Monday, December 31, 2007

SF Zoo Tiger Shot for Answering Call of the Wild

Tatiana on 10/26/2007, Photo by Matt
Knoth, licensed under cc3.0
On Christmas Day just after dusk, a four-year-old, 350-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana escaped from her outdoor enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo, then killed a 17-year-old zoo visitor and severely mauled his two young companions before authorities shot her to death. This is reportedly the first time that a tiger has broken out of his or her confines at an accredited zoo, but as long as big cats are displayed for public pleasure, it may not be the last.

Not to make light of tragedy, but, being that I live in the City by the Bay, my mother phoned from Long Island the day after Christmas to make sure there were no ferocious tigers running loose in my neighborhood. I thought this was kind of funny but not unusual, since she usually calls me after every Southern California earthquake to make sure I’m OK. Admittedly (and perhaps obviously), a thorough understanding of geographical proximity doesn’t exactly run in our family, so it didn’t really surprise me that my mom might worry that a tiger could not only escape the zoo, but make her way 2½ miles up Ocean beach, and then head another 2½ miles east through Golden Gate Park to my apartment in the Inner Richmond District. Actually, if this were the country rather than a major city with cops, cars, and other urban hazards, Tatiana could have easily traversed that five-mile distance, so in a primal sense my mom’s fears were not so far-fetched after all.

Public Feeding of Big Cats and Public Safety

I visited the SF Zoo with my parents about 10 years ago, when I was a vegetarian but hadn’t yet quite grasped the concept of animal rights. What I recall most clearly is that we observed the lions feeding in a public demonstration that zoo personnel continue to conduct six days a week. We entered the Lion House, which I remember as a large room with two perpendicular walls of lions behind glass partitions in three levels reaching up to a high ceiling. Dozens of other people watched with us as the lions ripped into slabs of raw red meat with their gigantic jaws, emitting guttural groans I could feel clawing right up my spine.

The SF Zoo also features public feeding of the tigers, but we missed that on our visit. In Defense of Animals (IDA) posits that these displays—in which tigers are coaxed into displaying aggression for the titillation of those who paid to see wild animals do something exciting—are partially to blame for the killing. Apparently, the tigers are in cages behind bars rather than glass during public feedings, and handlers have more direct contact with the animals. In fact, during one of these eating spectacles in December 2006, Tatiana decided to eat more than just the raw meat offered by a zookeeper, and chewed the flesh right off her arm.

Tigers at the PAWS Sanctuary

As a staff writer/editor for IDA, I had the privilege of joining 20 other IDA staff members and volunteers on December 10th for a trip to the Performing Animal Welfare Society's (PAWS) ARK 2000 sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif., where we saw a number of elephants rescued from zoos as well as some tigers. PAWS is a non-profit organization that only opens its doors to the public a few times a year, so if you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it, especially as an educational experience that will enable you to better compare zoos and sanctuaries for safety, comfort, and quality of life. For instance:

- You won’t find any public feeding going on at PAWS, and the tigers are never left unattended—keepers are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (whereas guards were not posted at the SF Zoo’s tiger exhibit during business hours when the Christmas attack took place). PAWS caretakers only interact directly with tigers for the administration of veterinary treatment. At a sanctuary, all interactions with the animals are for the animals’ benefit rather than ours.

- PAWS has 36 tigers living on acres of hilly woods behind the tallest, toughest fence you’re ever likely to see. On the other hand, the SF Zoo’s tiger enclosure, which held four animals before Tatiana’s death, is a rectangle that is merely one short city block in length (that is, less than 200 feet), and even narrower in width. And of course, we know all too well now that their exhibit’s safety features leave much to be desired.

- While profit-oriented zoos breed animals, buy them from dealers, or capture them in the wild for public display, PAWS is dedicated to rescuing animals from abusive situations. The tigers we saw were seized from a misnamed "sanctuary" called Colton Tiger Rescue. California state authorities brought criminal charges against the owner for selling tiger parts on the black market. Apparently, one can buy a tiger pup illegally for about $500, raise the animal to adulthood, and then sell their various body parts for upwards of $20,000. Another freaky fact the guide told us: Some narcotics dealers use tigers as guard animals at drug dens and laboratories.

Finally, I felt that the most convincing evidence of the superiority of sanctuaries over zoos was what I observed with my own eyes. I stood outside the tiger enclosure for about half an hour, and only two tigers came up to the public viewing fence for a close visit during that time (though others could be seen dozing in the distance). Of course I was greatly astounded with their size and presence, but it soon occurred to me that these tigers interacted with one another just like my two domestic cats, Zelda and Jasmine, do in my little apartment. That is, they seemed genuinely happy and content, and showed none of the neurotic symptoms you’re likely to see in cats at the zoo.

I would guess the reason for this marked difference is that these tigers are living for their own pleasure instead of someone else’s. I sincerely hope that SF Zoo officials, and those at other zoos around the country, will come to this realization, and send their tigers to accredited sanctuaries like PAWS and close their big cat exhibits for good.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

BK’s “Whopper Freakout” Commercial Exposes Meat Addiction Epidemic

What if there was no more Whopper, and would you want to live in such a world? This is the implicit premise of Burger King’s latest ad blitz “Whopper Freakout,” built around an “experiment” in which marketing researchers convinced customers the Whopper was discontinued and videotaped their reactions, both secretly with hidden cameras and posing as television news reporters.

In the first of what promises to be a series of excruciatingly insufferable commercials, Burger King starts out by setting an air of deadly seriousness with grave voiceovers and ominous electronic drone-music. A cashier then tells a customer that “We no longer carry the Whopper,” after which several people are shown apoplectically contorting their faces and making outraged demands to see the manager. Finally, a guy with a goatee coolly declares (with misogynistic and/or homophobic pride), “If Burger King doesn’t have the Whopper, they might as well change their name to Burger Queen,” and it ends with a frighteningly-irate man barking “Get me a Whopper!” as a threatening command.

While this slice of reality-TV propaganda is currently unavailable for viewing on the Internet, Burger King did post a 7-minute-plus video documenting their “experiment” at which presents the deception as though it were actually a legitimate scientific study. At the end, the melodramatic narration states Burger King has proven “that the Whopper is, as we thought, America’s favorite.” But you may wonder, does showing Burger King junkies freak out when denied their favorite fix of flame-broiled flesh really prove that the Whopper is America’s favorite?

Answer: Of course not.

First, the people in the commercial deliberately came to Burger King specifically to order a Whopper. This biased sample group does not represent America – especially the 4.7 million adult vegetarians in the U.S. and tens of millions of carnivorous Americans who do not eat Whoppers for health, environmental, religious, or aesthetic reasons.

