Clever Pun About Snakes Goes Here

I generally like Slate.com’s articles, but this piece today from David Fleshler really falls short of the mark. It’s full of scary quotes, terrifying comparisons, and still finds time to be completely wrong about the issue at hand.

In “What a bunch of snakes,” Fleshler makes the following assertions for your consideration:

  • The snake lobby uses the same tactics and rhetoric as the gun lobby.
  • The snake lobby pretends it is representing a really important industry.
  • Fatalities and injuries from dangerous snakes are “soaring.”
  • Even though cats are currently decimating bird and wildlife populations everywhere in the United States and dogs kill and harm far more people than snakes do, they are “our friends. They need us. Pythons don’t.”

The snake lobby uses the same tactics and rhetoric as the gun lobby.

Since Slate’s readers tend to skew leftward (hell, which is why I read it), it’s important to keep in mind that this is a scare tactic to short-circuit the reader’s rational thinking. How is the reptile lobby like the gun lobby? Well, Fleshler tells us that “like the gun lobby, which the reptile industry resembles in its rhetoric, the snake dealers quickly learned to play the Washington game.”

And the gun lobby is, of course, evil. Ergo, the reptile lobby is evil, too. If they weren’t evil, they wouldn’t be like the gun lobby.

The problem is that every lobby group does the same thing. They petition legislators. They cajole and fund raise and threaten and beg and plead and buy their way into getting their agendas passed. They protest and demonstrate and shout and do whatever it takes to get their particular issue heard. The gun lobby does this. The environmental lobby does this. The LGBT lobby does this.

The problem isn’t the rhetoric or the tactics used, because everyone does it and I guarantee if there’s a political issue you care about, there’s likely a lobby out there using those same tactics and rhetoric as all the lobbies you hate. It’s the way things are in Washington and everyone’s doing it.

The gun lobby isn’t evil because of how they’re doing things. They’re evil to liberals because a): they’re winning and b): winning means people continue to get shot in staggering numbers. The gun lobby is the bogeyman in the room because dollars = speech and so they have more dollars and more speech than everyone else opposing them.

The snake lobby pretends it is representing a really important industry.

Some snakes go for a lot of money and so banning them would cause the industry around them a big economic loss. Also, for some reason, it’s important to note that “Anyone concerned about the trade deficit will be glad to know that according to Issa’s report “the U.S. is a global leader in the reptile industry.”

Fleshler isn’t saying that being a global leader in the reptile industry isn’t causing trade deficits, but he also isn’t not saying it either, wink wink.

Fatalities and injuries from dangerous snakes are “soaring.”

There are no official statistics on injuries or deaths from snakes in the United States. But a commonly accepted figure states that 12 people have been killed by constricting snakes since 1990—most of them snake owners or their children. The Humane Society says the number of snake incidents—injuries, attempted constrictions—has soared in the past 10 years, with more than 60 in 2012.

I am here writing this in the Year of Our Lord 2015. Since 1990 (which was, if we do the math . . . 25 years ago), we have lost twelve souls to the terrible coils of constricting snakes. TWELVE LIVES.

And while the loss of any human life is always regrettable, here are a few things more dangerous than large constricting snakes and kill more people:

  1. Dogs: 364 since 2001.
  2. Collapsing sand holes: 16 since 1990.
  3. Guns (factoring only accidental discharges, which excludes suicides and homicides): 851 in 2011.

In fact, in 2014, Slate posted an article discussing in great detail whether snakes were more dangerous than guns. It’s worth a read. (tl;dr version: they’re not). The vast majority of snake-related injuries in the United States are due to wild snakes. Of those caused by kept snakes, most are inflicted by venomous snakes, which many keepers, including myself, steer clear of. Constrictors, even large constrictors, account for a very small percentage of the injury statistics. Which isn’t to say that large constrictors aren’t dangerous—they are powerfully strong animals—but so are rottweilers, German shepherd dogs, and other large breeds.

And despite the use of the scary word “soared,” 60 injuries in 2012 seems rather modest, especially since that’s including any injury, not just those that then led to a fatality.

