Saturday, October 25, 2008

Killing Pets... and Other Cross-Species Interactions

The September 19, 2008 issue of People Magazine contained an article entitled "The Puppy Saver," about Bill Smith in Pennsylvania who is committed to saving puppies from "puppy mills," Puppy mills are locations where dogs are bred in large numbers solely for the financial profit of the owner. These puppy mills are often places where the dogs are kept in squalid crowded conditions, without exercise or necessary care. The article says... "It is a dirty secret that picturesque Lancaster County is also the puppy mill capital of the United States - and that the otherwise gentle Amish and Mennonite farmers who live in the area dominate the trade." The article says that "Some of the largest Amish operations can produce annual profits of upwards of $500,000. The Oprah Winfrey Show also recently had an episode that focused on puppy mills and also featured Bill Smith.

The People Magazine article reports that one puppy mill owner, on finding out from a kennel inspector that he might be fined as much as $300. per puppy for inadequate care, shot and killed 80 dogs. The article goes on to say the following: "But the Amish see their involvement in puppy mills sanctioned by a higher authority as well. They interpret the Bible as giving them dominion over animals. "That's in Genesis, " says one Amish kennel owner, who asked that he not be named. "They are not people; they're animals. So they can be kept in cages."

As a Mennonite who grew up in Lancaster County I would like to look a little closer at the belief expressed by the anonymous Amishman who says that it's OK for people to keep animals in cages. (Actually, for the record, we also keep people in cages, especially the United States, which has one of the largest incarcerated populations of humans in the world). I recognize the comment by the Amishman as somewhat representative of the traditional beliefs of some, (hopefully a minority), Amish and Mennonites. Having dominion over animals has never meant abandoning the responsibility to be good stewards. We are still required to treat and relate to other species in a wise and respectful manner. In much the same way that "render to Caeser the things that are Caeser's" does not mean that we give Caesar anything that he asks for, likewise the instruction to "have dominion" over the plants and animals does not mean that we can do anything we want to other species. The arrogance that humans show toward the rest of God's creation is not limited to Amish or Mennonites in their treatment of dogs, but to some extent permeates all societies and is demonstrated by the disappearing habitat for other creatures, and the increasing number of species facing extiction.

I remember frequently seeing, in Lancaster County, country roads covered with dirt and mud where farmers cultivating their land, either with horses or tractors, would work the soil to the very edge of the pavement, and then turn their equipment around on the road to return to the field. If asked, they would probably tell you that they were simply practicing good stewardship by using all the possible soil for cultivating, but I suggest that such a practice is actually an act of greed. Why? Because the Bible makes it clear that some of the land must be preserved for the birds and animals. Landowners have a responsiblity to not use all their land for their own purposes. It's also true that in many parts of this country it is only in those extremely narrow strips of land between cultivated or grazed fields and highways, that native species of plants are able to survive.

From the time I was very young I was aware of the condescending attitude that people have toward other species of animals and plants. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the belief that it 's wrong to let another, especially domesticated, species suffer. So if a dog, horse, cat, or some animal suffers a serious injury, they are euthanized, or more accurately, executed, to end their suffering. This happened to a cat in my family on at least one occassion. We never spent any money on vets or treatment for injured animals. Perhaps my parents could not afford it. This belief was and is widespread throughout the country. The novelist Harry Crews, in his superb 1978 autobiography, "A Childhood: The Biography of a Place," writes about slaughtering hogs: "Animals were killed but seldom hurt. Farmers took tremendous precautions about pain at slaughter. As brutal as they sometimes are with farm animals and with themselves, no farmer would ever eat an animal he had willingly made suffer." Although Crews was writting about growing up as the son of a sharecropper in Georgia, at least a small part of his experience and mine overlap.

The belief that it's better to kill an injured or sick animal rather than let it suffer is another example of the arrogance people display toward other species. We don't even know what other members of our own speices want in that kind of situation. That's why we have living wills and advanced directives. Yet we are arrogant enough to pretend that we know what an individual from another species would want! Don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesing that letting them suffer is a good idea, or that I have a better alternative. I don't. I'm simply saying that pretending we know what's best for them or what they would want, when we don't even know what other members of our own species want, is extremely arrogant. At least we need to recognize and acknowledge that fact.

