Canceling Thomas Edison?

San Francisco apparently has a panel looking at renaming schools that commemorate individuals who are now considered to be “inappropriate.” Mariposa Villaluna, who is described as being a panelist at a September 2020 meeting of the committee overseeing this project, wants Thomas Edison Elementary School renamed.

In a September meeting, panelist Mariposa Villaluna urged the committee to include Thomas Edison Elementary School on the list to change, saying he euthanized animals, including Topsy the elephant, according to a video of the meeting.

“He euthanized them without scientific research,” Villaluna said. “It wasn’t like hamsters in a cage, you know what I mean.”

The committee, however, said that didn’t meet the criteria.

“Long live Topsy,” Villaluna said after the decision.

Edison was not responsible, however, for the decision to euthanize Topsy, nor did he participate in the euthanization of the elephant.

Topsy was a female Asian elephant who was born around 1875 and secretly imported into the United States. She was part of the Forepaugh Circus, and according to Wikipedia,

. . . gained a reputation as a “bad” elephant and, after killing a spectator in 1902, was sold to Coney Island’s Sea Lion Park. When Sea Lion was leased out at the end of the 1902 season and replaced by Luna Park, Topsy was involved in several well-publicized incidents . . .

The elephant’s owners planned to hang her at the end of 1903 and sell tickets to the cruel spectacle. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals intervened, however, and she was strangled and electrocuted.

Although Edison had no involvement in the electrocution, a 2008 Wired magazine article by Tony Long made this baseless claim without citing any evidence or sources.

The myth has persisted from there and showed up in pop culture in depictions of the infamous “war of currents” between Edison and Westinghouse. That dispute, however, had largely ended with the creation of General Electric in 1892.

Edison did, however, euthanize animals at the request of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. According to an article hosted by Rutgers’ Thomas A. Edison Papers site,

Edison was prompted to conduct experiments on animals after SPCA founder Henry Bergh, Jr., contacted him to ask whether electrocution might provide a humane way of killing unwanted animals. During these experiments, Edison and his assistants electrocuted a number of animals, chiefly dogs provided by the SPCA.

These experiments at Edison’s West Orange Laboratory did convince SPCA officials that electrocution was a more humane and efficient way of euthanizing animals than either drowning (in the case of dogs) or hanging (in the case of other animals).

The Onion: Thousands Of PETA Activists Descend On Hoover Headquarters To Protest Vacuum Cleaner That Spooked Dog


“Animal lives are equal to human lives, and a vacuum startling any dog—particularly such a good boy as Ruffles—is nothing short of terrorism,” said protest organizer Rebecca Watts, who brandished a dust-filled vacuum bag she intended to pour on an unwitting Hoover executive.

New Jersey Enacts Ban Against Wild/Exotic Animals In Circuses

Illnois and New York have previously enacted bans on the use of elephants in circuses or other traveling entertainment acts, but New Jersey has become the first state to ban the use of any wild or exotic animals in traveling entertainment acts.

Assembly Bill No. 1923, approved by the New Jersey legislature and signed into law by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, says,

Notwithstanding any other law, or any rule or regulation adopted pursuant thereto, to the contrary, no person shall use an elephant or other wild or exotic animal in a traveling animal act. 

In a press release, Murphy described his reasons for signing what is referred to as Nosey’s Law, after a 36-year old African elephant that performed in traveling animal acts,

“I am proud to sign ‘Nosey’s Law’ and ensure that New Jersey will not allow wild and exotic animals to be exploited and cruelly treated within our state,” said Governor Murphy. “This law would not have been possible without the years of hard work and advocacy by Senator Ray Lesniak, whose legacy on issues of animal rights is second to none. These animals belong in their natural habitats or in wildlife sanctuaries, not in performances where their safety and the safety of others is at risk.” 

Chrissie Hynde Bemoans “Tyrannical” Animal Rights/Welfare Campaigns

This Belfast Telegraph profile of Chrissie Hynde is a bit odd. In it, the Belfast Telegraph quotes are as being critical of “tyrannical” and “very judgemental” folks in the animal welfare community.

“As much as I support anyone who is concerned with animal welfare, I think it has become almost a little tyrannical, where people are very judgmental about what you wear, what you eat.