Second, McDonald's and KFC's customers would "freak out" too if they couldn't get a Big Mac or the Colonel’s fried chicken. Any competing fast food chain could have made the claim to “America’s favorite” junk food or whatever if only they’d thought of this cheesy marketing gimmick first. Such a corroborating “study” conducted by a rival company would put Burger King’s claims in proper context by making it clear that meat junkies have their preferred poisons, and will freak out (and make complete asses of themselves) when they can’t feed their particular bloodthirsty habit.

Furthermore, by presenting the Freakout as something supposedly momentous, Burger King trivializes the lives and deaths of millions of cows who are murdered every year to make Whoppers. Cattle are branded, castrated and dehorned without anesthetic, and sometimes remain conscious as their hooves are chopped off and they are skinned. But in profit-driven mass-media advertising, these atrocities are framed as insignificant when the addictive appetites of paying customers are at stake.

I say, if Burger King wants to see a real Whopper Freakout, their future TV ads should include footage from inside their supplier’s slaughterhouses so Americans can actually see who the Whopper is really made of. If you think Burger King should do real Whopper Freakout commercials, call or write the company to let them know (but, if you can, try to be more polite than me: remember that the point is to make a statement, not hassle an individual employee who’s just trying to make a living).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Halloween Horror

On Humankind's Monstrous Cruelty to Animals

Warning: The following contains blood-curdling accounts of terror that may not be suitable for the faint of heart. Read on — if you dare!
Every Halloween, millions of people celebrate by dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating for candy, adorning their homes with festive decorations, and partying their hearts out. While this is all well and good, we must not forget that while we enjoy ourselves during this frightfully fun holiday, billions of animals are actually living out our worst fears in slaughterhouses, vivisection labs, and other hellish houses of horror. As the scariest night of the year, Halloween is an especially fitting time to cultivate compassion for those who endure such unremitting torture.

Start by trying to imagine, if only for a moment, the torment of a single animal in a slaughterhouse. Visualize yourself being herded down a metal chute towards a man in a red-spattered apron. He puts a retractable bolt gun to your head and pulls the trigger right between your eyes, but the blast doesn't damage the right part of your brain, so you remain conscious as you are shackled by the ankle and hoisted upside-down, then pulled along on a ceiling-mounted conveyer track. As you move down the line, looming ahead you see the sticker: a slaughterhouse worker wielding a large knife. Even though you are still alive and kicking, he slits your throat anyway, blood spurting and pooling on the floor. You flail wildly in pain, but another worker down the line nonetheless proceeds to chop off your hands and feet with a giant hydraulic clipper until finally you are beheaded, your body left in pieces for people to eat.

Sounds like a scene from a scary movie, right? Yet that is just one example of many, as billions of animals all over the world are killed in similarly horrific ways in fur farms and other dungeons of industry, the wild, and the privacy of people's homes. For instance, there are demented sexual deviants who make animal snuff films and post them on the Internet as an unusually perverted form of pornography. Yet it's obvious that animal abuse is not confined to a few random sickos breaking the law in their bedrooms: it's deeply embedded in our culture and society, which systematically normalize torture and terror by packaging and marketing the products of death.

People eat animals' bodies and wear clothing made from their skins every day. From the animals' point of view, this is utterly horrifying. What if someone decided to eat us, wear our skin and hair, or experiment on us? Such questions get right to the heart of what most terrifies us, and our disconnection, as one species among millions, from the unmitigated misery our actions cause others to suffer.

Monster Mash

Judging from recurrent themes in horror movies and books, it is clear that what we do to animals is a reflection of our most primal fears as humans. For instance, the psychotic mass-murderer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, aptly named Leatherface, is a cannibal who treats his human victims like cattle in a slaughterhouse, hanging them from meathooks before chopping off their limbs. Such brutality has its real life parallels in the crimes of notorious serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, who is known to have tortured animals to death before he started killing and eating human beings.

Some of the most ghastly monsters are unholy cross-species abominations from the laboratories of mad scientists. In H.G. Wells' prescient 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, an idealistic but power-mad vivisector sews together human-animal hybrids who turn out to be vicious killers. In recent years, scientists have actually begun to create transmutated chimeras who are genetically part animal and part human. Such "progress" could signal the birth of Moreau's monsters at this moment in history.

These experimental lifeforms are primarily used as research subjects and to harvest organs for human transplants, so their creators try to make them as humanlike as possible to close the species gap that has always plagued animal research. While such organisms don't usually survive for very long because they are biologically flawed, contemplating what they experience while alive can make your spine tingle. Researchers have already bioengineered mice with part-human brains, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that these modified rodents might inherit from us some degree of self-awareness, and perhaps eventually even a hideous knowledge of what they are.

Such thoughts bring to mind another perennial horror classic, Frankenstein. In the 1818 novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly and many subsequent film adaptations, Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates a man from parts of human and animal cadavers. "The dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials," he says of his experiments. Of course, after bringing him to life with a lightning bolt, the horrified scientist rejects his creation, who thus becomes bitter and homicidal and gradually murders Victor's loved ones. A fictional warning from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, Frankenstein's "monster" serves as a dire prediction of the untold horrors that science and technology may yet unleash upon the world.

The Hunter Becomes the Haunted

Other works in the horror genre explore the "animal" nature that lurks deep within the human soul. Many of these stories have their origins in ancient tales that have been told for centuries, with variations occurring in different parts of the world. A werewolf, for instance, is a bloodthirsty beast that transforms from a human into a wolf during the full moon and preys on people. Vampires (who can change into bats) use their sharp fangs to feast on their host's blood, turning them into vampires as well. Legend has it that some witches are able to transform themselves into black cats to roam the night undetected. These supernatural shapeshifters out of folklore have not only terrorized our imaginations down the ages, but also raise serious questions about human nature: that is, whether our tendency towards violence is innate or symptomatic of our alienation from nature and ourselves.

Such primeval mythological figures may also symbolize our fear that animals will someday take revenge for the horrors we inflict on them, as movies like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Stephen King's Pet Cemetery suggest. Most people remain in willful denial of the bloody killing rituals that occur every day behind closed doors, so the fear that animals will somehow return to give us a taste of our own lethal medicine is largely subconscious. Yet it is brought more directly to the surface by another increasingly popular monster: the flesh-eating zombie.

George Romero invented the zombie movie subgenre in the late 1960s with his groundbreaking film Night of the Living Dead, an allegorical tale of the undead that remains almost 40 years later a scathing social critique of violence and racism. Since then, hundreds of other films have explored the theme of cannibalism from beyond the grave, reminding us that our bodies are made of meat, too, and that there may be those out there who want to eat us alive. This metaphor for meat eating opens the potential for people to identify more closely with the non-human victims of our carnivorous consumer culture, as is the intention of Internet cartoon character Tofu the Vegan Zombie.

Alone in the Dark

When the nighttime comes creeping in, you may recall that as a child you often hid beneath the covers in frozen terror from the monsters in your closet, under your bed, and in your head. If we remember what it was like to be that scared, we can understand some of what animals feel, and that the most frightening "monsters" aren't just lurking in our nightmares: they exist in the real world. They are on slaughterhouse disassembly lines, in high-security buildings on college campuses wearing white lab coats, and on the sales floors of fur salons selling the very skins off of animals' backs.