Not all Amish or Mennonites act in a disdainful manner toward other creatures. Although I know of a Mennonite pastor who, when I was a boy, foolishly cultivated a hedgerow between two of his fields thereby destroying the nests of several ring-necked pheasants and numerous other animals and birds and also subjected his sloping fields to more erosion and loss of topsoil, I also remember another Mennonite farmer who while cultivating a field with a large tractor and disk carefully circled and preserved a killdeer nest with its four eggs.

The misinterpretation of Biblical passages on having dominion, and the selfishness of humans toward the creation is not evident just in Amish and Mennonite puppy mills. It's a part of our entire human culture and mainfests itself whenever a marsh is drained, wildlife is poached, and whenever air or water is used as a storage for some kind of toxic waste. It's also evident in the actions of "developers" who drive other species off their land in order to build homes for humans, (and the people who buy those homes), rather than using land already available by building more compact cities and towns. It's evident in the transfer of fertile farmland into suburbs, and rain forest into farmland. We see it every time a law has to be passed to protect an endangered species because people don't care enough to do it on their own. It's also visible in the absence of large preserved ecosystems and in the non-existance of wildlife corriders which make it possible for wildlife to have access to water and normal traditional migration patterns. Actually it would be difficult to find, anywhere in the world, a sensitive and responsible pattern of humans relating to other species, although it's true that some countries do it much better than the US.

Amish and Mennonite puppy mill owners who cage their animals, never allowing them to get any exercise and depriving them of needed medical care and proper nutrition, should be accountable for their abuse. However the foundation of their misbehavior, based on the idea that humans have dominion over the rest of the creation, and their failure to realize exactly what that means is a problem that most people, especially in this country, seem to have. Plants and animals, other than humans, are "good," independant of any human use or utilization. Their value as part of the creation is not dependant on how much they benefit human beings. The most important lesson we can learn from the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis is that the creation - all of it - is worth preserving and saving. We have an obligation to preseve and protect other species and their habitats. It's wrong to simply see them as having value only for the ways in which people can use them. Extinction of plants and animals also threatens humans. Most species of plants and animals can get along perfectly well without people. In fact most of them would be better off without any humans on this planet . But people need plants to simply survive. They don't need us, but we definitely need them. We need to remember that Planet Earth belongs to God, and it doesn't need people.

Gas Prices (Part Three)

In my two earlier article on gas prices, I pointed out that the price of gasoline may not yet be high enough, since people are not doing the easiest thing possible to save money and gas which is simply to drive slower. I also put a plug in for alternative forms of transportation such as using a bus, a bike, or walking. Another action that people can take to save fuel and keep the air clean is select or change to recreation that uses less fossil fuel. For example trading in a snowmobile or ATV for cross-country skis, snow-shoes, or hiking boots. Much fuel and money could be saved by conservation. Conservation is actually a potentially significant source of additional energy.

In fact the cost of gasoline is much higher than indicated by the (now currently decreasing) numbers on the gas pump. The cost of war is also part of the cost of gasoline. The cost of the current Iraq War is now in the range of 565 billion dollars. That comes to $4,681 per household or $1,721 per person to keep the gasoline flowing to us. That doesn't include other related costs, one of which is the cost for healthcare for decades into the future for soldiers who participated in this war. Many of them will need extensive and life long care to cope with the effect the war has had on their physical and mental health. The cost of the first 1991 US attack on Iraq, an attack that killed at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians, was also part of the cost of gasoline. It's unlikely that there are any thinking and aware people remaining who, in their hearts, do not realize that this war is entirely about oil and has nothing to do with stopping terrorism or defending our freedoms, but in case there are, let me remind you of the quote from Lawrence Kolb, assistant defense secretary as the US prepared for its massive military assault on Iraq in 1991; "If Kuwait grew carrots, we wouldn't give a damn."

The cost of any future war against Iran will also be a part of the cost of gasoline.

According to a recent report from National Priorities Project (NPP at " ...the U S is spending between $97 and $215 billion annually on military action to defend access to oil and gas reserves around the globe." "The report estimates the military spends up to 30 percent of its annual budget to secure access to energy resources internationally."

