Michael Baysmore of the Coppin State Police Department is back in the news for another good, but very different reason.
The circus isn’t the only eye-catching attraction involving animals coming to Baltimore this week.
This isn’t a rerun. Baltimore awoke to news that bulls were on the loose in Baltimore on Friday morning.
While we may or may not see PETA’s vegan bikini babes on the sides of our firetrucks anytime soon, a Baltimore City Council resolution has paved the way to turn our service vehicles into roving billboards. But why stop with fire trucks? According to the New York Times, in the mid-west, KFC paid to fill potholes and replace fire hydrants in exchange for blazoning its logo over manhole covers. A local grocery store in Massachusetts sponsored new police cars with its name on the trunks and fenders. Subway stops in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia are being re-named as if they were baseball stadiums.
Not everyone is happy with these developments, of course. “We are bombarded by ads everywhere we go, and these are public spaces meant to be reflective of the values of our society, co-opted by the private sector,” says Elizabeth Ben-Ishai of the Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project. Plus, it’s easy to imagine situations where corporate sponsorship of public services creates some awkward (or unethical!) conflicts of interest.
Animal-rights group PETA doesn’t shy from controversy — in fact, quite the opposite. So I suppose it’s no surprise that when Baltimore City Councilmember William “Pete” Welch floated the idea of including ads on city fire trucks as a way to raise funds for trucks that would otherwise have to disband, PETA saw it as an opportunity. While the Baltimore Brew imagined what our city would look like with a Food4Less or Big Boyz Bail Bonds fire truck, PETA’s proposed ad continues the organization’s long history of using hot women to promote animal activism.
Even if this is a ploy to garner publicity (which it obviously is), you think they could’ve come up with a more tasteful slogan than “VEGANS ARE HOT!,” considering the ad would run on the side of a fire truck. “Hot” is usually not a positive word in that context. Extending the poor-taste pun to the max in her letter to Welch, PETA manager Lindsay Rajt writes that “PETA is happy to help Baltimore’s fire departments from going up in smoke… [This ad], featuring a sexy woman showing off her vegan physique, will drive Baltimore residents to PETA’s heart-healthy vegan recipes that will keep them firing on all cylinders… By going vegan, Baltimore residents can save animals, protect their health, and help themselves become ‘hot stuff’!” She also helpfully points out that vegans are 18 percent thinner than meat-eaters.
Makes a Big Boyz Bail Bonds fire truck (repainted in hot pink and yellow?) sound kind of appealing.
In response to a letter the actress sent to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, asking her to ensure that Ringling Bros. refrain from the use of bullhooks to prod their circus elephants at their upcoming Baltimore performance, a spokesperson for the circus fired back at Jada Pinkett Smith, saying, “She doesn’t know the first thing about elephants or about how to take care of them.” In his opinion Pinkett Smith is being “misled” by PETA, the organization that distributed the letter. He invited the star to visit the elephants to see first-hand that the elephants are treated humanely, and not harmed by their handlers as her letter alleges.
But it’s really probably a more fundamental ethical rift. Which is to say, though the focus is on the billhooks, PETA (and, apparently Jada Pinkett Smith) views the involuntary servitude of these elephants as inherently unethical. So Pinkett Smith could show up to the circus to find the elephants in La-Z-Boys watching a Desperate Housewives marathon while their handlers fed them peeled grapes, and it probably wouldn’t change her attitude toward the use of wild animals in circus performances. It’s this basic difference of opinion regarding man’s rights over animals that keeps people on either side of the issue feeling like the opposition is out of its mind. On the other hand, it’s also what keeps us knee-deep in hot, nude PETA ads.
On Tuesday, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake received a letter from Jada Pinkett Smith. How exciting that would have been for her, had it not been an open letter all about elephants. The Baltimore native and actress called on the mayor to ensure that the city’s law forbidding the use of any “mechanical, electrical, or manual device that is likely to cause physical injury or suffering” on a performing animal be upheld during the Ringling Bros. Circus’s performance at 1st Mariner Arena. Specifically, Pinkett Smith is seeking to ensure that bullhooks not be used to prod circus elephants.
How funny. I was in the middle of writing my own open letter to the mayor demanding that she make sure Ringling Bros. not charge too much for oversalted popcorn and soda that is mostly ice. But Jada’s right — this is more important.
Pinkett Smith’s letter, distributed by PETA, claimed that not only are these elephants poked with painful bullhooks, but that several of them suffer from arthritis and yet are scheduled to perform in Baltimore.
It’s unclear how Rawlings-Blake will respond to the letter. According to The Sun, she is a big fan of the circus and even played “a ceremonial role” when Ringling Bros. came to the city in 2010.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” wrote Gandhi, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What, I wonder, would Gandhi make of Baltimore’s “Rat Rub Out Program,” with its so-called “rat abatement stations” and its logo of an evil-looking rat with a red line through it? We are constantly being informed that Baltimore has a serious “rat problem,” and that rats are a major health risk, a source of disease, contamination, and so forth. “Rat Rub Out Trucks” cruise the streets of Baltimore, boasting of their murderous crusade. Dismissed as vermin, rats are being systematically massacred by city officials in the name of “public hygiene.” Does anyone care?
Even if we all agree that rats are a problem, do they really need to suffer an agonizing death from slow acting poisons? And does the city really need to brag about this inhumane violence? While it may be true that rats are connected to the spread of disease (though not the plague, which was carried by fleas nestling in the rats’ fur), they are actually much cleaner than most human beings. Rats groom themselves constantly and wash their faces with water whenever they get the opportunity. They are gentle, intelligent creatures that will not attack unless provoked, and generally prefer to steer clear of human beings and go on living their lives in private, and at night. As this article from PETA explains, it is possible to live in harmony
with rats, and to solve rat “problems” without undue cruelty.
In China, the Rat is respected and considered a courageous and enterprising creature. Those born in the Year of the Rat are honored, and noted for their charm and attraction. Like rats, such people work hard to achieve their goals and acquire possessions. If we all counted ourselves blessed every time we came across a rat, the rat problem would be solved overnight, and Baltimore—at least, according to Gandhi’s criteria—would become a leading center of moral progress.