If by chance the tens of billions of animals being killed every year are able to understand who is responsible for their enslavement, then human beings must seem like rapacious monsters who show little mercy for their victims and no remorse for their devilish deeds. Mechanized assembly line production methods have made the scale of death so massive and so brutally surreal that it is difficult to comprehend, much less communicate to others. But we must continue to try, for the sake of the animals, by taking advantage of the special possibilities for positive and effective outreach that Halloween offers.

Have a scary good time!

It's simple to give people a taste of the vegan lifestyle during Halloween without frightening them away. Try these easy ways of making compassion an integral part of your holiday celebration:

- First, be sure to keep plenty of vegan candy handy for those cute little trick-or-treaters who show up at your door.

- If you're dressing up, go as your favorite animal. Your costume could be something scary like a tiger or cute like a kitten, but make sure it isn't made with leather, wool, fur, or feathers. If you think your canine friend would like get in on the fun too, make or buy a Halloween costume for your dog. Just be sure they're comfortable with what they're wearing, and that costumes don't interfere with their normal motions.

- Host a vegan Halloween party for your friends and serve a scrumptious spread that didn't cost any animals their lives. Try some ghoulish recipes for healthy holiday fare such as Devilish Dip, Vampire's Blood, and the Warlock's Special. You can also cook seasonal favorites like Harvest-stuffed Acorn Squash and Pumpkin Pie with Pecans to go along with them.

Show some real horror films!

If you have friends who are horror buffs, Halloween is the perfect time to expose them to the horrors of factory farming, vivisection, and other terrifying realities by inviting them to watch an animal rights video with you. Your average meat eater might turn their eyes away in disgust from graphic documentaries like Earthlings and The Animals Film, but horror aficionados who appreciate spooky cinema may be receptive to the method and message of such movies. Films are a gateway for many to greater empathy for animals and humane lifestyle changes, but only if people actually see them, so order your DVDs today to have them in time for Halloween!

Reach the People!

Towns throughout the western world host Halloween festivals and parades, which in the largest cities are attended by thousands of people. These make great places to leaflet, especially dressed as your favorite animal, and being in the Halloween spirit might make people more open to the information you have to offer. To get started, order or print copies of IDA's new flyer on meat eating and the environment to hand out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Identity Crisis

Celebrity exploits and the animals caught in the limelight

Whether you love or hate (or love to hate) Paris Hilton, she’s virtually impossible to ignore. Spend some time channel surfing, flipping through a mainstream magazine, or standing in a supermarket checkout, and you’re liable to have the latest news of the hotel heiress’ exploits crammed down your brainstem. And on her arm, you’re just as likely to see a tiny dog in a skimpy dress as you are an obscenely expensive leather handbag.

At the peak of her stardom, Hilton’s iconic image was largely defined by two distinct “items”—a pair of oversized designer shades, and her perpetually-quaking Teacup Chihuahua, Tinkerbell. While Hilton’s publicists insist that the celebutante is a bona fide “animal lover,” she has very publicly treated Tinkerbell, and all her subsequent “pets,” more like fashion accessories than sentient beings. Emulating Hilton and other celebrities, people actually purchase little purebred “toy” dogs and parade them in trendy outfits as though they were playing with dolls.

You might ask, what’s the harm in a little dress-up? Nothing, except when it’s done primarily for the human’s pleasure and without consideration for the dog’s feelings, it perpetuates the view that animal companions exist not as individuals in their own right, but only to enhance their “owners’” self-image.

While they may be on different ends of the spectrum, the same mentality that drives Paris Hilton also holds sway over Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who finally pled guilty to federal charges of conspiring to run an illegal dogfighting operation out of his Virginia home. Like Hilton, Vick exploited dogs to boost his own ego, but rather than turning animals into fashion accessories, he used them as expressions of violence, power, and control over the “weak.”

Between 1999 and 2007, Vick and his cohorts cruelly primed hundreds of pit bulls to kill one another for this vicious blood sport, and the star quarterback is alleged to have executed numerous dogs himself—by shooting, hanging, drowning, and electrocution—simply because they were not good fighters. In the wake of these disturbing revelations, psychologists speculated in the media that Vick liquidated these “losers” because he identified with their “weakness” and took it as a personal humiliation, while proudly projecting his own personality onto dogs who won fights. Based on case histories of other dogfighters, it’s likely that Vick felt his dogs’ performance in the ring reflected directly—whether positively or negatively—on his own strength and masculinity.

Like all animals viewed as commodities—the billions killed for food, fashion, “entertainment,” and “science”—animal companions who are treated like ornaments by their “owners” are in a no-win situation. Whether they suffer from intense cruelty, as in Vick’s case, or indignity, as in Hilton’s, these animals have little choice in their lot, and often suffer silently. It is up to us to speak for them, and to remind others of all that animals give us—and the caring attention we owe them in return.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Vegan Ultimate Fighter Ricardo Moreira

Ricardo Moreira is a rarity in the world of Ultimate Fighting -- an extreme sport that pits martial artists of all fighting styles against each other, often inside a cage, where they punch, kick, and wrestle one another. In fact, the soft-spoken 26-year-old seems to be one of only two vegans on the international cage fighting circuit. "There are a lot of pescetarians who still eat fish, and there are fighters who sometimes stop eating meat and dairy to lose weight before a competition," says Moreira. "But besides me and Mac Danzig, I don't know of anyone else competing in mixed martial arts who doesn't eat any animal products at all, ever."

According to Moreira, "the most important fight is not in the ring, but out in the world where animals need our help." That's why he has been fighting for animals since he was a child growing up in San Francisco's Mission District, a tough neighborhood where he learned out of necessity to defend himself and others who couldn't defend themselves. For instance, young Ricardo got into many a scuffle in the schoolyard and on the street with boys who derived pleasure from kicking pigeons or stomping ants. Moreira joined the fight for animal liberation more formally in his teens, when he started attending IDA protests, and today talks with his fellow fighters about how animals suffer. "It takes both inner and outer strength to help animals," says Moreira. "I work on developing physical strength and skill in martial arts to show that we vegans can be just as strong in our bodies as we are in our convictions."

Once a vegetarian, Moreira was inspired to go vegan by the example of two vegan bodybuilders—Kenneth G. Williams, spokesperson for IDA's Vegan Campaign, and Robert Cheeke. Moreira figured if they could be bodybuilders without eating any animal products, then he could be a vegan professional cage fighter. "Like Kenneth and Robert, I want to set a positive example by being someone who is healthy and confident, hopefully inspiring athletes to go vegan and vegans to stay physically fit."

