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  • What Dogs Want
  • School Vouchers
  • Range Management
  • Killing Whales

    What Dogs Want

    Stephen Budiansky's interesting article "The Truth About Dogs" (July Atlantic) draws conclusions not documented by the studies cited, asserting that dogs are instinctual and that their behavior is determined by their genes, so that their apparent "emotions" are but shams, more pretense than real. Science can prove that something exists, but has difficulty proving that something does not exist. What study can Budiansky cite to prove that dogs have no emotions or affection -- that they only pretend? What study can he cite to prove that emotions are not instinctual? Maternal love for an infant may be instinctual, but it is no less love. How does Budiansky define love or affection, scientifically or experimentally?

    J. S. Wayland

    I can just hear the legions of dog lovers revving up to fire their broadsides at Stephen Budiansky for his exposé of doggy duplicity.

    To someone who expressed the Cartesian view that dogs cannot think, Charles Darwin, a great lover of dogs, is said to have replied, "Well, they can dream . . ." Budiansky's assailants, whose letters will pour into your office, will doubtless claim that he believes dogs do more than think: they plot. That goes a lot further than Gary Larson's brilliant depiction of what we say and what dogs hear (the cats are even funnier), but in a supra-individual, evolutionary sense, dogs have a "strategy," and it is almost entirely parasitic.

    I say almost because some dogs (not my mother's, the worthless, thieving scoundrel) still have their original job as protector and early-warning device -- no small service for urban pioneers. All the other things we've bred into them -- chasing sheep in circles, pointing, and so forth -- have been bred up from things mutts do naturally, in smaller doses. Dogs do them as if they were responding to a kind of post-hypnotic suggestion, and unreliably. It was one of Darwin's most effective rhetorical points in support of the fact of evolution that even we puny human beings can make species evolve in directions we've chosen for them.

    Scott L. Rolston

    If we follow Stephen Budiansky's argument, our dogs are not even pretending to like us; they are cleverly designed food- and care-extorting machines that have no feelings or personality at all. If we were scientific and realistic enough, we would recognize that to have personal feelings about our pets makes no more sense than to cultivate friendship with our refrigerators.

    The evidence offered in support of this view consists of little more than some sketchy comparisons between the natural behavior of wolves and the domestic behavior of dogs, and a few cynical one-liners from animal behaviorists. Nowhere does the lengthy discussion of canine genetics actually enlighten us about how dogs might feel toward people. Neither genetics nor any other branch of science compels us to accept Budiansky's mechanistic views of animal behavior; only scientism does. The materialist, reductionist program Budiansky is selling us intends to reduce all personally and socially meaningful interactions to a simplistic model of evolutionary adaptation.

    Robert Erard

    School Vouchers

    Matthew Miller's ostensible refutation of the primary argument against vouchers ("A Bold Experiment to Fix City Schools," July Atlantic) -- that they drain resources from public schools -- is a spurious one. Miller states that when money follows children who leave a public school, the remaining children are not shortchanged, because "schools receive the resources their enrollment merits." This ignores the fact that the amount that schools receive per pupil is based on an average -- about $5,000 per pupil in California. When a pupil leaves, a district gets $5,000 less; if thirty leave, it loses $150,000. This will fail to harm the remaining students only if the marginal cost of educating those lost students is equal to or greater than the average cost of educating them. This is certainly not the case. (Indeed, why should it be?) A district that loses thirty students can hire one less teacher and purchase fewer supplies, but fixed costs -- for administration, maintenance, and other facilities -- remain unchanged. If the marginal cost of educating those thirty lost students is as high as $125,000, the pupils left behind lose $25,000 -- enough to equip a complete computer lab.

    Miller's additional argument that public schools can easily get rid of "troublesome" students is also facile. As a public school teacher, I know how facile it is. After all, even troublemakers have a right to a public education, at least in California, and have due-process rights that must be respected before they can be removed from the standard classroom.

    Gordon Danning

    I don't accept Gordon Danning's sense of what expenses are truly "fixed." Some of the costs he mentions would be cut if enrollment dropped significantly. Administrators and certain facilities would be harder to cut, yes, but if enrollment dropped enough, a school would have to cut them. The same would be true in a district that was losing population generally, whether or not vouchers were an issue. Otherwise kids would be shortchanged and bureaucracy favored.

