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Our life is made by the death of others*

Saturday, December 30, 2006 by Jeff

In one of the more macabre Christmas seasons in recent memory, three high profile deaths crowd the headlines. The man who, in 1968, proclaimed in song, "I'm black and I'm proud!", James Brown, died unexpectedly in the middle of a world tour. He's being eulogized today in an Augusta, GA hockey arena. If the hardest working man in show business had waited just one more day, he'd have read about the death of President Ford whose unfortunate legacy appears to hinge on pardoning his corrupt and impeached predecessor.

But the topper that pushes these two bumpkins to the back pages is of course Saddam Hussein. Read the Western press and you'll find it peppered with eurocentric depictions of a brutal man whose socialization bred "tribal loyalty" and led to "Corleone-like" family feuds (if his family is mentioned at all), who was dumbfounded to learn that Americans can legally insult their president, who built a Baghdad mosque that houses a Koran written in his blood, and who boldly criticized and belittled the American military. Its easy to avoid any misplaced compassion one might feel.

Although it may change, the reaction from the American public is at the moment not newsworthy. I suspect that when all is said and done most Americans, despite years of world class reportage (ahem), don't know much about Saddam Hussein, his country, or its culture. They just want their sons and daughters in the military to come home safely. The memory of the hanging will pass from their minds as easily as has James Brown and President Ford.

Sociological research on memory has shown that the ways we remember famous figures are shaped in part by periodic commemorations and the sometimes competing representations of them that different groups promote. James Brown will be remembered by some as a commercially successful performer and by others as an embodiment of Black Pride. Gerald Ford will inherit the prestige attendant with the presidency even as some highlight his unremarkable administration and pardoning of a crook. Saddam Hussein's memory, on the other hand, will find unity in death, at least in this country. He will be incessantly evoked in the coming years by politicians and pundits as the very Incarnation of Evil and no one will disagree.

I can't help but wonder, ten or twenty years down the road, how will George W. Bush be remembered? Standing strident amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center? Decked out in flight gear atop an aircraft carrier emblazoned with "Mission Accomplished"? Or counterpoised against images of a condemned and hanged Incarnation of Evil?

* With acknowledgments to Leonardo da Vinci.

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I've been googled!

Saturday, December 02, 2006 by Jeff

One part of me feels violated, another enticed. Those wiley polititians are up to their old tricks but now they've entered the Space Age of Nano iPods and Google.

Twice in just over a month this blog has attracted the attention of political campaigners apparently in search of mentions of their campaigns in the Blogosphere. Once they locate the attractor blog they pollinate it with, of all things, a form letter.

The first letter arrived last month in the comments section of a post I wrote about Arizona's (successful!) ballot initiative that increases the space required to house pregnant pigs and calves before killing them and chopping them into meal-sized pieces. The letter writer clearly didn't read the post, but neither would I if I was buzzing from blog to blog in search of a home for my spam.*

The second came via email just yesterday in response to my most recent post about not one, but three political campaigns (I'm just asking for it, aren't I?). This time I attracted the big boys, Congress. Namely, 2004 presidential contender Representative Dennis Kucinich. And, god bless'im, he's campaigning for animals and animal rights activists.

But before you read this email from Dennis "The Progressive Menace" Kucinich (and I mean that in the most positive way), give some thought to the implications of this new political tactic. Every blog post you publish, whether it expresses your opinions, your daily activities, your loves or your hates, enters the public sphere for all to scrutinize, record, tally, and respond to for whatever good or evil they may intend. I've gone to great lengths to keep my name from junk mailers of the credit card, mail-order catalog, and magazine subscription varieties. But this blogging business opens up a whole new and virulent can of worms that is starting to worry me.

From: Veith, Catherine
To: [me]
Date: Dec 1, 2006 10:03 AM
Subject: Rep. Kucinich and the AETA

Hello Jeff,

Congressman Kucinich has asked that I pass along to you his statement regarding the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Please post as you see fit. Let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you,
~Cate Veith
Special Assistant
The Office of Congressman Dennis Kucinich
1730 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
202.225.5871 office
202.225.5745 fax

Statement of Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act:

I stand with every Member of the House in defense of the rights of individuals to be free of bodily harm or injury under all and any circumstances. But, the fact of the matter is, existing Federal law already includes any place which does Federal research.

So the question is, why create a new and specific classification here?

We, of course, need to protect peoples' right to conduct their work without fear of assault. But, a larger question remains yet unanswered by this Congress: How should animals be treated humanely?

There are some specific principles with respect to humane treatment of animals but, these do not go far enough. My concern about this bill is that it does nothing to address the real issue of animal protection but, instead targets those advocating animal rights. This legislation will have a real and chilling effect on people's Constitutionally protected First Amendment rights.

I am not talking about people who would threaten anyone with death because they don't agree with them, but there are individuals who love animals, who don't want to see animals hurt, who have a point and a right to speak out. I think for that reason, this bill has not yet reached its maturity.

I understand what the sponsors of this bill are trying to do, but I don't think that they will reach the end they are hoping to achieve unless this Congress makes a clear statement about ethical principles with respect to animals and how we treat animals in research and other enterprise.

These are very serious questions that millions of Americans care about. I understand the intent here, but I think that you must be very careful about painting everyone with the broad brush of terrorism who might have a legitimate objection to research with or treatment of animals that is inhumane.

Bringing up a bill like this under procedures that only allow limited debate, and no amendments, no matter how well intentioned, is problematic.

I am not and never have been in favor of anyone using a cloak of free speech to commit violence. The Supreme Court Justice said, your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. No one has the right to yell "fire"' in a crowded theater. We have heard those kinds of admonitions.

I am not for anyone abusing their rights by damaging another person's property or person, but I am for protecting the First Amendment and not creating a special class of violations for a specific type of protest.

Balancing Constitutional concerns against the protection of people and property is never easy. Unfortunately, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act goes too far in the wrong direction.

Yeehaw! Vote for Dennis!

* A related and increasingly common tactic used more often for non-political purposes appears in this comment, also made to the pig stretching initiative post. It seems to be a desperate attempt by bloggers to increase traffic to their own blogs without having to actually strike up a real dialogue with their fellow bloggers. Does anyone else get this?

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Jeff A. Larson
Sociologist, Arizona.


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