Moreira exercises a lot of discipline in order to compete in his chosen sport. He has a black belt in karate, a contact sport in which he won a state title, and studies other martial arts, such as aikido and jiu jitsu. He also adheres to an ultra-healthy straight edge lifestyle, consuming no alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. In fact, he doesn't even use curse words. "The only things I'm addicted to are training, competing, and animal rights," he says. He also gives private karate and kickboxing lessons at the Northern Tiger Kenpo in San Francisco, and hopes to open his own martial arts studio in the city someday to teach his personal style of street-level self-defense. Excelling at the increasingly popular sport of Ultimate Fighting will help Moreira establish a name for himself as someone who people seek out for training.

"This sport is not about violence or beating your opponent," he says of his fighting and teaching philosophy, "it's about being present and doing your best in the same way a batter wants to hit a home run or a basketball player wants to execute an amazing slam dunk. Feats of skill require physical and mental focus rather than anger, which ultimately weakens concentration and your ability to win." Underneath Moreira's calm yet intense demeanor, one can detect a deep sense of outrage regarding animal abuse—whether it takes place in slaughterhouses, fur farms, research labs, or so-called "sports" like rodeo, hunting, and dogfighting.

"I choose to get in the cage, but animals don't have a choice," Moreira says, pointing out that an activity is not a "sport" if some competitors are being forced to participate—especially when they are at such great a disadvantage that they could die. "At the core, sports is about becoming your best by competing with opponents who are at least evenly-matched to your skill level. Shooting a deer at long range with a high-powered rifle is about as fair a fight as me stepping in the cage a 10-year-old kid who's just had his first karate lesson."

Moreira continues, "Chasing and terrorizing animals is not a sport, it's a power trip. A lot of guys who try to prove they're tough by exercising power over defenseless animals would never step foot in the cage where they might feel some of the pain that they are inflicting on others. My nose was broken in my last fight, and because I feel like that pain gave me some insight into what animals suffer, I have more compassion for them—especially since what's being done to them is thousands of times worse."

Moreira's lifelong emotional understanding of animals continues with his dog, Janet, an eight-year-old Rottweiler-Bulldog mix who he has raised since she was a puppy and the smallest of the litter. "Dogs are pack animals, and I really feel like Jan and I part of the same pack, which is basically the same thing as a family," says Moreira. "She's like my daughter, and I treat her as such." He also has a 17-year-old goldfish named Nemo who is the last of his tank mates but still going strong in his golden years, even with only one fin left.

"I've always felt like the underdog, so that would explain why I identify with animals so strongly," says Moreira. "I fight to show that real strength comes from caring about and protecting those who need help, not abusing them. That is what a true guardian does."

- Learn more about IDA's Guardian of the Month, Ricardo Moreira, by visiting his MySpace page.

- Arrange private martial arts training with Ricardo at the Northern Tiger Kenpo by contacting him at or (415) 350-9140.

- If you live in or will be visiting the Bay Area, come see Ricardo Moreira compete at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco in March, 2008. Get ticket information.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Police Officer Accused of Killing K-9 Partner

Ask State Attorney to seek maximum sentence

Sergeant Allen Cockfield of the Miami-Dade Police Department was recently charged with felony animal cruelty charges for allegedly kicking his K-9 partner Duke to death during an obedience training exercise with more than a dozen other police dogs and trainers present. The reason, according to an anonymous witness: Duke barked when he wasn't supposed to, so Cockfield hoisted the four-year-old German shepherd by the leash around his neck and repeatedly kicked him in a fit of rage until he lost consciousness. Duke reportedly died later at a veterinary clinic from injuries sustained during the attack.

Following the incident, the Miami-Dade Police Department suspended Cockfield from duty without pay, and opened an internal affairs investigation of his violent actions. After his arrest, Cockfield was released on bail. Miami-Dade police told reporters that Cockfield, a veteran of the force with 27 years experience, is a model officer with a file full of commendations and no history of disciplinary problems. However, with more than two decades of K-9 training under his belt, it is possible that this is just the first time this loose cannon got caught or reported for abusing an animal.

All too often, police officers get away with breaking the law simply because they are police officers. That is why it is especially important that Cockfield be held accountable for his actions—just like any citizen who commits murder should be. Sentencing guidelines for third degree felony animal cruelty charges call for a maximum of five years in prison, which is actually a small price to pay considering that Cockfield brutally took the life of his young canine companion and partner for something as innocent as an ill-timed bark.

Sergeant Allen Cockfield's trial is scheduled to begin on September 24th. Please write to prosecuting attorney Isis Perez before then and politely ask that she seek the maximum penalty in the case against Cockfield.

Isis Perez
Public Corruption Unit
1350 NW 12th Ave.
Miami, FL 33136

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Arctic Tale" Shows How Global Warming Endangers Polar Bears

Entertaining and educational documentary for the whole family opens nationwide Aug. 17th

Global warming threatens to dramatically change the world we live in, and the first ones to feel the heat are those living in glacier country. For example, scientists fear that polar bears in particular will become extinct by the end of the century if current trends persist and their habitat continues to melt.

"Arctic Tale" is a new movie from the makers of "March of the Penguins" that shows what is happening to the animals who have lived for millennia on the frozen tundra, and how drastically changing conditions could spell the end of their very existence. The story, narrated by Queen Latifah, follows two individuals -- Nanu the polar bear and Seela the walrus -- from infancy through childhood, adolescence, and finally parenthood, showing the challenges each faces along the way.

While life in the Arctic has always been tough, it's getting much harder for these animals as the landscape literally transforms before their eyes, severely testing the age-old survival skills passed down from generation to generation and straining their ability to adapt to the rapid changes.

Viewers of all ages will come to care deeply about Nanu and Seela as they witness what each must do to survive as predator and prey. Both need a lot of help from their families to get by: Nanu from her solitary mother, Seela from a whole extended multi-generational clan of siblings, cousins, aunts, and grandparents that sticks together for life. The range of emotions they express -- from joy and love to fear and grief -- shows how much humans share in common with other species, increasing the audience's identification with their struggles. The movie also features a full cast of colorful supporting characters, from birds, seals, and narwhales to a couple of crafty arctic foxes.

Polar bears' and walruses' very survival depends on the ice being thick and strong enough to hold their weight. In recent years, the ice has taken longer to freeze each year as global temperatures rise, making them search longer for places to live and hunt. In the film, Nanu faces starvation when the ice takes three months longer than usual to freeze, rendering the hunting skills her mother taught her useless, and forcing her to venture incredibly long distances in search of sustenance. Sadly, global warming is turning polar bears, walruses, and many other arctic species into environmental refugees in competition for shrinking resources: their plight could be a precursor for what humans face when arable land dries up and water supplies start to run out.

At the end of "Arctic Tale," much like the closing of "An Inconvenient Truth," viewers are reminded that global warming was caused by humans, and therefore we can stop it. As the credits roll, some suggestions for ways to take action are offered, like turning off lights, recycling, and buying hybrid cars. Yet amazingly, the number one cause of global warming -- the meat-based diet -- is not even mentioned.