    Range Management

    Re "Winning the War for the West," by Perri Knize (July Atlantic):

    1) Knize fails to mention why conservationists have had to resort to lawsuits to achieve some measure of sanity in range management. The typical ranchers have long fought efforts by concerned Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials to adjust livestock numbers to range carrying capacity. In this they have had the staunch support of their friends in Congress. Lawsuits are finally doing what should have been done by the ranchers themselves long ago.

    2) Knize is really confused about the costs of grazing public lands. The controversy about costs has been about grazing fees, not the cost of acquiring a ranch, and about the fact that what federal agencies charge for grazing is only a fraction of what a rancher pays for grazing private range. Ranchers have fought hard, and successfully, to keep the fees low. Knize's statement that ranchers are willing to pay higher fees but are prevented from doing so by their banks is nonsense.

    3) Ranchers and their sympathizers are fond of saying that "the federal range is in better condition than it has been in more than a century." Some ranges are. Others were so badly denuded of perennial grasses and lost so much soil to erosion that they have never recovered from the devastation of the early years.

    4) Knize mentions the impact of grazing on riparian areas and the alleged benefits of livestock grazing to wildlife. According to her, in the absence of livestock grazing, wildlife populations would suffer. She does not explain the abundance of wildlife in national parks where livestock grazing isn't allowed. The widespread damage to riparian areas, according to Knize, is due to elk, not livestock. How does she explain the abused riparian areas on ranges where no elk can be found? In any area grazed by both elk and cattle the abundance of cow patties and the presence of livestock clearly show which ungulate is doing the damage.

    Steve Gallizioli

    I was appalled by "Winning the War for the West." Perry Knize states that the public-lands rancher's "permit fees are not a form of subsidy -- he has already paid full market value for the right to graze public lands."

    The typical public-lands rancher may have paid the previous owner of his ranch the approximate value of his grazing permits as part of the ranch's purchase price, but that money didn't go to the federal government, which manages the public lands. Even by the government's own figures, cited by Knize, management costs are at least $75 million annually, whereas ranchers contribute only $20 million. If that isn't a subsidy, please explain what is. And the subsidy is probably much greater than Knize (or the government) admits. Robert Nelson, an eighteen-year veteran of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Policy Analysis, and currently a professor of environmental policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs, writing in the Fordham Environmental Law Journal (1997), calculated annual grazing-management costs just on BLM lands at $200 million!

    Knize's claim that ranchers have "the right to graze public lands" is pure nonsense. As recently as February 23 of this year the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, ruling in Diamond Bar Cattle Co. v. U.S., cited a long history of court decisions affirming that the grazing of livestock on public lands is not a right but a privilege that can be revoked by the government at any time.

    Knize attempts to discredit environmentalists seeking to protect public lands from livestock. Such people would "have us believe that cattle grazing is an ecological evil on a par with clear-cut logging and open-pit mining. There is no justification for this claim." Really? No justification? Consider the article "Quantifying Threats to Imperiled Species in the United States," in the August, 1998, issue of Bioscience. Of 1,207 plant and animal species listed as endangered, threatened, or proposed for listing, mining affects 11 percent, logging affects 12 percent, and livestock grazing affects 22 percent. Knize says that as an "ecological evil," livestock grazing isn't on a par with logging and mining. She's right: it's much worse.

    In support of her contention that whatever environmental damage has been done by livestock occurred in the distant past, before the development of modern livestock-management practices, Knize cites a BLM report of 1990 stating "that the public range was in the best condition yet this century, and improving." Yet Knize fails to mention a General Accounting Office report published the following year which countered, "We could not confirm BLM's conclusion that the public rangeland is in better condition than ever before in this century because the historic studies BLM relied upon were prepared using different methodologies in some cases and in other instances did not contain supporting documentation."

    Michael J. Hudak

    Both Steve Gallizioli and Michael Hudak have missed the central point about the subsidy issue: ranchers, on balance, are paying fair market value for their grazing permits and are subsidized far less than the average American citizen. Many of us pay less in taxes for the public services we receive than the cost of providing them, and the grazing-program budget, which varies depending on which agency activities you include, is a very tiny percentage of the overall land-management budget. Many of the benefits we enjoy on public lands -- such as recreation trails and fire control -- are subsidized, according to the definition of these writers.

