Archive for the Reptiles and the Law Category
Later this year someone is going to break into your house while you are sleeping. They are there to take things that do not belong to them; things you worked for, things you earned. Awakened by the noise they are making you confront them and are stunned to find that the thief is someone you had thought to be a friend. You toss him a loaded gun and scream, “Please don’t shoot me!” A few minutes later, as you lie bleeding on the floor, your precious possessions gone, you cry out, “I was always so nice to him. I can’t believe he shot me.” For reasons unknown it never computes that you put the gun in the thief’s hand. It was you that armed him with the weapon he used to wound you. Who did you vote for in the last congressional election? How about the last presidential election?
As an American I am chronically aware that many of my fellow citizens don’t pay much attention to what is going on in other countries. By no means is that an across-the-board statement; it’s just something I have made note of in my interactions with others as I travel about the country. It’s not unusual for Americans to be so unabashedly and ignorantly ethnocentric that they don’t have the slightest idea of what is going in the rest of the world. Who am I kidding? Many don’t even know what is going on in this country. Jay Leno is good at pointing this out from time-to-time in his late night talk show antics (and here). Most Americans know that something is going in in Iraq but many don’t realize that Iran is different than Iraq and they certainly don’t know why Israel is so despised by them. Most of us know that Princess Diana died a while back
The Humane Society of the United States has at least one (that I know of) full-time employee whose sole function is to communicate the organization’s message using social media. That’s it! Be an evangelist for the cause using the constantly evolving Internet as a tool. The existence of that job represents their commitment to reaching out to a whole new generation of people. They also have an entire division (attorney’s included) focused exclusively on advancing their agenda through the courts. Now think about how many people work for your favorite pet owner advocacy group. I’ll guess ten. A dozen, maybe. Fifty, tops. I often wonder how many hats people in those organizations must have to wear and how effective they can be when constantly switching back and forth between roles.
As I type my 40th birthday is barely two years away. And I don’t know if it’s my age combined with the times or if it’s the times by themselves but over the past few years I have become keenly aware of a rapidly increasing divide between the people of the United States. I know, I know, every generation laments the passing of the ‘good ol’ days’ and things were always better yesteryear. Time has that sort of scrubbing effect; it distorts the very perception of our own hindsight. But I sense that what is happening now is something more dark and angry. The happy-go-lucky naivety of my youth has passed.
The current state of affairs is that we can break the thinking people in our society into two general groups of people: liberals and conservatives (some people may prefer ‘statist’ and ‘libertarian’).
I am not too unlike you, I suspect. I have received the emails, read the blogs, followed the forum threads and participated in the related chatter. Been there. Done that. And yes, I even got a t-shirt.
Like many of you I have repeatedly railed against the unrelenting stream of assaults on reptile ownership. My passion for my position has, to my knowledge, not swayed a single opponent or politician. As is so often the case parties on opposite sides of a debate are uninterested in truly listening to and understanding the differing view. But that makes sense, doesn’t it?
For longer than I have been on this planet people have been keeping reptiles as pets. The original reptile keepers were mostly academics, scientists fascinated by their enigmatic subjects of study. As reptiles began to enter into the pet world they were most often the choice of young boys and other people who were more …colorful …than mainstream society typically allows. The keeping of reptiles was often tolerated by the parents of young children who wanted to humor their whims and foster a love of science and nature. Thirty years ago there wasn’t a large captive bred trade in reptiles, at least not compared to what it is today. It wasn’t unusual for specimens to be either imported or, in the case of native species, self-caught. What better way to get a pet snake than to go out and catch one yourself? Those young herpers are now grown and they brought their once unusual choice in pet along with them. They grew up to enter into every facet of society across all levels of industry and income. Their choice to own a reptile was likely viewed as an oddity by many of their friends, family and co-workers. In fact, it was probably not unusual for them to simply not mention they had a reptile as a pet. Because reptiles were not mainstream and were viewed as a quirky choice in pet it was often easier to simply leave it out of conversations. Fifteen years ago I can say for sure the none of my professional co-workers knew that I kept snakes (I worked for a bank in those days). My banking buddies and I exchanged dog and cat stories often but snakes never came up during discussions about pets. On the few occasions that snakes did come up in conversation I often got the typical reaction that comes from the uninformed: disgust, fear and general discomfort at the idea of creepy crawlies slithering around my house.