It's hard to believe that the filmmakers are unaware of last year's United Nations report showing that the animal agriculture industry emits more greenhouse gasses than all the motorized vehicles in the world combined. So why do mainstream environmentalists still ignore the fact that factory farming is destroying our planet? People who sincerely want to save polar bears, walruses, and other arctic animals deserve to know that going vegan is the most effective action they can take to reverse global warming.

What You Can Do:

- Go see "Arctic Tale" at a theater near you when it opens nationally on Friday, August 17th (note that it is already playing in select theaters). Before you go, print out copies of IDA's new flyer, "Meat's Contribution to the Environmental Crisis," to hand out in line.

- Contact National Geographic, which produced "Arctic Tale," and ask them to add "eat less meat" to the "Ten Cool Tips for Saving the Arctic" on their website.

- Global warming seriously threatens polar bears' long-term survival, yet a loophole in U.S. law allows American hunters to continue killing polar bears in Canada. Please "Take Action" to ask Congress to close this loophole by co-sponsoring and supporting the Polar Bear Protection Act.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Federal Legislation Threatens State Animal Protection Laws

Urge your members of Congress to ensure Farm Bill preserves voters' rights

In recent years and for the first time in American history, several states have passed laws prohibiting certain particularly inhumane factory farming methods. However, California's ban on force-feeding ducks and geese, the phasing out of gestation and veal crates in Arizona and elsewhere, horse slaughter bans in several states, and other key animal protection laws could all automatically become null and void if an agribusiness-driven provision buried in the new Farm Bill being considered by Congress is approved.

If this provision passes, states and localities will be forbidden to enact laws banning practices or products that they decide are a threat to public health, safety, or morals -- including those aimed at improving animal welfare, food safety, or environmental sustainability. Here is the language of the provision from Title 1 of the draft Chairman's Mark for the Farm Bill as it is currently written:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no State or locality shall make any law prohibiting the use in commerce of an article that the Secretary of Agriculture has--(1) inspected and passed; or(2) determined to be of non-regulated status.”

Though short, this provision is wide in scope, and could have disastrous consequences for animal protection, potentially destroying years of hard work and closing off future prospects for passing humane laws. It would effectively take democracy out of the hands of states and voters and allow the federal government to dictate what constitutes "humane" treatment of animals -- even as our society is starting to recognize certain industrial farming practices are inherently cruel and unacceptable.

What You Can Do:

The Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on the Farm Bill on June 26, and could send it to the House floor by early to mid-July with Title 1, Section 123 still in place. Please "Take Action" now to tell your federal Representative and Senators that they must not pass a Farm Bill that would prevent states and localities from making their own laws to protect animals, food safety, and the environment. Feel free to edit the sample letter as you wish, and to follow up with a polite phone call or letter to your elected officials.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sony Decapitates Goat to Promote Violent Videogame

Horrific publicity stunt is centerpiece of launch party for PS2's God Of War II

WARNING: The following contains graphic descriptions of animal mutilation which some readers may find objectionable and revolting.

The increasingly bloody violence of videogames leapt from virtual reality into the real world recently when Sony displayed a beheaded goat carcass at a launch party for God Of War II, a newly released title for the company's PlayStation 2 console. The goat's corpse was featured as the centerpiece of the premiere with his severed head still dangling from his blood-soaked neck by a mere tendril of skin.

Guests were even encouraged to partake of animal flesh—deliberately prepared to look like the goat’s intestines—by reaching into the still-warm cadaver’s open neck wound. Partygoers were also invited to use their bare hands to pick up live snakes writhing in a pit, and to eat grapes salaciously dropped by topless young women into their mouths.

Held in Athens, Greece within sight of the Parthenon, the celebration’s theme reflected that of the game, in which players must fight and kill fabled monsters from ancient Greek mythology. One of the protagonist’s rewards in the game for cutting off his enemies’ heads and limbs, smashing them with giant hammers, and impaling them on swords is a bacchanalian hot tub tryst with half-naked women whose moans of pleasure can be controlled with the deft touch of a button.

The gory “sacrifice” of an actual goat in a commericalized ritual glorifying domination was clearly meant to advertise the vividly rendered violence that characterizes God Of War II, which has earned the game a rating of M for mature (ages 17 and up). However, this supposed safeguard will not prevent underage gamers in the UK who subscribe to Sony’s official PlayStation magazine from getting an eyeful of the headless goat in the latest issue, which includes a two-page photo spread of the launch party.
Though Sony pulled 80,000 copies of this edition from newsstands last weekend, it has already been mailed out to subcribers and cannot be recalled. These vile images only reinforce the message that killing animals and exploiting women is a means to obtaining the power that many impressionable young people seek in playing ultraviolent videogames in the first place.

Sony’s public relations arm formally apologized for the grisly gimmick, and vowed that the company will initiate protocols to prevent animals from being slaughtered to promote their products in the future. With over $80 billion in global revenues, the electronics and media giant is one the largest and most profitable corporations on the planet. However, their dominance over so many aspects of the economy and our lives does not give them the right to hype sadistic videogames by killing animals, and caring consumers should let Sony’s top brass know that this is totally unacceptable.

What You Can Do:

Write, call, or fax Sony Chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer and tell him what you think of this abhorrent publicity stunt. While many readers will be justifiably angered by this unpleasant incident, it is important not to be rude in your communications with Sony. Keep in mind that expressing your outrage in a respectful manner will be much more effective in getting your point across than blindly lashing out with insults.

Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman and CEO
Sony Corporation of America
550 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10022
Tel: (212) 833-6800
Fax: (212) 833-6956

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mad Science

The killing of animals in the name of science and medicine marches on

Every year around the world, millions upon millions of animals are cut open with knives and saw blades, burned by flames and radiation, deliberately injected and infected with deadly viruses, shocked with high-voltage electricity, operated on unnecessarily without anesthesia, and tormented in countless other ways. Usually, the unimaginable pain suffered by these involuntary victims ends only when they die, alone and frightened.

These mutilations and dismemberments are not being performed by criminal psychopaths hiding out in secret dungeon basements. Rather, they are conducted by highly-educated technicians in modernized research and testing laboratories, most of which are funded or subsidized by taxpayers. In the name of science and medicine, a multinational, multi-billion dollar industry uses animals’ bodies like mere lab equipment for everything from searching for cures to diseases that afflict humans to testing the effectiveness of a new eye liner.

What we learn from torturing and killing animals in medical “research” and “scientific” experiments tells us little or nothing about healing people, but it reveals much about the human species’ arrested evolutionary development. Real progress would be marked by the abolition of animal experimentation, and the introduction of compassion as the guiding principle in our search for truth.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

San Francisco Protects Wild Parrots' Habitat

Board of Supervisors passes ordinance to preserve and replace vital cypress trees

Back in December 2005, IDA joined the effort to help save a grove of Monterey cypress trees in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood because they are a favorite perch of the world-famous wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. Readers of IDA's eNews will recall that IDA started a second petition recently to support legislation proposed by Supervisor Bevan Dufty to preserve this habitat and ensure that the parrots will have a home on the Greenwich Steps for years to come.

