Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dividing Lines: The Politics of Nature

I'm usually pretty good at being at least familiar with most of the topics that cause a stir amongst the blog-o-sphere and on the web, but I guess I've been so busy this past week with exams and papers that this just completely flew under my radar...

Stevenson said he tried to protect the birds by capturing the cat. He failed and returned home frustrated. Late that night, he worried the problem. “The American taxpayers spend millions of dollars to protect birds like piping plovers,” he said, “and yet here are these cats killing the birds, and nobody’s doing anything to stop it.”

The next morning, Stevenson decided to act. He loaded his .22 rifle in the van and took off for San Luis Pass. He spotted the same cat under the bridge. Stevenson put the animal in his sights and pulled the trigger.

“The cat dropped like a rock,” he said.

The NyTimes ran this article last Sunday describing a man by the name of Jim Stevenson, who lives in Gavelston, Texas. He apparently is an avid bird watcher and enthusiast and has a rather strong animosity towards cats. Thus the story begins:
On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006, Stevenson took a break from watching the election returns to look at some birds at San Luis Pass, a ripply channel connecting Galveston Bay to the gulf. Stevenson parked his white Dodge van with “Galveston Ornithological Society” bannered on its side, near the end of the San Luis Pass bridge, a tollway that connects Galveston Island to Follets Island. He found a spot in the low grass-speckled dunes and waited. Soon enough, he saw a handful of piping plovers, a federally listed endangered species. Then he saw something else: a scraggly cat stalking the plovers. A colony of about a dozen feral cats had been sleeping under the bridge. The cats liked to wander into the dunes for the same reason Stevenson did: the birds.
John Newland, a man in his sixties, described as 'quiet', working in the nearby tollbooth came running when he heard the later gunshot. Newland had frequently fed the cats under the bridge in the past and thought of them as his 'babies', causing him to chase after Stevenson shouting “I got you! . . . You quit shooting my cats!”

Stevenson fled the scene, but was later picked up by the cops, cuffed, read his rights, and thrown in jail.

Which is of course what has led to the huge debate that is currently being fumed online between bird lovers and cat lovers. From what I gather the feud seems to be even deeper and more divisive than the old cats vs. dogs debates.

I personally had always thought of cat people as being particularly strange, or I guess they prefer eccentric, but it seems like bird people are psychotic. Perhaps I just don't understand how many birds are killed each year (or perhaps day) by curiously malicous cats, so I'm not quite as enraged, but these people are clearly very passionate about protecting birds. And most bird lovers obviously see something similar to this picture when they think of cats:

Science writers John Horgan and George Johnson weigh in on the issue on the most recent Science Saturday segment of John trills an alarmist call for all cats to be kept indoors at all times and spatted, whereas George purrs on the side of the cats, though he is largely neutral, but he feels that it is wrong to hold cats accountable for their actions because they are merely slaves to their natural/biological impulses which are not filtered through the same levels of conscious and moral reasoning that our actions are processed through (though in Stevenson's case, this is obviously debatable). In other words, when a tree falls on and kills a man, for instance, we usually don't hold the tree accountable for its actions, nor are we quick to call the cops, because we understand that the tree didn't mean to do it and couldn't have done otherwise. John counters arguing that it is our responsibility to ensure cats don't go out and maliciously kill birds for sport and play. Anyways I advise you to watch the clip, because John lays out a series of arguments to support the side of the birds. I personally favor George's argument that we should be more focused on the devastating affects that we humans have had on the birds' habitats and survival rates, instead of pointing all of the blame at cats (who we, after all, brought over to this continent in the first place).

Andrew Revkin had a post on his blog covering the debate. He actually quotes John Horgan's wife, Suzie Gilbert, in his post, since she's a writer and wild bird rehabilitator, who lives just down the street from Revkin.
“I don’t know how many people have brought me birds that their cats have ripped up, with the most horrendous injuries,” Ms. Gilbert told me. “And the people are, like, ‘Oh, well, it’s natural.’ Of course it’s not natural. Then they just excuse it, saying, ‘Little Mister Whiskers just wouldn’t be happy if he wasn’t outside.’ And I say, ‘Well, this little bird isn’t very happy now, either.’ ”
The comments under his post are especially telling of what kind of people are on each side. I recommend you check it out.

Revkin finishes his post by asking: Whose side are you on?

I, personally, have yet to be persuaded either way. But feel free, if you are a strong proponent of one of these sides, to try and convince me otherwise.

As to the emotional question of which species I like more, I would probably come out in favor of birds. My dad has a cat named Hobbes, who I have to admit has improved my impression of cats, because before him, I was convinced that all cats were incredibly stupid creatures who had tricked everyone into thinking that they were smart simply because they were lazy and reflexive looking. I was also allergic, so that was another reason I didn't take much interest in them. On top of that this video accurately illustrates one of the most tangible reasons I hate cats, because Hobbes used to always find a way into my room and do this to me:

So yeah, birds are cool. Colorful, diverse, capable of imitating speech rather exceedingly, they perform collective behaviors that are mesmerizing, as was illustrated in an earlier post I had of starlings in flock, oh, and most importantly they can fly! Whereas cats, overall, are pretty unimpressive when you think about it...lazy, indifferent, and, what, can land on their feet? who cares...

(I have a feeling I will receive pecks on the head from the bird lovers about my earlier comments and claws and perhaps teeth from the cat lovers for the comments directly above. I say bring it).

Anyways whose side do you, my enormous readership, favor in this debate? The trilling birds or the Prring Cats? Discuss (and please try not to scratch or peck).

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