Back in high school I sat through more than one government class. In my freshman year of college I went through the motions during a year-long course on the history of the United States. While sitting in those classrooms I wasn’t really investing in the information, I was enduring it. I memorized facts, names and dates that would need to later be regurgitated on an exam. Despite the quality of my schooling I must admit that I failed to process the information as anything other than raw data. True internalization of the information didn’t really happen for me. Part of the reason I missed so much was (honestly) a general lack of interest. For no good reason I found the history of places like Persia and Greece to be much more intriguing than that of my own country. History is often presented by academia as a string of names, dates, documents and military conflicts, each of which is summed up in a few paraphrased and often opinionated paragraphs. The impacts and long-term meanings of the events are not often taught in a way that encourages students to understand the information as it relates to their own lives. The end result is that many of us fail to fully connect the dots on how the events that occurred before our birth actually impact our existence. Teaching is an art form and most educators who have the ability to regurgitate facts lack the talent to make it relevant and interesting. As a result many students frequently purge the information after its usefulness on a test is complete. I do not fault my teachers for this. I take responsibility for my own actions, including the concerned attention I did not pay to my own nation’s history. During my earlier years I never fully took the opportunity to explore how the decisions of the founding fathers were supposed to impact the life I am living more than two hundred years later. The past several years, however, have changed all of that in a way I never expected. If someone had told me many years ago that it would be pythons and boas that suddenly caused the processes of government to be immensely relevant I would have rolled my eyes and wandered off.
I recently received a letter from the office of my representative in the US House of Representatives. The letter reiterates what one of his staffers told me during a face-to-face meeting when I went to his office in Washington DC. While I characterize Mr. Forbes as a delegate who is “on the side” of responsible pet owners I think his opportunity for opposition has been limited. This is, of course, unfortunate. What is more unfortunate is that the limitation stems from one of S373 and HR2811’s biggest sources of resistance: USARK.
In Mr. Forbes letter he points out that which we already know: an agreement has been reached between USARK and the HSUS to limit the scope of HR2811 to Burmese and African Rock pythons. That agreement unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on 7/29/09. I was at that hearing, I watched it happen. USARK, in what they believed was an effort to save all pythons, offered Burms and Afrocks in the spirit of “we’ve got to give them something.” In reality USARK’s compromise didn’t give supporters of the bill nearly as much as it took away from its opponents. On July 28th Mr. Forbes was opposed to HR2811. By the time the afternoon of the 29th rolled around he had little choice but to support it. Why? How can he oppose a bill that has been agreed upon by both sides of the issue? He can’t. It would be politically silly and a waste of time to do so. This was the exact sentiment shared with me by one of his staffers during our meeting. USARK’s decision to agree to a limited scope for HR2811 effectively ensures its passage when sent to the House floor for a vote. I can see delegates saying, “HSUS likes it and the snake people like it, too? All right then! Let’s vote on this thing and go grab a burger.” What is there to debate? It appears that everybody is happy. Except me. I’m not happy.
If S373 passes the impending full Senate vote and HR2811 passes a House vote the absolute best we can hope for when the two bills are reconciled is the elimination of Burmese and African Rock pythons. It won’t be any time soon that I forgive anybody who is responsible for that.
It’s a horrifying proposition but plausible to think that one of the best things that could happen at this point is that the HSUS gets one of their Democrat House delegates to introduce a new amendment to HR2811 that makes it mirror the current verbiage of S373 (e.g. all 9 animals in the USGS report). At least that way the venomoid-rendered opposition in the House can have a renewed reason to oppose the bill. How else are they supposed to argue against it? That’s not really the kind of gamble I’d like to take but…
“Liberty, once seized, is seldom reclaimed.” -M. Levin
Many reptiles owners who are concerned about HR2811 and S373 may not realize it but these bills are positioned almost 100% along party lines. Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are in favor of it. Republicans oppose it. Republicans do not oppose these bills because they love pythons. They oppose the bills because they seek to bypass normal processes that have been in place for a long number of years, a point USARK has been trying to make.
