This week, after putting out a tasteless news release announcing
that a “mad cow” was going to attack a federal building in Oklahoma, PETA’s
demonstration about mad cow disease was thwarted when an important prop
got lost in shipping. The protest called for a person in a cow suit to
hit a six foot foam rubber brain with a baseball bat. Only half the brain
arrived in Tulsa. No doubt AMP News readers will come up with a fitting
closing line to this tale…
Last week I reported on
the British Prime Minister Tony Blair once again taking up the cause against
fox hunting. The Labour Party previously tried to ban fox hunting, but
had to back down after huge demonstrations by supporters of the sport,
and some observers suspect Blair might pull back from his recent pronouncement.
The theory goes that Blair is using the fox hunting issue to court animal
rights groups, which are significant contributors to Labour, while also
trying to avoid excessively alienating sportsmen and their supporters.
After BlairÂ’s latest statements,
however, supporters of fox hunting point out that the anti-fox hunting
proposal is hypocritical since the British government itself funds the
hunting and killing of foxes in Scotland and Wales. The foxes are killed
as part of a pest control scheme, and all indications are that any ban
on fox hunting will contain a special exemption for the government-sponsored
culling of foxes.
Until the 1970s foxes in Scotland
and Wales were removed by the use of leg traps. The leg traps were banned
because they were alleged to be cruel and so the government
began subsidizing the hunting of the foxes. The animals are typically
tracked with hounds and then killed by rifle shot. Conservative and pro-hunt
member of parliament Paul Atkinson told the BBC that by banning fox hunting
by private individuals while simultaneously subsidizing fox hunting in
Scotland and Wales means “what they want to do is put people in prison
who ride around on horses with red coats,” alluding to the fact that
it is primarily the upper class that hunts foxes in Great Britain.
After recently announcing
that it would end most animal tests, Procter and Gamble was slammed by
animal rights activists for signing a five-year agreement with France’s
Pasteur Institute. The Pasteur Institute is a world class microbiological
research center located in Paris. Procter and Gamble said the agreement
was for the development of products designed at improving household hygiene.
The Pasteur Institute is best
known for its research on infectious diseases and as a representative
of Illinois Animal Action put it, “This [agreement] means more animal
The “sport” of cockfighting remains legal
in only three states – Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico — but is causing
a widespread controversy following the introduction of a bill by Senator
(and veterinarian) Wayne Allard (R-Colorado) that would ban the interstate
sale of chickens for cockfighting purposes. Both of Louisiana’s senators,
John Breaux and Mary Landrieu, oppose the bill based largely on a states’
rights argument (the individual states should be left to decide whether
or not cockfighting remains legal rather than the federal government).
For his part Allard says he
is only trying to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act. The AWA
prohibits the interstate transportation of fighting dogs but is silent
about fighting birds. “The senator doesn’t want to tell the people
of Louisiana what to do,” Allard’s spokesman Sean Conway told the
New Orleans Times-Picayune, “but you’ve got breeders shipping
roosters all over (the country), not just to Louisiana, and law enforcement
people are having a heck of a time cracking down.”
Of course numerous animal
rights groups have endorsed the proposed new law. What has surprised
me is the level of support for cockfighting among otherwise level headed
animal welfare advocates. A completely unscientific poll conducted
on my this site asked people, “Should cockfighting be banned?” Of the
396 people who responded, 131 agreed that it should be banned while 265
said no, cockfighting should not be banned. In discussing this result,
it quickly became apparent that the support of cockfighting was actually
a rather rigid opposition to animal rights groups.
The argument seems
to be that if animal rights groups support it, it must be a bad idea.
Giving any ground to the animal rights movement or conceding that cockfighting
might be abusive would be giving PETA and other groups a victory that
can be ill-afforded, according to proponents of this view.
In my opinion this is a self-defeating
position wrought with numerous problems. First, it gives way too much
credence to the animal rights groups. Whether or not a particular use
of an animals is justifiable should be based on evaluating it from an
animal welfare position rather than on what animal rights groups and
activists think about it. Inevitably animal welfare and animal rights
advocates will occasionally arrive at the same position for different
reasons. Discarding animal welfare views simply because they happen to
coincide with the animal rights position on occasion is neither wise nor
Second, it is an obviously
hypocritical position. Nobody is going to (or even should) believe animal
welfare advocates when they claim to want to minimize the suffering of
laboratory animals or animals raised in an agricultural setting if those
same advocates then turn a blind eye to something such as cockfighting.
Where is the consistency in that position?
In fact cockfighting seems
to violate all of the precepts of a reasonable animal welfare philosophy
and should be banned. Cockfighting is not a case of a necessary human
use of animals that simply needs to be regulated so as to minimize suffering.
The whole point of cockfighting is to introduce suffering under a semi-controlled
environment for the visceral thrill of a gathered crowd or for the thrill
of wagering on the often deadly contest. Human beings may need to cause
pain and suffering to animals as an unfortunate side effect of some other
legitimate use, but to cause pain and suffering as an end in itself is
the antithesis of animal welfare.
