Thursday, November 27, 2003

10. Thanksgiving is not for everyone

On November 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed the bill establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. I always wondered if the Indians celebrated Thanksgiving. I found the answer of that question to be, "not exactly."

On Thanksgiving Day, 1970, the United American Indians of New England organized the day as A National Day of Mourning for Indians. Earlier that day, Frank James, a Wampanoag leader, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing. The content of the speech he had prepared was, however, deemed inappropriate, and his speech rewritten. He wouldn't accept the revised speech and left the dinner- before speaking to a small group on Cole's Hill, overlooking Plymouth Harbor and the replica of the Mayflower. The plaque on Cole's Hill commemorating the event reads, "Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon...to commemorate a National Day of Mourning... Many natives do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European Settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. ...It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience."

Only the superciliousness of Americans or the lack of knowledge of American history would anyone ever have the audacity to ask a Native American to make an "appreciative and complimentary" speech celebrating the anniversary of an event that led to the oppression of his own people. Frank James' original speech noted, "It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts." That, "this is a time of celebration for you- celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look upon what happened to my People." Exactly what did they expect him to say? Malcolm X's remark of the African American experience in America would have been just as appropriate- "We did not land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us."

If Thanksgiving is to be a day of gratitude for the good fortune bestowed upon us in this country then we should note that we have a lot to be thankful for. If that gratitude is extended to the God of your choosing, one certainly has that right. However, only remorse should be considered of the relations with the Indians, and one should be appalled at the misrepresentation of our early history in this country as depicted in textbooks. Early settlers were not pure and righteous; they certainly did not act in a manner even scarcely resembling those of the Christian teachings. Americans, especially the early Americans who risked their lives in crossing the ocean, have always acted on behalf of self-interest- such as money, land, and freedom.

However, the argument can be made that while this was the Indians' land, that war was not in any way unusual. Europeans, in fact most of civilization, had been at war for centuries. And those who suffered defeat lost land, wealth and power. In some ways the Indians were fortunate, having North America all to themselves, to avoid the conflicts occurring on other continents. As despicable as it is, the act of war, of taking land and possessions, making treaties and breaking treaties was the way of the world (and still is). It's not intended to be a defense; rather it is a sad fact.

But as sad as it is, it is deplorable to hide from the truth - to censor textbooks, to create myths. To depict the Indians as anything other than a race of people trying to defend their land, by the means available to them is simply not fair. They were savages no more than we were. We were, and are still, as idealistic and ritualistic. And they too, were no less entitled to the God(s) of their choosing.

In this manner, to celebrate a holiday in which a picture is painted so far from the truth is indefensible. Even if there was an initial feast (and there are many different stories), the history between the groups of people to follow is so tumultuous that the moment has lost its value. The act should be dropped. We can celebrate through appreciation this great country of ours- we should just have the respect to leave our "dinner guests" out of it.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

9. Post office has sound advice

I was pleased to learn that the United States Postal Service has introduced a campaign promoting the neutering and spaying of pets. It has rolled out postcards, pins, and even notepads featuring the story of an adorable dog that was taken in from a shelter. The products note that an estimated 8-10 million of unwanted pets are taken to shelters each year, along with the "tens of millions" of strays that roam our neighborhoods. They also note that neutering and spaying your pets can help address behavioral issues, has health benefits, and prevents unwanted animals from being born.

The adoption of a pet can be a wonderful experience, a lasting relationship and a demanding commitment. While everyone enjoys the warmth and charm of a new puppy or kitten, often this initial affection wears off- leaving the pet ignored, unappreciated, neglected or bored. Before adopting, one should consider if he or she is willing to accept the challenge of bringing home a pet. Sometimes the training, attention, and care a pet requires can be overwhelming.

One question to be answered is why one wants a pet. Hopefully it is for the right reason; alas many have ulterior motives. Most are kind, caring individuals with the intention of smothering their pet with compassion and love. However, a few use their animals to serve them, bring them attention, as part of their image, or for profit. While some love their animals like a member of the family, others regard them as no more than a material object.

The adoption of exotic animals is often based on novelty, and is unfair to the animal. The capture and transport of these animals can be difficult and many die before even reaching their new homes. Snakes, birds, and as we have seen lately, tigers and alligators, just to name a few, are animals that do not belong in cages (or apartments). Equally as unfair is the feeding of these animals, such as mice to snakes. In nature, each animal is afforded a fair opportunity for survival. A mouse, in a cage with a snake, has been stripped of this opportunity. Some have these exotic pets because they enjoy the attention the rare or untamed animal brings onto them or, worse, they indulge themselves in the savagery of nature.