The fundamental nature of the Democratic party is to seize the liberty of individuals in order to provide for the perceived benefit of the masses. According to Democrats, the impacts on individuals are secondary to the needs of the many. The way that state-minded Democrats (state as in “statism”) endeavor to do this by taking steps to give government more and more control over the lives of individuals. Easy examples include Social Security, the current health care debacle and the huge ownership stake government has recently taken in both the automotive and financial services industry. Bailouts were given and control was taken to protect the masses. The result: a larger government with reach yet further into the lives of individuals.
Fellow snake owner, you are now poised to be on the receiving end of that same seizure of liberty so often employed by the Democratic party. They want to take away your right to own the snake of your choosing for the betterment of the masses. It is a decidedly Democrat thing to do. What makes it worse is that all of you know that the reasons offered for why your rights are about to be seized are not even based on facts.
Remember this the next time you go to the polls and have to choose Republican or Democrat. Many people in this country are single-issue voters. In our last round of elections many chose to vote Democrat solely because it wasn’t “voting for Bush”. The result of those elections are that we now have a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Socialist, er, Democrat President. The Humane Society of the United States swooped into action as soon as that criteria was met (Democrats all-around). The result to the reptile community is the pain we are all feeling today. Never forget that.
P.S. – Mid-term elections are about a year away. If we can survive this round we can fix our problems (the reptile problem, that is) at the ballot box next year.
Note: I opened this up to discussion on the ball-pythons.net forum but they moved it to their “Quarantine Room” that is not visible to the general public. I guess it was more direct and to the point than what they like on their site. It’s their site, their call. Someone on that site suggested that I was unfairly trying to make this into a partisan issue. Uh, I’m not trying to make it a partisan issue, IT IS A PARTISAN ISSUE. This isn’t a secret. Pretty much across the board Democrats appear to be lined up to vote in favor of it and Republicans will oppose it. That is a fact and not a politically motivated attack on the democratic party. It is what it is.
- In June 2008 HR6311 was introduced by a Democrat. This bill had the same aims as HR669. Despite being introduced in a democrat-controlled House, HR6311 never even made it out of committee. Nobody fought too hard for (or against) this bill because George Bush was in office and he would have vetoed it.
- On January 26th, 2009, less than a week after Obama was sworn into office and the Democrat hat-trick was complete, HR669 was introduced by a Democrat. The reptile community had its first unified and loud reaction. The House sub-committee backed off in response.
- On June 10, 2009, HR2811 was introduced by a Democrat. This bill seeks to perform an end-around on the legislative process by adding large constrictors to the Lacey Act.
- On February 3, 2009, barely 2 weeks after Obama’s inaguration, S373 was introduced by a Democrat. This is the Senate version of HR2811. This bill also seeks to perform the same end-around on the legislative process by adding large constrictors to the Lacey Act.
There are two themes at work in the timeline above: 1) There have been repeated efforts to take away the rights of pet owners and 2) they have always been introduced by HSUS-sympathetic Democrats.
A ream of paper, a photograph, a young child and a tanned snake skin …this is the sum total of all arguments provided by advocates of a ban on pythons. In a purely technical sense they are wholly and completely inadequate. But the adequacy of arguments is not a prerequisite for buy-in from the misinformed masses. Sound bites and sensationalized overstatements are more than sufficient to convict in the mind of a Congressman or Senator. It is, of course, true (in a purely legal sense) that you are not guilty until convicted. As is often the case, things that exist on paper and in principal struggle to manifest themselves in reality. The practical result of our legal process is not ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It is actually this: You are guilty because you are charged. The verdict is irrelevant in the long-term. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who was ever legitimately acquitted on charges of rape, murder or child pornography; they never get their lives back. An innocent man set free after mistakenly being accused of doing something horrible to a child is never, ever, going to have a job in a daycare center. Why? Because truth and reality do not matter in the long-term. “Perception, ” as I was told in my younger years, “is reality.” The subtle irony of using a sound-bite to reinforce my perspective on sound-bites does not elude me. History is remembered by most people as snapshots, impressions and feelings. The stronger the feeling, the stronger the memory is; the longer it remains. Whether the feelings were created by information with a basis in truth is less important than the emotions they elicit. The horror we all felt to hear that a child was killed by a python left a scorch in the minds of most Americans. None of the facts in the case are going to distract people from the initial shock of the claim. All the media had to do was say it and it was forever true in the hearts and minds of our neighbors.