The Associated Press recently
ran a story about Cesar Cerda, a 26-year-old California resident, who received
what is believed to be the longest prison sentence ever handed down for cruelty to animals. Cerda was sentenced to 7 years in jail for training
dogs to fight each other to the death. As the AP described Cerda, “[he]
earned up to $5,000 a month from gamblers who watched the animals fight
in a bloodstained pit.” Prosecutor Brian Myers described how “he
took these dogs to the brink of death and then nursed them back to health
so they could fight again.” Because of their training, all of the
dogs seized from Cerda had to be euthanized.
The sentence may have been
a bit long, but the principle behind the ban on animal fighting seems
immensely sound to this writer. These animals are being used to study
medical problems or raised for food or even used for their fur. They’re
being trained to fight for the sheer enjoyment that other people get from
watching them fighting.
In post-Littleton America,
the right and the left are gradually converging on a “centrist” compromise
to throw over both the 1st and 2nd amendments in
order to achieve some mythically safe society. One of the prime targets
of this new consensus are video games that realistically depict acts of
Numerous commentators have
noted that some branches of the military use the 3-D game Doom
as a training tool, the implication being that any game realistic enough
for the military couldn’t possibly appropriate for impressionable young
minds. Of course such comments usually fail to note that Doom is
used by the military to teach small unit tactics rather than for its depiction
of violence which is relatively unrealistic. As computer graphics technology
continues improve, these sort of games are destined to get ever gorier
and the controversy more heated.
Contrary to the received wisdom
of pundits, however, the main impression playing these games gives is
an appreciation for just how unrealistic they are even when the graphics
look like Hollywood special. The settings are usually bizarre space stations
or underground dungeons populated with evil looking aliens and monsters.
Some recent titles veer from this formula, but are still basically unreal.
Consider the current state-of-the-art 3d shooter, Half Life. The
player is cast as a physicist takes on the hordes of an invading alien
army all the while fending off a large military unit sent to wipe out
everyone with knowledge of the aliens. Yep, better keep that game far
away from Stephen Hawking before he goes Rambo.
Ironically the games that present
serious moral quandaries are precisely those games that the media either
ignores or, more often, actually praises: so-called “god games.” As the
category title suggests, in a god game the player gets to act as a sort
of god, often the most minute details of the game world. The classic (and
most popular) examples of god games are Civilization and SimCity.
Civilization casts the
player as the leader of a small tribe around 2000 BC. The player tries
to guide his civilization to success over 4,000 years or so, which generally
requires defeating the other civilizations in military conquest, although
the player can also win the game by being the first to successfully build
a spaceship to colonize nearby Alpha Centauri. Along the way the
player can take a wide variety of actions of questionable morality. Want
to rain nuclear weapons on your opponents on the next continent? No problem.
Think unleashing horrific biological weapons is a legitimate act of war?
ItÂ’s in the game. Having problems getting your pesky democratic society
to go along with such war plans? Plan a revolution and switch the government
to communism and they’ll fall in line.
SimCity is more of a
pure god game since it doesnÂ’t have any specific goal. The player is presented
with an empty map and some starting funds to create a city. The player
then goes about zoning land, building public works, raising and lowering
taxes. The game gives the player the sort of control over the Sim citizens’
lives that modern urban planners lust after. Do the people in your city
dislike the landfill on the outskirts of town? Time to bring in the mandatory
recycling ordinance. Do the environmentally minded citizens want more
open green space? Demolish the low income housing in the downtown area
and create a park for the Sim yuppies to play in.
Just as developers of 3D shooter
games keep upping the ante with ever more detailed bloody graphics and
smarter computer opponents, so the god games are also engaged in their
own race to push the morality envelope. In the recently released Sid MeierÂ’s
Alpha Centauri players fight for control of an alien planet. Among
the many gameplay innovations are the ability to commit massive human
rights violations against civilian populations. If a player’s citizens
aren’t cooperating, he or she can order them to be nerve stapled which
turns the population into mindless drones who work harder and with fewer
complaints. To give your troops a greater chance of victory they can be
outfitted with the latest in nerve gas and genetic weapons, or elect to
build “planet busters” that make nuclear weapons look like cap guns.
At the start of a game of Alpha
Centauri, the computer-controlled civilizations will react very harshly
toward anyone who commits such atrocities, but this problem can be obviated
by convincing the Planetary Council Â– a sort of simulated mini-United
Nations Â– to repeal its human rights charter. After this the player may
commit atrocities with no risk of sanction from other governments.
Unlike the politicians, activists
and busybodies who whine about the role of guns or movies or music, I
donÂ’t place a lot of stock in the ability of games to turn those who play
them into bureaucrats and fascists. What is interesting, however, is that
the moral issues portrayed by these games are simply ignored by the media.
In fact both Alpha Centauri and SimCity have been praised
for their innovative game play in mainstream newspapers and magazines.