Unfortunately, some have pets primarily to service their egos. Dangerous animals, such as pit bulls, and animals that project an image, such as rottwillers, are, for some, owned only to portray their idea that "image is everything." Others use their animals to communicate wealth or elitism. High priced breeds are owned, because, well, just "any" dog wouldn't be good enough. Some people spend lots of money on "show dogs." Is this for them or the dogs? Who is really competing here? Would the dog rather be at the park eating hot dogs and chasing squirrels or standing perfectly still with his or her tail at just the right angle? Show dogs and those of "AKC registry" ensure value and potential earnings for their owners, should one ever decide to breed them.

I've found no difference in the unconditional love offered by pure breeds and "mutts." (One book on mutts subtitles them, "Pure of Heart, Not of Breed). Frankly, I don't understand the commitment to pure breeds by many owners when so many other animals are available for adoption. It is estimated that for every puppy born, three die in shelters. Furthermore, the pure breeding of animals often accentuates not only desirable traits but also undesirable. Often, due to selective breeding, some types suffer through vision, breathing and other physiological health problems. Many of these breeds would never survive in nature- sure they are cute, but nature didn't select them, breeders did. They suffer from a lack of genetic diversity, and therefore problematic genes are bred over and over. However, they will continue to be bred as long as people continue to purchase them. It just saddens me to think that dogs are being bred and purchased for upwards of $1200 when so many needy animals sit homeless in shelters.

My naturalistic viewpoint is perhaps extreme, but I don't believe any animals should be in cages, on chains or in tanks. These are not pets; these are prisoners. And one way to keep them out of the cages of our animal protection leagues, pounds and humane societies is to take care of them. This involves treating them as humanely as possible, not as novelties, for show, or for profit. This also involves limiting the number of unwanted animals that are born. The post office has delivered a very compassionate message- please spay and neuter your pets.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

8. Humans end perfect history

"Give me a home where the Buffalo roam, where the deer and antelope play," are opening the words of the romantic prairie song, "Home on the Range." The problem is that this place no longer exists- Buffalo, actually "Bison," no longer roam freely in this country. Whereas their numbers were estimated upwards of 60 million before the white man came, they now exist only through legislation in National parks and preserves. Their slaughter in the late 1800's reduced their numbers to as low as 250-300 in the early 1900's. Never before in history had a large animal of one species been so thoroughly exterminated.

Male Bison stand 5½ to 6 feet tall and weight as much as 2400 pounds. Females are smaller weighing in at 800-1000 pounds. They reached America about 1 million years ago, during the Pleistocene period, through a land bridge across the Bering Sea. In their peak, migrating Bison would travel in herds up to 25 miles wide! They live to be about 15-20 years old and females bear a calf every other year. With such a long period between births, and hence the slow population growth of the species, one can extrapolate the time it must have taken to reach 60 million. Even now, with national protection and the help of breeding farms, they only number around 300,000. It's dreadfully amazing what history humans can erase in such a short period of time.

What is more amazing are the reasons they were killed. One reason was that they had the nerve to hinder the western frontier expansion of Americans, namely, the construction of our railroads. The most famous (or infamous) character of this act was Buffalo Bill, William F. Cody, who once killed over 60 animals in an eight-hour period. And, of course, the railroad made the transport of fallen Bison to market much easier.

Another reason they were killed was sport, or just for amusement. The size of these animals made their butcher valuable, as well intensified the challenge of the hunt. When deer and other small animals moved out of range, they were not pursued. Bison however, were pursued for miles. It has also been noted that passengers on trains would lean out the window and shoot at the Bison as the train rolled on- as a lust for slaughter or entertainment.

Finally, and the most disgraceful reason for their massacre was to keep the Indians under control. The Indians for centuries relied on the Bison for survival. They only killed what they needed to survive and consumed every bit of the animal. Some say the Indians treated the Bison like their brother who sacrificed himself for the tribe. They also thanked the spirits for their good fortune. So the white man realized that killing the Bison also eliminated a valuable food source of the Indians. It also aided in keeping Indians on their reservations, for if there are no Bison, then there is nothing to chase. As a result, the execution of the Bison disarmed their nomadic way of life. Thus, the white men sought not only to take the land of the Indians, but also to remove their source of food.

From 1872-74, Bison were being killed at a rate of more than 5000 per day. In 1878 the last of the southern great herds was decimated, while 5 years later, by 1883, most of the northern herds had been ruined. Therefore, it is not without truth to note that in approximately eleven years, a million years worth of the life in America for the Bison had been destroyed.