    As for the condition of the public range, they have simply reiterated what I wrote in the article -- that some lands may never recover from past abuses. The point is that we should be able to bring the land back to health and have responsible livestock-grazing at the same time. Many articles in Bioscience and other scientific journals claim that grazing is harmful -- and just as many claim otherwise or extol its benefits. The point I was making is that we have no definitive baseline data that allow us to draw an objective conclusion on the matter. Either point of view may be correct or incorrect. The findings of the GAO report Mr. Hudak cites are in my article. I don't believe Iasserted anywhere in the text that public-lands grazing is a right and not a privilege.

    To imply that ranchers have changed their grazing practices only because they were forced to is to ignore the fact that ranchers defeated a proposal by Bruce Babbitt for range reforms and all attempts to raise grazing fees. The changes they have made were not forced on them. Ranchers have improved and continue to improve their grazing practices because to do so is better for the health of the land and therefore better for the health of their animals and their business.

    National parks do not in fact substantiate Mr. Gallizioli's defense of elk. The tremendous damage that elk do to riparian areas and other vegetation is a major reason for park scientists' desire to return wolves to Yellowstone -- to re-establish natural predators to control the elk population explosion. My story about the elk at Muddy Creek was cited as one example of how there is often more than meets the untutored eye when it comes to range management. It was in no way meant to imply that elk rather than cattle are the cause of riparian damage. In fact, the article plainly states throughout that cattle have done and continue to do damage.

    Killing Whales

    William Aron, William Burke, and Milton Freeman ("Flouting the Convention," May Atlantic) assert that the creation of an on-board observer program is a safeguard that will assure sufficient regulation for the return of commercial whaling. They downplay the devastating cheating of the Soviet whaling fleet, which killed the most-endangered species of whales indiscriminately in vast numbers for more than twenty years, reporting only about one tenth of their kills, with the assertion that "the cheating took place before any observer program existed."

    Wrong. The biologist Vassili Papastavrou reported on the scandal in the April 23, 1994, issue of Science: "The deception continued even in the presence of IWC observers. Although the observer scheme was international, observers were simply swapped between the Soviets and the Japanese." In 1994 a Norwegian whaler violated his quota -- taking one for the road -- with an observer on board.

    The authors declare that "observer programs have proved effective in regulating the take of dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean." Wrong again. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission is among those "observer programs"; its laxity is legend, and its record of enforcement is invisible. The efforts of activists, consumer outrage, and the 1990 U.S. ban on the import of tuna caught in purse-seine nets at the dolphins' expense are what saved the dolphins of the eastern tropical Pacific from certain extinction.

    The authors deny claims of "a supposed illicit trade in whale products, implying that a large global market for such products exists. This has not been the case for decades."

    In fact, no one has ever implied "a global market." The market is Japan and the nations of Southeast Asia. With whale in the Tokyo markets reaching $300 for a kilo of meat and blubber, no further implications are necessary. The number of busts of whale-smuggling operations has been rising for the past ten years, and the introduction in 1995 of DNA-sampling techniques that have positively identified the meat of endangered fin whales, sperm whales, and humpback whales sold under the cover of Japan's "research" minke-whale kill likewise speaks for itself.

    The authors aver that the ideal of "quick and . . . nearly painless" death has been "largely achieved" in the whaling industry, "just as it is in the food industries that kill millions of cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens every day." The comparison of cows in a slaughterhouse (necessitating a comparison of wild with domestic animals, which are bred in a controlled stock of known numbers) to a wildlife hunt that targets the largest members of the species -- that is, pregnant females -- should require no comment. The speed and painlessness of its death would come as news to a whale that is shocked into semi-consciousness at the end of a pair of low-voltage electric lances for upwards of thirty minutes and then drowned while being dragged upside down to a factory-processing ship.

