The PETA Files

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has made its usual share of media appearances in
the last few weeks. Among the various news stories:

  • While protesting proposed payments to pig farmers to compensate for
    low pork prices, twelve PETA members were arrested on the steps of the
    U.S. capitol after they set fire to several bales of hay they stacked
    on the steps. PETA outlined its position on pork in a press release,
    saying pig farmers “should be prosecuted, not rewarded.”

  • Singer Melissa Etheridge, who appeared in one of PETA’s “I’d rather
    go naked than wear fur” ads several years ago, continued to distance
    herself from PETA over the animal testing issue. Canada’s Halifax Daily
    News asked Etheridge about PETA’s campaign featuring Linda Blair speaking
    out against animal research. Etheridge, who lost her father to cancer
    several years ago, told the paper “if there is a chance that human
    lives can be saved by performing experiments on animals, then there is
    no way I could be against that.”

[Thanks to Americans for Medical Progress for its excellent monitoring of PETA’s activities.]


Etheridge confronts PETA on anti-research campaign. Americans for Medical Progress, Newsletter, January 19, 1999.

PETA-philes set fire at U.S. Capitol. Americans for Medical Progress, Newsletter, January 15, 1999.

Just how long have humans been hunting with dogs anyway?

A recent book on human evolution suggests humans began Hunting
with domesticated wolves 135,000 years ago – right after our species began
migrating out of Africa. According to evolutionary biologist John Allman,
the domestication of wolves may have played a key role in Homo Sapiens
successful competition with other species, including the Neanderthals.

In Allman’s book,
Evolving Brains, he argues that domesticated wolves “would
have been a huge selective advantage for whatever human population did
that because it would have allowed modern humans to move into areas that
were previously inhospitable.”

Interesting hypothesis,
but is there any evidence for it? Allman believes DNA evidence and observations
of contemporary humans, wolves and dogs support his claim.

DNA evidence of humans
suggests homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa into Asia about 140,000
years ago. Analysis of canine DNA suggests domestication of wolves began
about 135,000 years ago.


Human hunting skills linked to domestication of wolves. Minerva Canto, Associated Press, January 19, 1999.

Washington Lawmakers Consider Overturning Cougar Initiative

In 1996,
Washington state voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 655 which banned
the use of hounds to Hunt Cougars in the state. Two years later many people
are having second thoughts about the wisdom of the law, and the state
legislature may override the initiative.

Those who supported
the initiative used the standard arguments – using dogs to hunt cougars
was cruel and unsporting. But, above all, the dogs were extremely effective.
In 1995 hunters in Washington killed 283 cougars using hounds, but by
1997 only 132 cougars were killed, which some people believe is the crux
of the problem.

the passage of the initiative the number of cougars in Washington has
soared, as has the number of reports of human-cougar contact. The cougar
population rose to about 2,500 and the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife reported cougar-human incidents rose from 495 in 1996 to 927
in 1998.

contact has the potential for tragedy. In August 1998, a 5-year-old girl
was ambushed and severely wounded by a cougar near the campsite she was
visiting. In another incident, two cougars became trapped in a school

of Initiative 655 claim the ban on dogs caused the cougar population to
increase dramatically, and they suspect the big cats are drawn to suburban
areas to prey on domestic animals and livestock. Supporters claim the
cougar population had been increasing even before the passage of the initiative
and the increased reports of human-cougar contact are more likely the
result of increased awareness and press coverage of the issue during and
after the vote on the initiative.

cause of the increase in cougar incidents may be up for debate, but the
ban on using dogs highlights an odd aspect of animal rights philosophy
– namely that it simultaneously seeks to place all sentient beings on
the same moral plane but does not apply morality consistently among all
sentient beings.

Consider the animal
rights objection to the use of hunting dogs. I take the claim to be that
(a) cougars are sentient, (b) using carnivorous predators to hunt down sentient
beings is cruel, (c) sentient beings should not be subjected to cruelty,
so (d) predators (dogs) should not be used to hunt down cougars.

To avoid
turning this into an argument against all predation by sentient beings
(leaving Ingrid Newkirk‘s fantasies aside for the moment), animal rights
activists must perform the logical leap of maintaining that of all sentient
beings, only for homo sapiens is predation forbidden on
moral grounds. Furthermore, that moral edict extends to any sort
of interaction which may assist any act of predation.

If a
pack of wolves decide to attack a cougar, this presumably is simply part
of the natural world. If a human being takes a pack of dogs to hunt a
cougar, somehow the act is transformed into an immoral one simply by the
presence of the homo sapiens. To paraphrase George Orwell, all sentient
beings are equal, but some are less equal than others.


Bills would send hounds after cougars. Deidre Silva, The Spokane Spokesman-Review, January 21, 1999.