Reports indicate that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and injured as a result of the US attack on Iraq, an attack done solely to steal natural resources from another country. Each one of those killed and injured Iraqi civilians was/is a family member. Killing and injuring family members is the worst kind of anti-family behavior. By initiating this war, based on a lie, and carrying it out, the Bush Administration and the US military are demonstrating their contempt for families and the sacredness of family life.

In addition the US has been using depleted uranium in these two attacks on Iraq. The number of potentially fatal tumors in children increased twelve-fold after the 1991 attack in areas where depleted uranium was used by the US military, which were mostly rural areas. In the more recent war, mostly in urban areas, much more depleted uranium has been used over a longer period of time. Depleted urnaium has a half-life of a billion years, which means that long after the US is as gone and forgotten as the ancient Assayrians, there will still be children in what is now Iraq, coming down with potentially fatal tumors as a result of what the US government and miltary is doing today. No previous dictator in human history has committed the evil of jeopardizing the lives of children whose ancient ancestors have yet to be born, but that is exactly what the US is doing today in Iraq... and it's being done just for oil. So look closely the next time you fill up your tank with gas. There is much more than simply gasoline flowing into your car. There's also the blood of children, teenagers, mothers, fathers, and grandparents, and the tragic legacy of destroyed families. Look real close and you might even see pieces of your own soul being sacrificed for gasoline. It's time to find a better way.
"All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions."

Adlai Stevenson

Friday, October 24, 2008

Considering the decisions that have been made there the past eight years, would someone please check and see if there are any human/e beings living at
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D C ?

"We are so placid that the smallest tremor of objection to anything at all is taken as a full-scale revolution."

Cynthia Ozick

The "10" "Strongest" Books I've Read

NOTE : This list of books, which I've been working on compiling for several months, is possibly the ten (or "on the way to ten") "strongest" books I've read, although I do reserve the right to change my mind in the future. Since the Bible is the first book on the list and it's actually made up of 66 smaller books, perhaps the list is already much longer than ten. With the possible exception of the first "book" on the list, the order is not too significant. By strongest I probably mean most influential on my life, but that too is open to debate and alteration.

1. Holy Bible

2. The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

3. Darkening Valley by Dale Aukerman

4. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

5. Crow by Ted Hughes

6. The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda

7. The Miner's Pale Children by W S Merwin

8. Man as Male and Female by Paul K Jewett

9. Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

10. ?

On this list are two non-fiction books, two fiction, two short fiction, two collections of poetry, and the Bible which is a collection of those other literary types plus much more. Aukerman and Jewett's non-fiction books are excellent examples of well written explorations into interpreting the Bible. They remind the reader that in order to get the most accurate interpretation, everything has to be taken into consideration. When I first read Merwin's book many years ago as a young man, I remember being astonished, because I never realized that it was possible to do something like that with language. The poetry of Hughes and Neruda significantly expands the definition of poetry and Neruda reminds us that there is value in asking questions for which there may be no answers. Tolkien's "Rings" is just amazing in it's epic size as well as the quality of storytelling. Although McCarthy novel is bloody in a hair- raising manner, when I first read it I could feel the hair on the back of my neck rising, not because of what was happening in the novel, but because of the power of the story-telling. In reality it was not "Where I'm Calling From," by Carver that had the impact on me but his first two collections of stories , "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, " and "Will You Please be Quiet, Please? It's just that "Where I'm Calling From," includes the best stories from those two earlier collections as well as a couple of later and even better stories such as "Cathedral," and "A Small Good Thing." For those who might disagree with my earlier comment that the Holy Bible contains fiction, I'm aware of your perspective. However what matters in biblical stories like Jonah and the whale, or Noah and the flood is not whether they actually happened or are just legends handed down, but the lessons and teachings we are to learn from them today. Grace Paley said, "Any story told more than once is fiction," Paley is saying that in any telling of a story, the person who does the telling inevitably changes the story, either by tone, inflection, emphasis, or editing. Wallace Stegner said, " If you want to convey information you write non-fiction; if you want to tell the truth, you write fiction," Stories in the Bible that may challenge our ability to believe them, are probably more powerful communicaters of truth if seen and read as fiction rather than as non-fiction. Happy reading.

"The ceiling of the sky is the universe." Zach Branam