“It’s almost on the verge of polarising people rather than mobilising them, because people have this almost messiah or jihad complex: if you don’t do it the way we want you to, we’ll kill you.

“It has to be inclusive. As soon as you make people feel they can’t be part of it because they have a leather belt, then you’ve lost a lot of people.”

Let me be clear that this is certainly a welcome (and accurate) critique of some of the more sanctimonious animal rights/welfare campaigns.

On the other hand, Hynde herself was often a frequent purveyor of such rhetoric, suggesting herself at one point that animal/environmental rights activists might have to resort to murder to make any lasting changes.

The last resort is for someone to go in and actually take these guys out. Maybe it will have to be an out-and-out assassination. When no one will listen anymore, then individuals have to take the law into their own hands and it can get very ugly.

It is interesting she’s now willing to accommodate people with leather belts, when she was arrested in 2000 for using a knife to destroy leather and suede clothing at a Gap store. I’m sure those sort of antics helped drive people away from animal rights/welfare campaigns in the same way she seems somewhat alienated by such antics today.

If she’s changed her mind about those actions, that’s great. But she seems to imply that it’s other people who are judgmental and tyrannical rather than re-evaluating her own past actions.

Vegan Woman Gets Harassed Over Comments on Facebook about Las Vegas Shooting Victims

Delinda Jensen owns a vegan food truck in Pennsylvania, and is apparently motivated by animal rights concerns to eat a vegan diet. After a man opened fire on an outdoor crowd in Las Vegas, killing 59, Jensen took to Facebook to share her feelings about the horrific killings.

Yes I am jaded. Fifty nine meat eaters dead. How many animals will live because of this?

In a follow-up comment to her post, Jensen added,

I don’t give a (expletive) about carnists anymore.

Jensen has received exactly the sort of response you can imagine–everything from harassment to death threats.

In a Times Leader story about the subsequent harassment and death threats she’s received, Carnist attempts to walk back her comments.

“I (expletive) up,” Jensen said while sitting at her kitchen table with son and business partner, Kyle, 28. “Was it poorly written? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Yes. I am so sorry I wrote that.”

Many Facebook users shared Jensen’s post, which generated hundreds of hate-filled comments and threats and little defense of her stance.

Jensen emphatically insisted she was not happy about the death of 59 people.

“Meat eaters or not, no one deserves to die like that,” Jensen said. “I wasn’t celebrating the death of those people. That’s not how vegans think — we are non-violent.”

In trying to explain her motivation for writing the post, Jensen wanted to make the point that too many animals are tortured and killed every year — she estimated 2o billion-plus — and consumed by humans. Jensen, who became a vegan two years ago, said people can eat good food without the inhumanity of abusing and killing innocent animals. She said one vegan translates to saving 155 animals per year.

First, it is bizarre that she went from meat eater in 2014 to callously describing a mass shooting as “Fifty-nine meat eaters dead” in 2017.

Second, her attempts to explain away the comments rings hollow to me. She seems to have discovered that voicing these sorts of opinions is socially unacceptable rather than rethinking her dehumanization of the victims of the Las Vegas shootings as “meat eaters.”

In some ways, this is similar to claims that extremists on the far right make about natural disasters or other phenomenon being a punishment for US acceptance of premarital sex or homosexuality.

Finally, what is the appropriate reaction to someone like Jensen? On the one hand, she is not a public figure and not someone who–barring these comments–any of us would likely have heard. And, obviously, death threats and abusive comments are not acceptable regardless of the original comment.

On the other hand, I’m not sure we want to live in a world where people casually dehumanize others with no pushback at all (or, maybe, the world we live in now is a good example of precisely what happens if that is the case).

As some of the commenters to the Times Leader point out, the newspaper itself refers to her comments as “insenstive” while describing the comments of the people angry at her as “hate-filled.” Jensen herself is willing to chalk up her own comments to “a moment of stupidity”, but explains the comments directed at her by saying “there’s just so much visceral hate out there.”

Part of the problem is that her comments will live on through the Internet, sparking successive rounds of rage and harassment. A few years from now there will inevitably be a TIL reddit post about this, for example, which will spark new rounds of outrage.