UNICEF Report Exaggerates World Illiteracy Rates, Lacks Context

       Illiteracy is
an enormous problem around the world – few people would deny that – but
UNICEF appears to be exaggerating the level of illiteracy and failing
to put illiteracy statistics into context.

        In its recently
released report, “The State of the World’s Children 1999,” UNICEF
warns “nearly a billion people, two-thirds of them women, will enter
the 21st century unable to read a book or write their names.”
Following UNICEF’s lead, many newspapers in the United States and elsewhere
ran headlines trumpeting the fact that 1 billion people are illiterate.
As the CATO Institute’s David Boaz points out in a recent op-ed, there
are some important qualifiers to these figures that UNICEF leaves out.

        First, UNICEF’s
“nearly a billion” figure is a 14.5 percent markup – the actual
report estimates 855 million people are illiterate. Adding 145 million
people to get “nearly a billion” is quite a feat.

        Second, although
the report insists illiteracy rates will increase in the 21st
century, this is contrary to the historical trends in this century which
UNICEF, conveniently, doesn’t mention in its report. Take literacy rates
from UNESCO during this century:


Estimated illiteracy rate

Prior to 1926

75 percent


52 percent


20 percent


16 percent

        Certainly a
16 percent illiteracy rate is too high, but at the same time it represents
an enormous victory in the space of less than 70 years. There is no
reason to think the illiteracy rate will not continue its long decline.
The major real threat to higher literacy rates are authoritarian governments.
The militant Islamic Taliban recently forbade girls to receive a public
education, for example.


Illiteracy – The Bad News and the Good. David Boaz, The CATO Institute, January 20, 1999.

Fallout Over Quinacrine Ban Continues In India

        In a case of damned if you
do, damned if you don’t, the Indian government is taking a lot of heat
for its recent ban on the drug quinacrine. Originally developed as an
anti-malarial agent, the drug had been used for the last 20 years to chemically
sterilize women in India.

        Led by protests from women’s
rights activists in India, the government banned the drug last year. Almost
all international family planning agencies oppose the use of quinacrine
and, as used in India, the drug has rather severe side effects.

        The sterilization procedure
requires a quinacrine tablet to be inserted in the uterus where it causes
severe scars on the fallopian tubes that prevent pregnancy. Aside from
the intense pain, the procedure can cause abnormal menstrual bleeding,
backaches, fever, abdominal pain and headaches. Additionally, some studies
have suggested an association between quinacrine and some forms of cancer.

        In addition, the use of quinacrine
became tinged with North-South politics. The drug was sold to Indian doctors
at no charge by a couple of individuals in the United States convinced
that India is overpopulated. The drug is not approved for use to induce
sterilization in the United States and many critics charged the exporting
of the drug was just more neo-imperialism.

        So, given all these issues,
why would women and their doctors possibly want to continue to use quinacrine?
Because the drug has a couple big advantages over alternatives. Although
the procedure is painful, it doesn’t require women to stop working. More
importantly, it is a lot easier for women to keep the procedure secret
from husbands who might object. And, of course, the low cost makes it
affordable even for very poor women.

        In many ways, the issue is
which of several bad choices women should have. “If the drug causes
cancer, I don’t want to promote it,” surgeon J.K. Jain told the Associated
Press, “But pregnancy itself is a killer. If the drug has so much
potential to improve the lives of women in the reproductive age, it should
be allowed.”

        At least give women the choice
to make that decision for themselves.


India wrestles with ethics of sterilization drug. Hema Shukla, Associated Press, January 11, 1999.

Where Will Life Expectancy Gains Stop?-

        It’s hard to imagine how much
life has improved in this century until someone like Dr. Thomas Perls
of Harvard Medical School’s New England Centenarian Study comes along.
As the title suggests, Perls studies people who are 100 years or older.

       According to Perls, “Centenarians
are the fastest growing segment of our population.”

        In 1900, there were so few
people 100 years or older that the U.S. Census Bureau didn’t even track
statistics for them. In fact, life expectancy was so short (45 years)
that the government simply lumped everyone over 55 together.

        Based on actuarial and life
insurance tables, however, it is estimated that an infant born in 1900
had a 0.031 percent chance of living 100 years. By contrast, an infant
born in 1990 has a 1.42 percent chance of living 100 years or longer.
Perls suggests that if this trend continues, 800,000 Americans could be
100 years or older by 2050 – an unprecedented demographic shift.

        Traditionally, the age structure
of societies has resembled a pyramid, with numerous young people at the
base and the number of people at each older age cohort declining until
there are only a few people at the top. With the extension of life expectancy
in this century, however, the American population is beginning to resemble
a rectangle, with roughly similar numbers of people at each age cohort.
At some point in the future, it may even come to resemble an inverted
pyramid with far more older people at the top than younger people at the


No time like the present to live longer, study shows. Thomas Hargrove, Scripps Howard News Service, December 28, 1998.