement and anger as she campaigned haplessly and sneeringly through the months of September and October, and was finally relieved when she (kind of) disappeared from the (inter)national political scene.

Brian the moose and I have at least one thing in common: we do not like Sarah. In particular, we do not like the policies she represents for flora and fauna. Neither Brian nor I quite understand exactly what Palin was trying to say about polar bears in this New York Times editorial from January 2008.

So far, Palin has shown casual disregard or outright cruelty to at least three wild species in Alaska: wolves, belugas and polar bears. While her war on wolves is the most direct – allowing them to be shot from low-flying airplanes for the preposterous reason that they reduce the wild caribou herds that she wants preserved for human consumption (completely ignoring the fact that wolves usually cull the old and weak animals that aren’t prizes for hunters anyways), her battle against belugas and bears is more insidious, consisting of encouraging massive habitat destruction in the quest for more oil drilling and haphazard development.

Given Palin’s ideological background as a religious conservative Republican, it is unsurprising that she is both ignorant and dismissive of science, and views animals as subordinate, disposable creatures. After all, the Bible has told her so.

As a former evangelical, I am all too familiar with the doctrines and mindsets that motivate politicians such as Palin. When Katie Couric asked her which newspapers or magazines she reads, I suspect I know why she stumbled so badly on her response. While she might read some local non-religious newspapers, she’s likely a more avid reader of end-times prophecy literature and Pentecostal publications, and perhaps some radical right wing rags as well. She knew she couldn’t come out with these on prime time because most Americans would either not know what she was talking about, or would know all too well. She was not playing to the base in that interview. If she had been, she would have mentioned some of them by name, and she would definitely have mentioned that her daily Bible readings are a great source of inspiration and guidance in making policy decisions.

In the Bible, animals are even more disposable than certain groups of unlucky humans. Parts of the Old Testament are littered with the corpses of dead animals as payment for various sins, and notables such as Abraham, Samson and David got their start by eliminating lions from the Middle East. Things start to get better with Jesus, who was born amongst the animals of the barn, and he is never portrayed as dominating animals or killing any (OK, except for the fish, but usually he was just watching or multiplying). But that was during his brief life on earth. After that was over, he returned to Peter in Acts chapter 10 as a commanding voice in a vision containing all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air, presented to Peter on a sheet. This voice of Jesus says “Get up Peter. Kill and eat!” Peter protests, because of course he is Jewish and can’t eat just anything in any random way. Jesus rebukes him, and the vision comes back three times, to make things perfectly clear. Such a handy way to pass from Old Testament attempts at restraint, and Jesus’ relatively peaceful stance towards animals, to an all-out holy war against every species on earth.

So not only does Palin have financial and political interests behind her decisions to force through laws and policies on wolf-shooting and polar bear and beluga habitat decimation, she also sleeps easy at night because the Bible told her it’s quite all right by God, in fact he commands it: Kill and eat.

Yes, I know that most of us kill and eat, at least indirectly. But it would be great if we could leave some species alone, their habitats relatively untouched, and even better if we could find leaders who will encourage preservation, conservation, ecological development. Palin is only the most obvious leader who disregards all creatures other than babies in the womb, and it’s great that she was stopped before she reached the White House. I hope that this focus on the kinds of wildlife policies she pushes will also shift attention to other cruel and questionable ones.

Palin’s Drill Baby Drill Versus the Belugas

Eye on Palin

Change happens: thanks, feminism!

