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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I cannot condone what the six lions did. If it is crime to bite the hand that feeds you, it is certainly a crime to bite the hand that brings you water. And sometime shortly after eleven am on Tuesday, May 27 a 49 year old unnamed keeper had gone alone into the enclosure where the lions were kept (so the tourists could stare at them) to deliver fresh water. He was familiar with the lions. He had worked at the Utispan African Trophy Hunting Ranch, in the wild northwest desert of South Africa, for two years. But, as somebody once said, familiarity breeds contempt: I think it was either Sigfried or Roy who said that. But we can be certain that the lions did bite his hand because if you are going to leave the fingers scattered on the ground, you have to swallow the hand. And before you can swallow it, you have to bite it.
And that was all that was left of the poor guy, a few fingers – that and a couple of feet of lower intestine, but that was all. Which makes the ad copy for the Ranch that much more than ironic. “We know these animals and their qualities and customs by heart… ” (Did I mention that they also ate the guy’s heart? Well, they did.) “…All of our family have been born and grown up in the Kalahari. We have learned to understand the animals and their special skills.” And now these family folks are meeting with folks from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs to “…discuss the fate of the lions.” What fate? The six lions are already living in a cage, probably getting used to free food from humans, so they could then be released on the property so some wealthy Arab, European or American could be driven to their feeding station in the brush, pointed in the right direction, and then proudly display a photo of him or herself kneeling next to their dead fellow carnivore.
Whereas, if the lions were free to do the hunting on their own they would live happily for a couple years, chasing, catching and killing until they got gored or stomped on or got mauled by another lion and then they would slowly starve until they were weak enough or sick enough to be eaten alive by hyenas or dogs or ants or everything else. It’s the nasty reality of “Born Free”. Almost nobody in the wild dies a peaceful death. Peaceful deaths are not natural: Eat or be eaten is in fact, eat and eventually be eaten.
Perhaps we should just treat animals like humans. You know we want to. We dress them in human attire, and feed them tasty human food, and we used to go even further. In 1386, in a market day in the French village of Falaise a young child had her face ripped open by a pig about to be sold for hammocks. In retribution the guilty swine was then dressed for court in a waistcoat, breeches and gloves and brought before a jury. They sentenced the sow to be mangled and maimed like the child and then garroted and hanged, which would have been the same punishment meted out to a human. With the slight difference that after execution this guilty party was roasted and basted. And if you were thinking that people in the Middle Ages were just nuts then you need to here about the little town of Erin, Tennessee, where, on September 13, 1916, the townsfolk were so offended when a 30 year old circus elephant named Mary trampled her handler, that they lynched her. It took a crane and two separate attempts but it was a sufficiently slow and agonizing death that post mortem the locals felt satisfied justice had been done.
At about four-thirty on an afternoon at the end of February this year (high summer in South Africa) 29 year old Samuel Booysen, entered an enclosure at the Aloe Ridge Lodge, Mulders’ Drift, S.A. which contained “eight or nine” lions. And then, while two other caretakers watched, Samuel was disemboweled and eaten by a pair of the lions. This time the lions left behind the spine and skull. The South African Department of Labor was moved to respond to the twin tragedies of Utspan and Mulder’s Drift by reminding workers that “occupational health and safety …remain the responsibility of everyone, including workers …”, which is a short way of saying, “Stuff happens.” These guys could be working for George Bush’s OSHA.
And from news reports it appears that attitude is still warmly appreciated in South Africa, as when investigators determined with visible relief that 58 year old Dirk Brink (love the name) was not killed this year by the lions on his “game farm”, even though his friends had to fire guns to drive off the lions who were feasting on his corpse. Luckily the lions had not eaten Dirk’s head (?) and doctors were able to determine he had actually died of a massive stroke before the lions showed up. To quote a friend, "Everything there indicates that the lions dragged him off under the trees after he had died." Well, that’s a relief.
But what should happen now to the lions, now that they have stumbled on the realization that people are at least as tasty as wart hogs, and we don’t have any tusks. That is not information we want lions sharing with each other. So it has been suggested that the lions on the Krugersdorp be moved, and replaced by another pride, ignorant of human frailty. But Coert Steynberg, described as an expert from South Africa's game industry, has pointed out that lions are not congenial to sharing or swapping territories with other lions. Warns Mr. Coert, "The dominant male (will) kill the less-dominant one, and his offspring, to ensure the propagation of his own pride's gene pool." In other words moving the lions would just mean they would be killed off camera.
It seems the morality of lions is difficult for South Africans to define, even on June 17, 2007 when nine-year-old Tshepo Gaerupe, made the mistake of putting his hand through a gap in an enclosure gate. The lion grabbed the boy’s arm and dragged him inside, where two of the ten lions feasted on the child. Adults, racing to the screams, found only a small piece of the boy’s skull. Upon investigation it was discovered that the owner of the farm, Tommy Van Vuren, who was away on vacation at the time of the attack,(how very George Bush of him) had allowed his permit to keep the lions to lapse. The lions were darted and removed from the farm and. it was decided that all ten lions would then be put down. But Van Vuren filed suit stopping the euthanasia. He also installed stronger fencing and added an electrified fence, and then he applied for a new permit, which was quickly granted. And the courts backed his argument that the seizure of his lions had been unconstitutional. Magnanimously Van Vuren offered to pay the cost of transporting the lions back to his farm, if the authorities would pay the cost of darting them with tranquilizers. He also offered to sell a pair of the lions and give the proceeds to Tshepo Gaerupe’s bereaved mother. There was no word on whether she took the money or threw it back in Van Vuren’s face.
Yup, it is very hard to define justice when mixing men and man eaters. I guess it all goes back to the work of Charles Darwin, so succinctly encapsulated by the Disney Company as “The Circle of Life”: From the day we arrive on the planet, And blinking step into the sun, There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than ever be done,…On the path unwinding, In the Circle, the Circle of Life.” I just think Disney should have included that one verse they left on the cutting room floor. “There’s so much to be savored, before you are eaten too, there’s so much to be consumed, from Zebras on the run to your competitors’ baby, too. In the Circle, the circle of Soylent Green.”