The problem with the “scary snakes are dangerous” rhetoric is that so many people are afraid of snakes, so it’s easy to fixate on a single gruesome story when it does happen. But in terms of actual danger, more people are killed or harmed by falling out of bed or end up crushed to death under vending machines. And if we want to talk about an injury rate that really is soaring, how about the 350,000 people sent to emergency rooms from dog bite injuries each year?

Ultimately, the problem with the “there should be restrictions on dangerous reptiles” has most to do with the fact that very few people seem willing to draw distinctions between venomous snakes and constrictors of any size. Fleshler’s article is all over the place in this regard. Is he pushing for venomous breed restrictions? Does he want bans on a single large constrictor breed, like the Burmese python? He singles out the boa constrictor as one breed that was dropped from the ban, but fails to talk about the numerous different kinds of boa constrictors there are in all different shapes and sizes.

And this is the part that gets snake keepers up in arms (heh). Proposed restrictions often have this kind of weaselly language written in, and thus a bill introduced to restrict, say, the large and potentially dangerous Burmese python can also restrict the small and innocuous Ball Python, which is tiny in comparison and thoroughly harmless.

Dogs and cats have been bred over millennia to be our friends. Pythons have not, as several surprised snake owners realized in their final moments. Dogs need us. Pythons don’t.

I’m sure the people who were killed by dogs were also surprised to realize that dogs bred to be their friends turned out to be strong, power animals capable of inflicting injury. For me, this quote is the worst of the entire article and indicative that Fleshler’s argument is basically rot. It’s anthropomorphism of the worst sort.

To breezily gloss over the fact that cats, both feral and pet, are causing far more ecological destruction is overwhelming naive and indicative of bias. Pointing out that cats have been bred to be our friends is also basically wrong, and this is from the perspective of a cat fan, but cats domesticated themselves. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that actually owns a cat; as the saying goes, dogs have owners, but cats have staff.

It’s true that reptiles aren’t social animals and they don’t form bonds the way pack-oriented mammals like dogs do. On the other hand, why does that matter? There is a tremendous amount of joy to be had in caring for reptiles of all kinds, if they happen to be the type of animal that most inspires and amazes you. My pets bring me joy every time I look at them or handle them. The fact that they don’t sit by the door wagging their tails waiting for me should not reduce my status to that of a second-class citizen.

Meanwhile, In The Senate

Like I said in my previous post, today was a good day to be a gun in America. The reactions from most decently minded citizens was one of disbelief more than anything:

Kirsten Gillibrand : W/90% support, it’s absurd that we were unable to summon the political will to pass universal background checks. The Senate truly is broken.

There was also the reaction from those watching from the Senate gallery:

Among those looking on from the gallery, Lori Haas, whose daughter was shot at Virginia Tech, and Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the mass shooting in Tucson, shouted, “Shame on you.” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who presided over the votes, then asked for decorum.

The urge to give into cynicism is strong right now. The system seems broken, doesn’t it? It feels broken. It seems like playing by the rules is the best way to lose. It seems that a small but hysterically loud minority has been allowed to have the run of the country, simply because it’s the loudest and shrillest voice in the room. Is there anything left to do, but wait for the current crop of conservatives to succumb to old age and hope that the playing field is more fair the next time around?

I say no. Never give into despair. Everyone except Fox News agrees that the conservative leadership in this country is on the verge of collapse unless it reforms. These are the last gasps of a desperate minority struggling to hold onto their power. For them, the stakes are high enough to go beyond the point of reason. There is no incentive to play fair at this point.

I do not believe that this will stand forever. With each blatant defiance of the public will, the tide turns against them more. Each action that these NRA-owned senators take that prioritizes the gun lobby over the will of the people will reveal them for what they are: sycophants of special interests.

Amid those voices protesting is Tucson’s own Gabby Giffords, who needs no introduction, calling for resolve in the face of despair:

Former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely injured in the Tucson shooting, wrote in a Twitter message: “Senate ignored will of the people & rejected background checks. Im not giving up. Constituents will know they obeyed gun lobby and not them.”