Well over one year later, after a long campaign by many dedicated private citizens, city officials and the Northeast San Francisco Conservancy, we are proud to announce that yesterday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to pass the ordinance protecting the trees! Mark Bittner, the parrots' longtime caretaker who lives next to the cypresses, noted that "the parrots were sitting in those trees squawking at the very moment the legislation passed." Thank you to everyone who signed IDA's petition and asked their family and friends to do the same. More than 1,900 caring people from every corner of the globe showed their support for the parrots by signing on.

IDA presented the results of this petition and the one we started in December 2005 at the Land Use Committee hearing in City Hall on Monday, March 5th. Committee members were impressed that IDA had gathered more than 4,500 signatures in support of protecting the parrots' habitat. The hearing chamber was packed with parrot advocates, many of whom made public statements about how the parrots benefit the people of San Francisco and add to the city's uniqueness. These included Judy Irving (the producer/director of "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill") and Mark Bittner (the movie's co-star), Richard Schulke and Christine Garcia (chair and vice-chair of the Commission of Animal Control and Welfare), and IDA spokesperson Mat Thomas (i.e., me), who was also quoted in an ABC7 News story about the parrots. "A key element in this success," said Judy Irving, "was the very visible outpouring of support from all over the globe. We couldn't have done it without IDA."

With Arbor Day coming up on Saturday, March 10th, it's especially fitting that San Francisco has passed this unique ordinance to mandate the pruning and maintenance of the two older cypress trees, plant up to six new parrot-friendly trees, and protect the property owner from legal liability should the dying trees happen to fall before being replaced. Wild parrot flocks now live in such diverse urban environments as Orange County, Calif.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Chicago, Ill.; as well as numerous cities in Great Britain and elsewhere. San Francisco's innovative solution will show other cities faced with similar issues that living harmoniously with urban wildlife benefits everyone -- human and animal alike.

Watch the broadcast television premiere of "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" on Tuesday, May 29th at 9:00 pm when it airs on PBS' Independent Lens series. For more information, check local listings for your area.

Or purchase a copy of the film on DVD or VHS, as well as Mark Bittner's best-selling book "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story...With Wings."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Leaked NRA Pamphlet Targets “Animal Rights Terrorists”

"You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!"
- Former NRA President and Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston

On December 22nd, a blog called posted a leaked 27-page fundraising booklet that they said had been produced by the National Rifle Association (NRA). It was such a bizarre piece of propaganda that many thought it a hoax. However, the pamphlet soon proved to be the genuine article—a highly polished draft of “Freedom In Peril: Guarding the 2nd Amendment in the 21st Century”—mysteriously “stolen” from an NRA office.

This NRA pamphlet casts the world’s fate in highly alarmist tones, warning of an imminent and violent clash between a conspiracy of “evil” forces on one side and God-fearing, law-abiding gun owners on the other. The dreaded result: forced disarmament of the entire country, and thus total and irrevocable loss of Freedom, Democracy and Civilization. The NRA’s terrifying demons include shadowy Democrats and their Zionist financiers, mushy-headed “One World Extremists” who want to surrender America to the United Nations, subversive celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell and Katie Couric, the liberal media as a giant devil head coming through the TV screen, and even “Illegal Alien Gangs” of menacing minorities making cryptic hand signs. And, of course, there are also “The Animal Rights Terrorists,” among which are PETA, HSUS and the Fund for Animals.

“The Animal Rights Terrorists”

One can first infer the crimes of the “animal rights terrorists” from the amazing illustration* on page 18, which provides a fascinatingly rich level of visual detail and a priceless glimpse into the minds of NRA leaders. The image is fertile with secret symbols, hidden meanings and subliminal messages.

In the foreground strides a hairy-legged, Birkenstock-wearing hippie gal carrying a flaming torch and a can of gasoline. She sports a tattoo on her arm that has been described in the blogosphere as “a kitty-cat Satan” or “a kitler, a cat that looks like Hitler.” She is cut off at the neck (implying that these underground agitators are able to hide their faces and identities), and her male co-conspirator wields a baseball bat and a snarling black dog on a leash.

In this strange, distorted interpretation of Orwell’s Animal Farm, activists have apparently succeeded in training all the other animals—cattle, pigs, chickens, owls and an incredible land lobster—to fight for their own liberation without needing to be physically controlled. The beasts’ facial expressions are of anger, outrage and resolve: they know what they are doing, their crimes premeditated. The owl is so gung-ho that she’s carrying a clutch of dynamite in her talons, and, significantly, the pig actually seems to be flying. (If the NRA opposes evolution, this might be the reason.)

Even though the picture is pure fantasy, I think it is an accurate rendering of the NRA’s deepest fears: that the future holds wild packs of pissed-off animals roaming the post-McDonald’s® wasteland seeking vengeance against their bipedal oppressors. Obviously, once animals are freed, they will murder and enslave humans in retribution: an apocalyptic twist on  the old adage that if we didn’t hunt, eat, experiment on and otherwise torture and kill animals, they’d die of starvation and (I guess) inability or unwillingness to breed.

In the context of this booklet, this picture is clearly meant to scare readers by painting a dark portrait of animal rights activists as “terrorists”: they are, after all, carrying explosives and other implements of destruction (to presumably blow up a vivisection lab, factory farm and Red Lobster® franchise, in that order). Yet looking past the violent overtones, this is a somewhat inspirational and iconic image that uniquely captures (however inadvertently) something of the movement’s essence: that is, the animals are fighting, as equals alongside humans, for their rights. If only this reflected reality, we could end humanity’s enslavement of other species within a generation.

“Freedom’s Enemies”

The text mirrors the distorted conception of animal rights activists depicted in the illustration by lumping all animal rights organizations—from the most mainstream to the most radical—into one category, seamlessly morphing from Constitutionally-protected activism to the most hard-core “terrorist” activities in a single sentence:

“(Animal rights groups) run commercials, print propaganda, stage rallies, infiltrate schools with animal rights material, blow up medical labs, burn down buildings, destroy hunters’ property and poison hunters’ dogs—with enough left over to hire top-dollar lawyers if they get caught.”

The drawing of a Molotov cocktail, some pipe bombs, and an envelope with a razor blade inside sitting in a pool of blood is supposed to be straight out of PETA’s toolbox:

“PETA is linked to a growing network of embedded cells of dangerous people willing to achieve their ends through violence... Many don’t know that PETA wants much more than to take a fishing pole from every child’s hand, take away their pet cats and dogs, ban milk from their breakfast, and shut down all their circuses, zoos and aquariums. PETA wants much more than to take Seeing Eye dogs away from the blind, and take bomb-sniffing dogs away from our airports. PETA wants to stop all medical advancements that use animal research in any way… (Research scientists) receive hate mail, letters loaded with razor blades and rat poison, death threats and bomb threats.”

