"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Is Helping Animals in Gaza Misguided?

This story isn't new news, but it's spilled over from discussion in the Punks of Zion blog. After disengagement left cats and dogs abandoned in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Hakol Chai (an Israeli animal rights group) stepped in to rescue them. Instead of leaving the animals for dead, they tried to lend a helping paw.

"Israel's expressed intention to be sensitive and behave responsibly during the disengagement should apply to all living beings," said Hakol Chai's Director, Merav Barlev. "Cats and dogs left behind by departing settlers have no ability to survive under the extreme conditions that will exist during and after the disengagement. Without our help, when all that remains is dust and ruins, those who escape the massive bulldozers will die of hunger, thirst, and injuries."

Hakol Chai's actions came under attack in Punks of Zion because some bloggers thought all money should be directed to the humans stranded by the disengagement. That same logic would presumably lead people to oppose helping animals affected by last year's tsunami or Hurricane Katrina, amidst such vast human suffering.

It is inevitable that people will prioritize some issues over others, but if we do not collectively act on all "legitimate" fronts, only limited progress can be made. It might seem hard to ever make any headway combatting world hunger, establishing universal health care, helping the environment, and fighting the spread of AIDS, for example, if one particular issue seems the most important and leads to disregard of all the others. It's not wrong, though, for some people to support one benevolent cause while others work on another front. There are many issues that deserve our attention, and animal protection is one of them.

I'm reminded of a quote from Peter Singer, a Jewish philosopher often referred to as the father of the animal rights movement:

I would not question the sincerity of vegetarians who take little interest
in Animal Liberation because they give priority to other causes; but
when nonvegetarians say that 'human problems come first' I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.

Similarly, I cannot help wondering what people are doing to solve human problems that makes them think alleviating animal suffering is a bad strategic move. While charitable resources are "finite," charitable groups and activists are free to do right no matter what someone else's sense of priorities may be. (It's not like the government is the one "misdirecting" money from opposing citizens.) And if one agrees that "helping animals is a good thing," then it certainly should not be deferred until every last distinctly human problem has been eradicated (i.e., not in our lifetimes).

As for the general question: Why should we care about animals when there are humans in dire need? To paraphrase Singer, we are all alike in that we all suffer. All animals, including humans, are alike in that they feel pain and suffer from it. And if we are concerned about tikkun olam (repairing the world), then it is certainly important to minimize tsa'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary suffering to animals) in our efforts to reduce unnecessary suffering wherever it rears its ugly head.

Deuteronomy 11:15 is standardly interpreted to mean that people should feed the animals for whom they are responsible prior to feeding themselves. This duty is considered so important that a person should interrupt the performance of a rabbinic commandment if he or she is not sure their animals have been properly fed. Of course, this refers to farm and domestic animals, and does not state that everyone must put animals before humans in our relief efforts. However, this and so many other kind teachings in Judaism do compel us to take G-d's creatures' interests into consideration, and not to outright ignore them.

It is indeed a mitzvah to help animals in need rather than leaving them to defenselessly suffer and die, not unlike how it's a mitzvah to aid any humans who are similarly affected. And it is certainly not a step in the wrong direction when people show compassion in times of devastation or disrest, extending it past the species barrier with the hopes of minimizing tsa'ar ba'alei chayim.


Vivisection in the Burgh

Is it weird that I still get ideas for articles I'd like to write as though I still lived in Pittsburgh? (I left in May after graduating from Carnegie Mellon.)

This week, I couldn't help but write this one for Pittsburgh IndyMedia about animal experimentation at the University of Pittsburgh. For the more than two thousand animals suffering through appalling animal welfare violations and undergoing cruel and unnecessary tests, "newsworthy" opportunities are meant to be seized.

If I were still at Carnegie Mellon, I'd probably try to expand on that topic for The Tartan or The Carnegie Pulse and tie it in to what was going on at our school. In October 2002, The Tartan did a fantastic front-page article about experiments in the Mellon Institute that were being conducted on two dozen nonhuman primates. There's been absolute silence about the issue since then. Between the recent Pitt-related news and renewed worldwide commitment to ending the use of primates in vivisection, I think it's time for the issue to be explored again!

Air Guitar World Championships

Last night in Oulu, Finland, Dutchmen showed the world that they own air guitar. Following more hype than most could possibly imagine, the US did not three-peat and apparently Asian-Americans aren't invincible after all. At the end of the day, it was Holland that dominated the 10th annual Air Guitar World Championships.

After seven annual world championships in Finland, the US joined the fray in 2003. David "C-Diddy" Jung won it all, followed by his protegé MiRi "Sonyk-Rok" Park last year. The American air guitar establishment got cocky, touting that Team Air Guitar USA would pull off an unprecedented "three-peat." "In a time of global uncertainty, we are demonstrating that there is at least one area in which the USA can dominate without controversy--air guitar," said Kriston Rucker, co-founder of the American competition, in a press release. "But now that we're on the map, all the other national champs will be gunning to relieve us of the crown." As much as Americans may think they dominate rock 'n' roll, they're no longer the best at mimicking its performance.

Just as the Dutch put a dagger through the air axe of Uncle Sam, they also put to rest the ludicrous suggestions that Asian-Americans are genetically predisposed to be superior air guitarists. Both C-Diddy and Sonyk-Rok are Korean-Americans, and this year's national champion, Fatima "The Rockness Monster" Hoang, is Asian-American too. But that wasn't enough to make any of them world champion this year.

Out of 16 contestants in the world finals, three were from the United States. Sonyk-Rok and The Rockness Monster placed in 7th and 11th, respectively. Air guitar legend Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane (there's so much to say about this guy that there's actually a book coming out about him next year) came in 8th, after placing second in the US nationals and surviving a world qualifier earlier this week. I find it hard to be a patriotic American after thinking about my countrymen's dismal performances.

Instead, it was the Dutch that stood tall. The Netherlands had two air musicians in the top three! Michael "Destroyer" Heffels won the gold and Gyuri "Pelvis Fenderbender" Verguow got the bronze.

What does this mean for an aspiring young air guitarist? My "GoVeg.com of Steel" gimmick failed miserably at this year's New York regionals (where I got to meet C-Diddy, Sonyk-Rok, and Bjorn Turoque). My promotion of veganism was scoffed at. Many ideas have passed through my head since my agonizing defeat, but perhaps now I should play up my Dutch heritage.

Some might say that I'm not really Dutch. However, of my four grandparents, only one was born outside the United States. Twenty-three days before his family finished emigrating to the US, my maternal grandfather was born en route, in Holland. Consequently, he was a Dutch citizen. He married my maternal grandmother, whose maiden name was Hollander. Although her family was from Hungary and the name was previously spelled "Halender," the dictionary defines "Hollander" as "a native or inhabitant of Holland." May my questionable Dutch heritage grant me a free trip to Oulu next year.

So much more could be said about the wonders of air guitar. In closing, I'd like to point out to any critics that air guitar is a legitimate academic discipline.