To the question of what can we do now in the face of this latest defeat, Giffords had this to say:

Over two years ago, when I was shot point-blank in the head, the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing. Four months ago, 20 first-graders lost their lives in a brutal attack on their school, and the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing. It’s clear to me that if members of the U.S. Senate refuse to change the laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change the members of the U.S. Senate. 

If this is how these senators wish to govern, I argue that they are no longer deserving of the responsibility. I don’t think I’m alone in holding this opinion:

“I was extremely disappointed,” said retired Col. Bill Badger, one of the people who tackled Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson. “When 90 percent of the people want something, and the senator votes against them, the next election, we’re going to take care of those senators, because they’re not representing the people.”

No matter how it shakes down, at the end of the day, you cannot ignore the will of the people like this. The political will to carry on the fight is still there and this particular fight is not over. There are too many people now who care too deeply about this to let the gun lobby bury this cause, as has been done so many times in the past. Maybe it’s time to consider reforming the filibuster. Maybe it’s time to consider the so-called “nuclear option.”

To those Republicans (and the small handful of Democrats) who bowed to the pressure brought on by the gun lobby, remember that it was the people who gave you those Senate seats.

The people can just as easily take them away.

Arizona: A Great Place To Be A Gun

The news today was great if you’re a gun. Or if you’re a person who makes and sells guns. Or if you – well, you get the point. Let’s talk about Arizona’s Gun Buyback program first.

The plan was to try and get some unwanted guns out of people’s homes with the guarantee that those guns wouldn’t end up in the hands of those who might do harm. Not an unreasonable concern, considering how easy it is to acquire a firearm without a background check of any kind. It was going to be a drop in the bucket anyway compared to the number of guns still out there, but you never know; one less gun could mean the difference to at least one person. It was, you might say, a symbolic action in the same vein as Bisbee’s proposed civil union law.

And like Bisbee’s symbolic civil union law, the gun buyback program has been blocked. Well, not blocked exactly, but gutted all the same. You can still turn your unwanted gun in. However, the city or county now must take that gun and sell it to a federally licensed dealer instead of destroying it as was intended. Guns seized by police already have to be sold in this fashion, per Arizona law, which means that, as Bob Christie notes in his article, “the gun used to shoot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords might end up back on the street.” Great law, that.

Here’s the thing that really brings my blood to a boil:

It’s not about protecting Second Amendment rights, it’s about protecting the taxpayers,” said Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria. He also argued that the state doesn’t require the destruction of cars involved in fatal accidents, so requiring guns to be destroyed is simply a feel-good measure that protects no one.

Bull. Fucking. Shit.

Look, I get the fact that as a Republican, you have to bow to the almighty power of the gun lobby, but at least be fucking honest about it. Stand up and cop to it; you’re opposing this because the NRA demands that you oppose everything that even has the faintest springtime scent of gun control. Admit that this is what you’re doing, because it’s agonizingly obvious to the rest of us that this is what you’re doing.

Furthermore, the argument Rep. Murphy uses to justify his bullshit rhetoric is that we don’t require the destruction of cars in fatal automobile accidents. This ignores the fact that in many instances, a collision severe enough to kill a person is usually enough to destroy the vehicle involved. So, you know, you have that working against your claim. Furthermore, you’re not even addressing the same fucking issue! This isn’t even about the law requiring the state to sell seized guns. This was about a program designed to take some guns off the street and keep them from circulating.

Democrats argued that Republicans complain about the federal government when it requires the state to take action, yet they’re quick to force local governments to do what they want. “We hate it when the federal government mandates it to the state, and we’re doing the same thing,” said Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma.

How the hell anybody can argue that the Republican party is the party of small government is beyond me at this point. This is not the action of a small government philosophy! These are the blatant actions of a party that has capitulated to its most powerful lobbying group because to do otherwise would mean the effective end of the party as a political entity.

I get why they’re doing it. I guess at this point, I’d just appreciate a little bit of honesty as they do it.