    The authors cite ancient tradition and traditional diet and its importance in "the social structure and moral norms of a community." In Japan whale meat as popular dietary tradition had its last flowering from 1946 to 1960, when Douglas MacArthur ordered an intensive whaling program to alleviate the postwar food shortage. Today Japan's aging political elite, struggling to keep an irrelevant industry alive, has been trying every marketing ploy it can think of to maintain some kind of popular taste for the postwar staple (home delivery, personal snack packs, school lunch programs), but the younger generation is generally repulsed by the thought of killing whales. Thus whale meat remains an expense-account menu item for the highest-ranking members of the keiretsu.

    Paul Watson

    Reading the rational defense of commercial whaling by Aron, Burke, and Freeman, I was reminded of a (true) story about the humorist Robert Benchley. While an undergraduate at Harvard, Benchley took a course in international relations. An exam for the course asked him to "take one side in the Irish fishing dispute [between Britain and Ireland] and defend it." Benchley, whose study habits were poorer than his wit, took the side of the fish. He failed the course.

    Little can be said about the logical arguments in favor of some permitted commercial whaling under existing international law except, of course, on the side of the whales. International law is not the highest law.

    Geoffrey Sea

    The article to which Paul Watson refers was published not in Science, a world-respected peer-reviewed professional publication, but in New Scientist, a popular magazine. Its author was identified as a zoologist, but his role in a major animal-rights organization was not mentioned. The article provided a lurid account of plotting by the Russians and disparaged the IWC Scientific Committee for meeting "in camera" as representatives of the governments appointing them rather than as disinterested scientists. The author failed to note that the cheating was reported by a senior adviser to the President of Russia at an international scientific meeting in Galveston, Texas, the year before his article appeared. He didn't reveal that he had attended Scientific Committee meetings (representing a nongovernmental organization) and that most members, like those of the IWC itself, are from anti-whaling nations, including the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Scientists from these and other anti-whaling nations played key roles in developing the Revised Management Procedure that, if implemented, would permit controlled sustainable whaling that would allow whale populations to continue to grow.

    The IWC observer program is credited by the IWC Secretary with leading to a dramatic improvement in official records of whale catches. Although Russia apparently cheated after observers were required, the extent of the cheating is still being investigated. That it was serious before 1972, when the observer scheme was introduced, is undisputed.

    That observer programs can work when the political will exists is proved by the fact that the United States has placed its citizens on every foreign fishing vessel operating within the U.S. zone in the North Pacific since the 1970s. Japanese, Koreans, Poles, and Russians who want to fish in our zone have had to accept observers and pay the costs. This is true for the U.S. vessels that have replaced the foreign fleets. Mr. Watson's depiction of the role of observers in the eastern tropical Pacific has little relation to fact. The dolphin-mortality-limit program administered by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, in which observers play a key role, has been extremely successful, owing in major part to the work of the commission and its professional staff. Because of the effectiveness of national and international observer programs, we believe that an international IWC observer program can work and avoid the problems of the past.

    Mr. Watson's arguments about whales as a source of food and economic wealth are confusing, contradictory, and distorted. Whale meat as a "popular dietary tradition" probably peaked in Japan in the postwar period, a time of real shortages of food, especially of meat. As alternatives became available and IWC quotas more restrictive, whales became less important to the Japanese diet. Even so, whale meat remained one of the least-expensive sources of animal protein available to the Japanese until the whaling moratorium. Mr. Watson's assertion that whale meat may cost as much as $300 per kilo must be treated with caution. Such a price could apply only to a very special cut of whale meat (called onomi), found near the tail fin and representing a minute proportion of the whale's mass.

    As for Mr. Watson's claim that whale smuggling has been rising for the past ten years, this is wishful thinking. Independent checks of whale meat in Japanese markets, stores, and restaurants by TRAFFIC (the wildlife-monitoring unit of the IUCN-The World Conservation Union) in the past have indicated that all meat from whales either legally taken by the Japanese or legally imported before an import ban was enforced by Japan can be accounted for.

    CORRECTIONS

    Owing to a computer error in the September issue of The Atlantic, in "Lincoln's Greatest Speech?," by Garry Wills, several words or phrases that should have had double underlines had single underlines only. We deeply regret the error.

    The Contributors note in the September Atlantic for James K. Glassman and Kevin A. Hassett should have given Times Books, a division of Random House, as the publisher of their new book,


    The Atlantic Monthly; October 1999; Letters - 99.10; Volume 284, No. 4; page 10-15.

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