Wednesday, September 5, 2007

tour britannia

Upon arrival at the Coombe Abbey near Coventry, I was surprised to run into a crew of cigar-smoking rich guys and their vintage race cars. They do this three-day tour around the country that, although I'm not much interested in classic cars or cigars, provides me with a promising potential title for this section of the book: Tour Britannia.

What a deluge of interesting things to discuss and read this week—about autism, spelling, handedness, the carbon economy, songbird-killing cats, and more—that jetlag recovery will have to wait while I catch up a little. Thanks to Paul Collins for promptly forwarding the New York Times piece about left-clawed crabs. Coincidentally, I’m currently two-thirds of the way through Collins’ book about autism, Not Even Wrong. It’s an easy read and Collins does a terrific job weaving personal discussion and history. It’s also been a helpful primer for a feature assignment to write about autism that I’ve recently taken on.

In other news, my Wired piece about environmental markets has not, thus far, generated nearly the amount of reader interest that the essay about high-speed trains did. Some of that may be a function of the readership, as well as the more theoretical nature of the enviro-themed article. To the end, take a look at the comments on the Wired website (below the story itself). There’s an interesting and rather scathing indictment of carbon trading. Similarly, this recent International Herald Tribune story begins with news that the Vatican hopes to go carbon neutral, thanks to a planned forest on an island in Hungary. The piece then widens to address this aspect of the green economy more generally. Some familiar verbiage re: the bad and the good. The essential good, I think, is that cap-and-trade at least makes companies pay, or even just consider having to pay, for polluting in ways they never have in the past. Efficacy of the offsets themselves and the legitimacy of the offset market are much thornier issues.

On my flight from Chicago to Heathrow, I read a Wall Street Journal piece about feral cats that kill birds. Talk about a difficult issue! At the risk of turning millions and millions of cat lovers into David Wolman haters, I must confess that my sympathies are with the birds on this one. In fact, I have a very environmentally mindful friend who, after witnessing his cat kill some birds, decided to have it put down. He called someone at the humane society and asked how to go about this process as humanely as possible. Thinking the animal was sick or injured, the humane society staffer told him to bring the cat in. But when he showed up with a healthy animal, he was met by dirty looks and a refusal to help. What do you think he should have done? Should do? And no, this isn’t one of those tales in which the speaker speaks of a so-called friend because the speaker’s too embarrassed to admit that the problem is his. I’ve never had a cat.


amy (sarah's friend, milton '87) said...

Yes. The cat vs bird debate. My thoughts: There are a few relatively simple and non-lethal solutions to consider.... 1) Don't let your domestic cat outside. It's safer for everyone involved (cat, bird); but people have a tendency to anthropomorphosize (sp?) on this issue. As long as a cat gets exercise, some toys and human or feline attention, it doesn't 'need' to be outside for purposes of happiness. 2) Put a collar with a bell around the cat's neck. Noise scares the birds before they can be eaten. 3) If you have a cat, don't put up things like birdfeeders. Pick your familiar carefully; like, if you decide to have a pet wolf, don't decide to have a herd of sheep in the back yard. 4) Consider the imprint of a single human on the planet, as compared with a cat. Discuss. 5) If you have a cat and decide you're to appalled by its carnivorous nature to deal, consider bringing the cat to a no-kill shelter (away from birds) so someone else can have the chance to care for the cat in a bird-free environment (like in a house or apartment).
cheerio! Blog on! ;)

David Wolman said...

He tried all that stuff. The cat chewed off the bell, and his toddler is allergic to the cat (so keeping the cat indoors is out). Of course the give-away to a new home is a fair and diplomatic option. But the reasoning, I imagine, was that if this fairly responsible adult wasn’t able to keep this cat from getting out and killing birds, he couldn’t feel confident that a new owner would do any better. I’m speculating, but that can’t be far off; this guy is no recreational feline executioner.

I get the sense from some more people who have written me about this that the deeper issue, when you get right down to it, is that we aren’t allowed to think of cats as pests like rats, cockroaches, prairie dogs, potato beetles, or crows. To think otherwise is to admit a cold-blooded inhumanity. Thankfully, I don’t have a cat, so I never get stuck with this dilemma that my friend faced. Then again, to many cat-lovers, there was no dilemma, and I can see their point. To a point.