A photo of an alligator exploding out of the belly of a Burmese python…
The militant congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz epitomized the overuse of this fantastical photo during her rude questioning of USARK’s Andrew Wyatt at a Congressional hearing on H.R. 2811. In Congress it is generally frowned upon to say things like, “Talk to the hand. I ain’t tryin’ to hear it.” Her position as a congresswoman is supposed to constrain her outbursts so the best she could do was to repeatedly hold up the infamous picture to punctuate her close-minded tirade. As a representative of the rational people of her district in Florida she is completely invalid; a danger to anybody who endeavors to participate in a careful contemplation of facts.
A tanned snake skin unfurled by Senator Bill Nelson during a session in the Senate…
In July of 2009 Senator Bill Nelson unrolled the skin of a 16ft Burmese python to a round of oooh’s, aaah’s and gasps from those in attendance. The Senator did not precede his dramatic presentation by saying, “This skin is almost twice as long as the animal that used to own it. Tanned skins are always significantly longer than the original animal.” Why would he need to say such things? Everybody know this, right? For him to diminish the dramatic effect of such a gesture would have been presumptuous about the intellect of his audience. Leave people to draw their own conclusions; it’s better that way. Now is a good time for me to point out that I am often being facetious when I write.
A child killed by a Burmese python…
The logistics of this tragedy have experienced Burmese python keepers around the country scratching their heads. People who keep large snakes are well aware of how they behave and the description of the wounds and the manner of the attack are so incredibly contrary to the actual behavior of these animals that every Burmese python keeper I know is saying, “It just dosen’t make sense. Burms don’t do that.” Maybe it’s wishful thinking on behalf of snake owners (myself included); we don’t want it to be true. But the confusion remains; the way this snakes is alleged to have killed this child is as unusual as the event itself. But guess what? None of my pondering matters. The Burmese python has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Facts are not relevant. It won’t matter if the police come out tomorrow and say that the boyfriend accidentally killed the child and then staged the scene to make it look like the snake did it. The child is dead and the python has been assigned blame. The result is simple: large constrictors are now in the category of things that are a “threat to human safety”.
A ream of paper in the form of a report from the USGS…
Several men of science have come out in opposition of this piece of literature and it appears that they are being written off as reptile-loving quacks. This particular writing of mine is not the forum for me to offer a contradiction to the USGS’ slanted report. You know what matters about this report? It is thick. Very thick. 300 pages, give or take. I am confident it has been printed and placed in a 3-ring binder by many congressional staffers. How many have actually read it? Very few, I’m sure. How many have read it and then sought professional advice as to the validity of its content? Fewer still. It’s 300 pages, after all, and there are more pressing matters in the country. Heck, I haven’t even read every word of it. This is the reason for the so-called Executive Summary. Distill this content into something small, please. Twenty pages? No, still too big. Senators and Congressmen are busy people. Let’s get this down to something smaller. A few sound bites would be nice. Perhaps a picture or two. It’s odd, …I just read a similar distillation of Sleeping Beauty to my daughter tonight as she went to bed. In ten lavishly illustrated pages the entire story of Aurora was told and at no point was an admission made that many relevant facts were being omitted. I am left to wonder if members of the House and Senate are aware that they are being read bedtime stories …stories re-written by special interest groups (HSUS and Nature Conservancy) that are full of canned and baseless drama. But the best stories are the ones that have a villian and an innocent child, are they not? Fairy tales. But the python is not a beautiful princess. No prince is riding to its aid. This time Maleficent may actually win…