Shooting a few monsters on a Quake II level is portrayed as craven and
perhaps dangerous, but despite the ability it gives to nuke large cities,
Civilization and its imitators are praised for their fascinating
One of the reasons for the
difference in coverage clearly lays with the outlook of journalists who
generally embrace the overwhelming power of modern states, even when they
might disagree with some specific use of that power. A game where a single
person armed with a gun kills dangerous foes is clearly wrong in this
context, but a state nuking a city Â– well, that might be morally justifiable
depending on the circumstances. The sort of social engineering simulated
in a game like SimCity fits perfectly with the general attitude
favoring “rational” management of society by experts that seems so many
in the media find appealing.
But come to think of it, perhaps
this is a strength rather than weakness of the god games. Yes, they allow
the player to treat the people in the simulation as mere means to an end,
but could there possibly be a better introduction to the modern state?
One of the things that has always struck me about SimCity, Civilization,
Alpha Centauri and their imitators is that no reasonable person
could possibly want to live in the worlds these games simulate. What with
taxes being constantly raised, oneÂ’s livelihood depending on whether the
state wants to fight another senseless war simply to score a few more
points, the allocation of resources to satisfy military demands while
average people live on the edge of starvation and the constant manipulation
of people to meet the ever changing needs of the state.
What a minute Â– sounds an awful
like the real world, which is why the god games scare me a heck of a lot
more than any 3-D shooter.
The federal governmentÂ’s
war on temporary workers reached its apex a couple months ago when a federal
appeals court ruled that Microsoft had to offer the same benefits to its
long-term temporary employees that it offered to its regular full-time
employees. The ruling could force Microsoft to pay back benefits to 6,000
temporary employees, but more importantly if the ruling stands it will
strongly discourage companies from using temporary workers for more than
just a short period of time.
That would be just fine for
unions and government bureaucrats who have been trying to stop the trend
toward using long-term temporary employees. Since 1982 the number of temporary
workers has risen to 2.2 percent of the work force and temp workers and
agencies now constitute a $60 billion a year industry.
The left-liberal line on temporary
workers is that the 1.3 million people who work as temps on any given
day are underpaid and heavily exploited. According to groups such as the
National Employment Law Project, most temporary workers would rather have
permanent jobs rather than their short or long-term temporary ones.
As someone who has worked most
of his adult life on a contract or temporary basis, this doesnÂ’t quite
jibe with my experience and the experience of other temporary workers
with whom IÂ’ve had the pleasure to know and work. Like most job environments,
temping has a definite set of advantages and disadvantages that people
who gravitate toward the industry find accommodates them. On the negative
side, temporary workers do generally make significantly less than full
time employees on the same job site, although as in most areas people
with lots of skills can command relatively high wages. I have worked at
short term temporary positions, for example, where I was paid in the $20
/ hour range, although most places IÂ’ve worked at paid significantly less.
Some of the other problems
with temporary work are gradually changing due to competitive pressures.
For many years few temporary agencies offered benefits such as insurance
or 401K plans, but due to the intense competition between agencies these
are now being offered more and more, although they are still not comparative
to the benefits that full time workers at companies tend to make.
On the other side are the benefits
of temporary work, provided the money and benefits issues fit in with
your lifestyle. The obvious advantage is flexibility Â– if I wanted to
I could work at a different job site every month. Although people in traditional
jobs might find this to be unnerving, it is an incredible way to quickly
acquire experience and skills as well as network with people inside companies
and industries I may later want to seek full time employment with. In
my experience the opportunities for temporary workers are extraordinary
for those willing to pursue them. For skilled, hard working temporary
workers, itÂ’s generally relatively straightforward to land a temp position
that turns into a full time job after a certain period (usually 90 to
120 days) if the worker really prefers a permanent job.
Even in manufacturing and industrial
jobs, there are plenty of opportunities for temporary workers. Shortly
after college I worked as a full time employee for a company that used
temporary agencies to essentially pre-screen workers. A lot of the people
who came in as temps eventually obtained full time jobs with the company
Â– but many had education and work histories that would have precluded
hiring them outright if they had come in the door and applied to be a
full-time employee. Many were semi-literate, with a lack of a high school
diploma or GED being the norm, a significant percentage had criminal records
and most had few skills or consistent work history (i.e. many had never
worked at one place for very long or had recently been fired from a long-time
place of work). The temporary agency got them a foot in the door by minimizing
the risk to the company if the worker didnÂ’t fit in. Many of those hired
in this way used the experience they gained to get their careers back
on track and eventually find higher paying jobs at other companies.
Ironically the governmentÂ’s
war on temporary workers has led some corporations to create strict policies
making it all but impossible for temporary workers to make the transition
to full time employees. After the decision in the Microsoft case many
high tech companies that rely on temporary workers created such policies.
The fear is that by allowing temporary workers to become full time employees,
the courts, the IRS and others might at some point in the future rule
there was never a real difference between temporary and full-time employees.
If the current ruling is upheld,
most companies wonÂ’t stop using temporary workers, but instead will adopt
all sorts of new restrictions that ultimately harm those workers with
the fewest skills and work experience as well as those people who desire
the flexibility that temp jobs offer.
That might be a win for Washington
bureaucrats and pro-union ideologues, but it would be a tremendous loss
for millions of temporary workers.