It seems that America’s precious children are in grave danger of growing up in a world where they might question whether it is ethical to hunt, own or eat animals. Even the great tradition of imprisoning animals and forcing them to perform for our amusement is at stake. The great news for the animal rights movement is that, according to the NRA, we are winning: collectively, animal protection groups comprise a “frightening force” that has already been incredibly effective in achieving our nefarious aims:

“Medical research on the verge of breakthrough screeches to a halt. Our most promising labs are shut down…The antihuman, pro-animal frontal assault is broad and pervasive, spanning from political initiatives to indoctrination of schoolchildren to hunter harassment.”

The “Animal Rights Terrorists” section concludes with a plea “that patriots of financial position pledge to stand with freedom’s fighters forevermore.” Which is the whole point of this booklet, actually. In an introduction called “The Coming Confrontation” on page 3, the NRA’s Executive Vice President and Executive Director claims:

“(The) NRA is the only guaranteed investment for Second Amendment survival, as well as for all the business benefits that come with it. Only the NRA energizes the powerful pro-freedom voting bloc, resulting in election outcomes good for both American gun rights and for American business. Candidates who support the Second Amendment also support you. They're typically pro-business people who fight for free-market issues, from tort and estate tax reform to immigration policy and the global war on terror.... The Second Amendment needs freedom-loving financiers on her side, or she will be drowned in the tsunami of cash flowing from freedom's enemies."

The Real Terrorists

Conspicuously absent from the NRA’s rogues’ gallery of supervillains is al-Qaeda, the global ultraterrorist organization that destroyed the World Trade Center with hijacked airliners, killing thousands of people. You’d think they might have at least merited a chapter called “The Suicide Bombers” or “Allah’s Demonic Army” or something. Interestingly, 9/11 is mentioned only once throughout “Freedom In Peril,” and only in passing.

It’s surprising that the NRA doesn’t take these terrorists seriously. Branding peaceful, nonviolent, law-abiding, and civil-disobedient animal rights protesters as “terrorists” only serves to minimize the real dangers the public faces from actual terrorists, as well as from pro-NRA militias that stockpile weapons but go unchecked by the FBI. Instead, as the booklet points out, the FBI itself has identified “animal rights terrorists” as the number one domestic threat to the U.S., even though animal activists have not caused a single person’s death.

The NRA wholly supports the Bush Administration’s War on Terror in that, like those who framed and passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), they define animal rights activists across the board as “terrorists” because we endanger the profits of corporations that exploit animals. “It’s inevitable that terrorists will infest America for generations to come,” they say, as though we are termites and the NRA is the exterminator. It is definitely ironic that a group whose main mission is to promote the use of deadly weapons calls people working to stop violence “terrorists”—and sad that their sensationalistic attacks have so often succeeded.

“The U.N… (has) already been successful in orchestrating gun bans in once-free countries like England, Australia, Canada and South Africa,” the pamphlet says. So, in the NRA's alternate-reality universe anyway, South Africa was free under Apartheid, which preceded the gun ban in the country, just because everyone could get guns (well, white people, at least). The NRA is especially fond of spreading the myth that banning guns will provoke more violent crimes. Yet guns kill more than 30,000 people a year in the U.S., and Americans are three times as likely as Canadians to be fatally shot. A new Harvard study shows that higher homicide rates occur in states with more gun owners. But it doesn’t matter to the NRA. Danger and death are simply the price Americans must pay for living in a still-free country where the Second Amendment reigns supreme.

Our country faces real threats: global warming, wars (in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Iran), corporate hegemony, income inequality, the national debt, a crumbling education system, institutionalized racism and sexism, the Standard American Diet, etc., etc. Instead of recognizing these problems, the NRA creates boogie monsters to distract attention from issues that actually matter. Their hateful invective against all those who challenge their belief system seems like some symptom of collective mental illness.

Cold Dead Hands

Despite the costs, the ideologues at the NRA cling to their fundamentalist interpretation of the Second Amendment: that it means no gun control at all—period. In contrast, most Americans believe that, alongside the “right” to bear arms, we have a more primary right to be safe from violence, and greater gun control would make us safer. Governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens from danger, and most Americans favor limits on gun ownership and use. In a 2004 Gallup poll, 54% of respondents wanted gun laws to be stricter, compared to only 11% who said they should be less strict.

The pamphlet says: “In the minds of those who framed our Constitution, the right to armed self-protection in times of pandemonium was so obvious and innate that it didn’t warrant mention.” In other words, the less the Constitution has to say about something, the more essential it must be to our way of life. Yeah—that makes sense.

It continues: “That’s why the Second Amendment is brief in language but broad in scope, serving as umbrella protection for lawful use of arms in almost any circumstance.” In NRA-speak, that means gun owners have the right to shoot people whenever they personally determine it's justified. One may wonder: what are the limits of these circumstances? Do they include shooting those who challenge strict adherence to a radical interpretation of the Second Amendment?

Such questions are moot to the NRA because they are militantly inflexible about their “right” to own and use guns without restrictions. They are also trying to preserve a way of life that kills people and animals while placeing corporate interests above society's. Part of their intent is to redefine freedom so that it means the freedom to make money from the blood of innocent animals and to make a financial killing selling guns. Firearms are a global multibillion-dollar a year enterprise, one of the biggest moneymaking operations on the planet. The NRA’s connection to the international arms industry gives them a huge financial stake in stopping gun control efforts in the U.S. and abroad.

The political system runs too much these days on money and backroom business deals rather than ethics or trying to improve the state of the world. Increasingly, the pursuit of our “national interest” is becoming the unquestioned protection of corporate profits against any criticism. The NRA and other fanatical pro-business groups will continue to fight for their “right” to go on harming people, animals and the environment, even though in doing so they are violating the rights of billions.

Happiness is a Warm Gun

As one of the world’s most powerful lobbying organizations, the four-million-member NRA has so far been able to block almost all legislative efforts to regulate guns. They literally see themselves as the “guardians” not only of the Second Amendment but of freedom itself. In fact, they believe that without unfettered access to guns, Americans would swiftly lose all of our other freedoms.

Yet in the narrative of “Freedom In Peril,” the NRA (oddly enough) consistently portrays gun owners as helpless victims. All the “good” people in the pictures are fighting a losing battle, under siege by insurmountable forces. The NRA argues that guns will protect our freedom when the time comes. But in this booklet that time has actually come, and guns are shown to be completely useless.