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Sunday, July 13, 2008


I recently made a terrible mistake. I was curious about how to describe the average American. It seemed like a simple question. Of course I knew there is no such animal, but I had hopes. So I looked up the word. Immediately I was confused. “Average” comes from the Arabic word “awarya” translated through the French “avarie”, meaning damage to a ship’s cargo. ???????
Some how over the centuries, that morphed into a service owed by a tenant to his lord, then a tariff or a freight charge, then a divided share of damaged freight, then the median of something, and finally a representative sample of something. Or, to put it mathematically, the sum of all elements in a problem divided by the number of elements produces either the “mean average” or the element that shows up most often, which is the “mode average”, or the middle point, the value of a term when expressed as a variable, or the hatch back vegetable fuzzy face constellation, which is how the words in the dictionary started to look to me.
So in desperation I just went to the census page. Google the U.S. Census and I guarantee you will find enough numbers to prove damn near anything. 49.2% of all Americans are male and 50.8% are female and yet 61.3% admit to having worn a dress at lest once in the last two years.
According to the Census people, 12.6% of all Americans are Black, and 66.2% White. Meanwhile 50.4% of all Americans are married, but not necessarily to each other, because 30.5% never married, 18.5% are divorced, 2,2% are separated, 6.4% are widowed and 22..9% are contemplating killing their spouse if he doesn’t stop talking right now!

And here’s something else to think about; seaweed, future fuel or food for all. Either way it doesn’t help us here, so instead think about this; right now there are about 302 million Americans. We’re choking on our own exhaust fumes. But, on the bright side, pretty soon we will run out of oil, and thus run out of exhaust fumes. So we are now in a desperate search for new exhaust fumes. Will we ever find enough? Is there some way out of this mess before we have exhausted ourselves?

We have faced a crises like this before. In 1790, right after we won our independance, there were less than four million of us, and our biggest problem was that there were not enough of us. And we had no cars. Nobody wasted time doing studies on the problem. We were a “can do” nation in those days. We just went right out and drilled for more people: by 1800 there over five million of us. The 1860 census found 31 million Americans, and by 1900 there 76 million of us: problem solved
But then a new problem arose: out of those 76 million Americans nearly 10% were annoying, and that was up from just 8.3% in 1860. By 1950 our population had topped 152 million, and over 20% were annoying, with 6% qualifying as “Very Annoying”. The trend has continued to worsen. In 1990, out of 250 million people total, “Very Annoying” had reached 6% and “Simply Annoying” was approaching 16%, and, in a truly disturbing sign, 3.1% had achieved the new level of “if she doesn’t shut up I’m going to shoot myself!”
In 1900 only 3% of American homes had electricity, and only one third had running water. So the chances of being electrocuted in the shower in 1900 were very low. Today the average American spends ten minutes every day in the shower. Not only was the denizen of 1900 less likely to be electrocuted, but they had an extra 70 minutes every week to waste at the computer.

The average life expectancy for males in 1900 was 47 years, making Social Security a really good idea. (Why is it we never think of these things while they are an easy fix?) Interestingly, also in 1900, most Americans lived within one mile from where they worked. And even more interestingly, in 2008 the average commute (by internal combustion engine) took just under thirty minutes, or about the time it takes to walk a mile: I think somebody is trying to tell us something and I think that somebody is us. But are we listening to us? I doubt it. Who would ever listen to a bunch of know-it-alls like us?
According to one new book the average American lives within twenty minutes of a WalMart. For some reason I find that factoid really depressing.
The average American buys 800 gallons of gasoline a year, or did we did when we were complaining about $1.80 a gallon gasoline. At $4.00 a gallon we are putting less gas in our tanks but complaining more. The United States has 116,855 gas stations, or about one gas station for every 2,500 people. Almost a million people work at gas stations, but the average income of a gas station employee is just $16,449.00 a year, or about $12,000 a year less than the “average” American makes. This helps explain why Exxon Mobil made $40 billion in profit last year, and Chevron made $19 Billion. Clearly, when dealing with addictive substances like heroin or oil, the higher up the chain of distribution you are the more money you get to keep and the less often you get arrested.
So, after all of this research, I can now say two things about the average American. First, anybody who plays state lotteries knows nothing about mathematics. And the average American knows nothing about mathematics. Or Chemistry. Or Sociology. Or spelling. And the second thing was said by H.L. Menken almost a century ago: "The truth, to the overwhelming majority of mankind, is indistinguishable from a headache. After trying a few shots of it on his customers, the larval statesman concludes sadly that it must hurt them, and after that he taps a more humane keg, and in a little while the whole audience is singing ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah,’ and when the returns come in the candidate is on his way to the White House."
Are you listening, Barak? How about you, John?
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