December 11, 2008

Over at unrepentantoldhippie, JJ has again neatly made the point that even though you don’t want feminists to speak for you as a woman, that’s OK, because it’s not about you, as an outstanding and outspoken individual, it’s about the historical fact that women once did not have the same political and social rights as men did, but that through the continuing struggle, rising, falling and rising again, of feminism over several decades and at least a few centuries, things have changed. Even though that’s apparently too complex a history for some people, it’s undeniable that feminism has had one of the most profound impacts on Western society – for good or for evil, depending on your point of view. But please, let’s be consistent, and honest with history. If you think feminism is so awful, and you don’t accept the fact that it has made momentuous and positive contributions to women’s lives, it would be really neat if you would forgo those changes and acquired rights, and live as women did 50, 70, 100, 200 years ago. But alas, you cannot. Short of dropping out of society, you can’t return to that golden age of oppression. Feminism was not a “natural” evolution of human society; it was a struggle, all the way along.

I’m reading the third edition (2002) of Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. One of the cool things about this book is that the prefaces for the 1975 and 1990 editions are included. Singer expresses his humble amazement at some of the rapid developments in the animal rights movement over the past 30+ years, and how it has influenced practice – particularly in the European Union, where changes have greatly outpaced North America in terms of animal welfare laws and changes in husbandry practices (notably for chickens and pigs). For example, by 2012, European egg producers will have to provide 750 cm2 (120 sq in) per bird; in Canada the current recommendation is 450 cm2, and only 350 cm2 (52 sq in) in the United States. The changes proposed for Canada and the United States are already seen as outmoded and inacceptable by European farmers – who are starting to consider that maybe hens need a system that does without cages altogether…

In the first chapter of Singer’s book, he discusses the reaction to proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecroft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. In a move reminiscent of bloggerdom, a satirical work appeared soon after: A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes (i.e. animals). The author was anonymous at the time (hmm) but it is now known that it was Thomas Taylor, a distinguished Cambridge philosopher. His satire pointed out that if Wollstonecraft’s arguments held for women and children then what if we extended them to dogs, cats, and horses? (Yeah, what if we had to stop beating them to an inch of their lives for disobedience, or rounding them up off the streets and cutting them up into pieces while they still lived and breathed…) Of course, as satire, it was surely a hilarious read for literate men of the day. But still, a century later, things hadn’t changed that much for women. They still didn’t have the right to vote or own property, and they were not considered persons under the law; in addition to a thousand other humiliating details. By the 1920s, when women were finally allowed to vote in England, Canada, the US, and Australia – they still weren’t paid equal wages for similar work, or allowed equal educational and professional opportunities.

Progress continued slowly, until the incredibly rapid changes in laws and customs that occurred just before I was born, and continued at a whirlwind pace as I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s. Feminism has been influential to the point where even the very conservative religious culture I grew up in (evangelical Christianity) has become nearly unrecognisable in some of its aspects – the emergence of Sarah Palin would be Exhibit A, and though I really don’t wish to elaborate on her, except to mention that back in the 1980s, mainstream evangelical church leaders thought that the day they let women have political or religious authority over men meant that there were no men fit to lead and we were all heading for hell in a handbasket anyways. (Exhibit B would be pastors telling their members to have (hetero)sexual intercourse every day…. As I check this link, I realise that I attended this church briefly, about 20 years ago. They didn’t display cheesy-sexy beds anywhere near pulpits in those days.)

But of course Palin’s not exceptional. She’s simply part of a culture that has changed to the point where you are more likely than not to have a woman as your doctor or veterinarian. When I graduated from vet school as a large animal practitioner almost a decade ago, it was the turning point, when the balance tipped to a female majority of graduating vets. Yes, we had and continue to have our struggles, to obtain reasonable mat leave and time off to nurse babies and be with our young kids and return to our jobs – but I am pleased to note that in Canada at least, women (and men) vets are increasingly willing to sub in for each other in temporary locums, as women take time off to have children and then return to work on a part-time basis, until their kids are older.

But back to animals à la fin. Even though the seemingly intractable problems of humans, animals and the environment can drain us of energy and create cynicism, negativism is no help at all, and it suffocates hope. Changes in thinking about animal welfare and rights have made a difference, and continue to do so. Change doesn’t happen overnight – but sometimes it can happen with breathtaking rapidity.