Think about it: What good is granny’s handgun supposed to do against seven commandos with automatic weapons (page 13)? (Incidentally, this illustration is allegedly based on an actual event that took place in post-Katrina New Orleans.) How is a shotgun going to enable that dad perched on his rooftop (page 14) to protect his family from the roving hordes coming up the street filled with overturned cars and burned-out houses? And on the final page, next to the Epilogue, the father seems to have just given up: he’s not even holding a gun, just waiting with his wife and son to be engulfed by the encroaching tidal wave that has crested their driveway.

Obviously, guns cannot protect people from what the NRA seems to believe is coming. Actually, the spread of firearms will only bring about chaos that much quicker. Instead of focusing on causative solutions and preventive measures against society’s collapse, their answer is that everyone should have guns: then we’ll all be safe! The pamphlet warns, “If we do not heed the lesson of Katrina—that survival in disaster is ultimately the responsibility of the individual—the next tragedy will almost certainly include further devastation of American freedoms.”

This directly denies that the government has any responsibility to help its citizens during disasters. It also clearly states the NRA’s core philosophy: that it is every man for himself in this world, especially in times of crisis, so you’d better be packing serious heat if you expect to survive. The NRA embodies the “You’re either with us or with the terrorists” mentality that came into vogue with the post-9/11 posturing of Bush & Co. If you support gun control, then you’re not with the NRA; therefore, by this simplistic and flawed logic, you must be against them and therefore a “terrorist.”

Now What?

The NRA has held a stony silence on the story behind “Freedom In Peril.”** Some commentators speculate that it was intended as a mailer to the group’s rank-and-file, but it seems more likely that it was designed as a special fundraising tool to target wealthy donors. The book's epilogue concludes that “victory can no longer be borne solely by the masses,” which means they’re fishing for more than just $25 yearly donations. If they are scaring people without just cause merely as a cynical ploy for money, then they are insulting their constituency, whether it’s Joe Sixpack or Billy Bob Billionaire. What is scarier is the thought that this isn’t all about money, and that the heads of this powerful organization actually believe we’re on the verge of an all-out social collapse or apocalypse — and that guns, of all things, are the solution.

I hold out hope that this pamphlet doesn’t represent the viewpoint of the majority of NRA members, and that most will be offended by it. Some may revoke their memberships, perhaps realizing the need for a less extreme pro-gun organization that sees the logic in regulations. A blogger and gun owner named Buffalo wrote: “My respect for the NRA decreased to almost nil when I read the pamphlet… This piece of crap tarnishes their image and should shame them.”

For all the talk about firearms, the key issue “Freedom In Peril” raises for the movement is not necessarily the question of gun control, but rather the ubiquitous spread of the perception that animal rights advocates are—by definition—terrorists. We need to counter this stereotype, but in order to do that we must thoroughly understand how our opponents think. “Freedom In Peril” is therefore something of a gift to the animal rights community because it so blatantly lays out how some of the most extreme extremists perceive us. I think it bears very close study.

What would be really amazing is if the animal rights movement could produce something as visually compelling as “Freedom In Peril.” If there are any great artists out there who are interested in collaborating on something like this, please contact me at

* It must be noted that the graphic-novelesque design and artwork for this booklet by Arizona-based draftsman Chris Gall are of the highest quality almost throughout, but this is one of my favorite drawings. Given his plethora of high-powered clients and awards, I am curious whether Gall believes the NRA’s ideology or is just prostituting his formidable talent.

** I did a search for “Freedom In Peril” on the NRA website thinking I would find something that tells their side of the story, but instead got a “0 document(s) retrieved” message. So the NRA is basically pretending this brochure doesn’t even exist, and hoping that this will all blow over soon if they just lay low for awhile. Clearly they are embarrassed about being so exposed. (It must be noted that I conducted the same search on the PETA and HSUS websites and came up with zero results, as well.)


Here are some of the articles and blogs I read in researching this story:

NRA Pamphlet: “Freedom in Peril: Guarding the 2nd Amendment in the 21st Century”

NRA's Graphic Attack on Its Enemies Leaked Onto Internet

NRA already taking shots at the incoming Democratic Congress

NRA Sounds Alarms on Gun Control

The Infidel Sage

Streich(er) One

YOUR NEW REALITY: Weapons Of Mass Information

Wonkette: NRA's Secret Graphic Novel Revealed!

Boing Boing

NRA comic called a hoax, but accusations later withdrawn

NRA Sounds Alarm of Not-So-Imminent Threat

Matthew High

NRA's Purloined Pamphlet Seeks Support of Big Business


Gun Guys

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Volunteer to Help Animals on MLK Day

Join millions of others in making this holiday "A day ON, not a day OFF"

During his lifetime, the great humanitarian and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. established an extraordinary legacy of peacefully pursuing freedom and equality for everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity. The foundation of his life's work was the twin pillars of non-violence and selfless service to others. As a leader of the people, he promoted the creation of mutually-supporting communities that could work together across a broad range of social justice issues to bring about progressive change.

To honor this great American hero, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act in 1994, officially designating January 15th as a national day of volunteer service. Every year, millions of people across the country celebrate and commemorate MLK's shining example by taking action with others to address social problems of all kinds. Of the King Day of Service, Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King, said "The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated this holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others."

Had Dr. King not been assassinated in 1968, he probably would have followed the compassionate example of Coretta and their oldest son Dexter, who both became vegan for ethical reasons. Dexter, a minister like his father, has been a vegan since 1988, and has called animal rights a "logical extension" of his father's commitment to non-violence. Coretta, who died in January 2006, said that her conversion to veganism in 1995 was "a blessing." Both saw animals as deserving of respect and liberty and made these values an integral part of their daily lives.

Animal advocates can help carry on and extend Dr. King's values by doing something to help animals on January 15th. Just as Dexter and Coretta Scott King clearly recognized that human and animal rights are interconnected, Dr. King would have agreed that brutally exploiting other species is just as wrong as holding a class of people down because of the color of their skin. As he so eloquently said in a watershed 1963 speech that continues to echo in the souls of caring people more than four decades later, "I have a dream that one day…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood." Were he alive today, Dr. King might add to his dream the hope that one day the human race will end its enslavement of animals for food, clothing, entertainment and experimentation so that all sentient beings can be free to live in peace and harmony.

What You Can Do:

1) The King Day of Service is a wonderful opportunity to help make Dr. King's visionary dream a reality by showing others that respecting animals is a vital expression of the non-violent philosophy MLK stood for. Therefore, please take "A day ON, not a day OFF" on Monday, January 15th by volunteering to do something to help animals. Here are some ideas for activities:
- Bring vegan meals to homebound neighbors or to volunteers who are taking part in King Day of Service activities. Find a list of events scheduled for your area.
- Table or leaflet at a King Day of Service event or at a health fair, or even on a busy street corner in your area.
- Ask your local humane society or animal shelter what you can do to help them on January 15th and throughout the year.

2) If you volunteer or work for an animal protection organization, register to sponsor and organize a single service project or a series of projects to help animals on the King Day of Service.