Those who are religious might wonder why God went to the trouble to create so many species of animals, if it is our destiny to simply eradicate those not of our liking- with or without good reason. Might not he just as easily presented us with a checklist from the beginning to select those animals we might permit to survive our inhabitance? Although, on further thought... maybe he did. The Bison may have slipped upon the Arc when Noah was sorting through the numerous species of beetles.

If one takes a more naturalistic view, how even more tragic is the human infliction of (near) extinction for those species that simply lack a purpose in "our" world. What a waste of nature's time and the eloquent mechanisms of natural selection to create such a successful animal, only to have it destroyed in a blink of an eye. And how pathetic it is to imagine that a species of animal was nearly wiped out to obstruct the survival of a race of people from our own species.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

7. Is recall a true reflection?

In one sense, the California recall is an exercise of democracy- the people, acting through the rules of government, voting to oust elected leadership that has performed unsatisfactorily. In another sense, it is the continuation of the never-ending partisan battles that continue to plaque our country. From the beginning, George Washington himself warned of party-led politics. And today, with so much at stake- from the elections themselves, to special interest groups and lobbyists, to the naming of the judges who interrupt our laws, its no wonder that we live in a world of political warfare. There might never be a finer example of political conflict than the 2000 presidential election, in which the pro-republican Supreme Court overstepped their boundaries, and previous rulings, to essentially decide the election of our president. The simplicity of what an election should detail, has become a bogged down legal affair. The California recall was no different, from the recall itself to the already legal battles over when the election was to occur and even whether or not it was constitutional.

It's amazing to listen to intelligent, knowledgeable political analysts that, based on partisanship, report the same event from two completely different perspectives. Where has the objectiveness gone? To listen to the side opposing your personal views inspires outrage at the obviousness of their distortions and lies. Of course, the other side feels the same way. Every event, every word, is analyzed with both parties searching for the slightest advantage. In the California recall, the Democrats claim that Arnold Schwarzenegger groped and acted inappropriately with women; the Republicans counter that this was a political move and that the women that came forward were not credible. This is just one example in which both sides are adamant and convincing.

The recall itself is a frightening precedent. Only 12 percent of the voters from the previous election need to sign the petition to enact a recall. Consider any close election and it is easy to speculate how easily this might be accomplished. The case against Gray Davis is that he won a close, low-turnout election and that under his leadership the California budget has suffered an eight billion dollar deficit. Does that sound like anyone else? Under this system, and these conditions, how difficult would it be to recall our current President? At least Gray Davis didn't promise weapons of mass destruction!

The election procedure itself is flawed under certain circumstances- although it didn't play a role in this election. The first part of the election was whether or not to recall Gray Davis. In this case, although not enough to save his job, 45% voted "no"- thus voicing their opinion that they want Davis to continue as Governor. The next part of the election is to decide who should succeed the Governor in the case of a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger won with 49% of the vote. But, he COULD'VE won with 33% had the balance voted among the 100 or so lesser known candidates. In this situation, 45% of the voters would have expressed their desire for Gray Davis to continue as Governor, while only 33% of the voters would prefer that Arnold Schwarzenegger assume Governorship- yet Arnold Schwarzenegger would be the Governor-elect.

Although I am a resolute defender of democracy- I would argue against the recall on a couple points. Besides, as I have already mentioned, that I think it is too easy to initiate a recall and that under circumstances the less popular candidate can be elected, I am bothered to the fact that this was a recently reelected politician. There is discussion as to the spirit of the recall legislation, whether it was put in place to recall extreme misconduct, or to be used to dictate the result of changing voter preference. But in this case, Californians, less than a year ago, actively reelected Gray Davis; thus my point is if he was so incompetent, they certainly had their chance.

Of his possible successors, it's a shame that it inevitably came down to a popularity contest. While Arnold Schwarzenegger has done a lot for charities and with kids, his campaign was almost cartoon-like. He has no government experience, and, at times, appeared to be researching for a movie part- clich├ęd lines and all! Meanwhile candidates with serious credentials such as senator, law school president, scientist and engineer were, for the most part, ignored.

The recall cost Californians upwards of 65 million dollars. However, by creating precedent and entrenching the animosity between the country's two major political parties, this could just be the beginning- the beginning of legal battles, controversy and wasted taxpayer dollars. The Democrats have now suffered two controversial defeats in the last three years and with a presidential election forthcoming next year- the fight may have just begun.