Today’s sermon is on Superstition. There are two kinds: the cute, endearing kind, like when a football player grows a “playoff” beard, or how a kid might avoid sidewalk cracks to save Mom a visit to the chiropractor, and then there is the revolting, ruinous kind, of which you are about to get an earful.
Superstitious hogwash has its greasy tentacles poked up every orifice of our lives. Just turn on the TV. Political candidates gibber about how they think their make-believe god wants people to behave. Animal Planet’s breakout hit is about Bigfoot. The History Channel—the History Channel—splatters its programming hours with little green men from Uranus and ghost-hunters. And ignorant peabrains the world over, but especially in Asian countries, are decimating animal populations to make aphrodisiacs, virility pills, and soup.
So who am I going to bitch about today? The animal killers. We’ll get to the inbred, endomorphic “‘squatch” hunters and the Radio Shack-equipped ghostbusters at some later date. Maybe. They’re so damn fucking foolish it almost makes me feel bad to pick on them. No, not really. They’re idiots.
Anyway, what’s going on over there Asia-way? Looks like, if it’s an exotic, endangered animal, some sexually dysfunctional ass-wipe wants it hunted down, killed, rendered into pill form, and put to work giving him s stiffie the likes of which he hasn’t enjoyed since he was nineteen. And since they’ve killed off all the charismatic mammals in their own countries, they are now enlisting renegade poachers in India and Africa to obtain the necessaries for their anti-flaccidity remedies and other completely bogus “cures.”
Among the most endangered charismatic mammals in Africa and Asia, the five species of rhinoceros are hunted solely to “harvest” (what a revolting use of that word) their horns. They are shot, their horns are sawed off, and, if out of the range of a needy village, their carcasses are left to rot in the sun. 100 years ago, rhinos were slaughtered, not only for their horns, but for their feet, which were turned into planters, trash cans and ashtrays. Today, the killing is carried out only to support practitioners of Chinese “medicine.”
Rhino horns are composed of keratin, and it is this substance that, according to several thousand years of Chinese “medical” practice, can, in various forms, “cure” or alleviate the following: bewitching nightmares, typhoid, headache, colds, carbuncles, boils, dysentery, arthritis and—oh thank goodness—demonic possession. (And people say there’s no superstition in Chinese medicine…) Regular doses of rhino horn supposedly makes one feel robust, can remove fear and anxiety, and can improve one’s vision. Among the Nepalese and Tibetans, drinking Rhino urine is thought to remedy stomach disorders and asthma.
All of this is, of course, complete and total bullshit.
In 1983, researchers at the Swiss firm Hoffmann-LaRoche carried out research into the medical efficacy of rhino horn. 25 years later similar studies were undertaken by the Zoological Society of London. Both studies arrived at the same conclusion: Rhino horn contains no medical properties. As one researcher so succinctly put it: “Rhino horn is of no use to anyone except the original owner.”
Because of all this crap, the price of rhino horn is approximately $65,000 per kilogram, and the world population of rhinos has dropped by 90%—ninety-fucking-percent—in the last 40 years. Most of the evil-doers—by whom I mean the purveyors of this snake-oil, not hapless rubes and desperate people with terminal illnesses—are at large today all over Asia, but mostly in China and Vietnam.
Feeling run down? Lackluster? Just try some Tiger Bone Wine! It’ll put the whack back in your tallywhacker!
Yep, the most popular reason for slaughtering one of the world’s true mammalian treasures, is to make sure a few rich Asian motherfuckers can continue bothering young women. Various parts of dead tigers (bones, eyes, teeth, whiskers etc.) are used to “treat” various other ailments, both real and imagined, but a tiger’s penis is the ne plus ultra of Chinese “medicine.”
In addition to allegedly giving the consumer a boner that’ll poke through a cinderblock, essence of tiger can also perform these astounding feats: act as a sedative against insomnia (claws), treat a fever or bacterial infection (claws and teeth), treat scabs (the tiger’s nose skin); cure leprosy, dysentery, headaches and arthritis (bones); alleviate toothache (whiskers); treat epilepsy and cure malaria (eyeballs), rid the face of pimples (brain), treat hemorrhoids and cure alcoholism (feces) and work as a defense against dark magic (various).
The most popular ways of dosing oneself with tiger “medicine” are tiger-bone pills, tiger-bone wine, and the ever-popular tiger-penis soup, that can run over $400 a bowl at your more fashionable eateries.
Needless to say, there isn’t a single ounce of truth to any of these claims. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either deluding himself or engaged in a brand of deception that is utterly unconscionable.
Poachers use a variety of methods to kill the big cats, shooting them being the least brutal of the bunch. But see, they don’t like to shoot them, because a quality tiger skin fetches $10,000-$30,000 on the black market and bullets make all those annoying holes. So, to avoid ruining the tiger’s valuable hide, poachers turn to such charming methods as wire snares and poison, both of which allow the animal to enjoy a painful and protracted death over several fun-filled days.
Just when you think humans can’t get any stupider or more gullible. This is superstition at its most insanely destructive.
The only important thing about a bear, to a practitioner of Chinese “medicine,” is not its hide, claws or teeth, but its bile. The stuff is credited with curing nearly any ailment the human body might find itself afflicted with, and is becoming increasingly popular here in the States as a method of controlling cholesterol, never mind the fact that studies have proven wildly inconclusive. Credulous lackwits are drawn to bear bile in droves, though, operating under the delusion that, since bear bile is a naturally occurring substance, it must be better for you than something kludged together in a laboratory. Here’s a news flash for you, dummy: just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it does you any good and it sure as shit doesn’t automatically make it more ethical.
Most bear bile on the market today comes from the Chinese black bear, though pretty much any member of the genus ursus will do in a pinch. The Chinese black, also called the moon bear or the white-chested bear, is smallish, as bears go. Mature males weigh in at around 250 lbs. They are native to China, Korea (where they are all but extinct), Japan and eastern Russia.
Back in the day, the bears where shot to obtain the scant few fluid ounces of bile in their stomachs, but hunting them quickly became too tedious and too time-consuming to meet the demand for bile. But, like good charlatans the world over, the bear-bile pushers quickly found a more economical means of gathering their product.
Welcome to the Bear Farm.
Bear farms are mass-production facilities for gathering bear bile, and they are nightmarishly cruel. The bears are captured in the wild and sedated. While they are under, they are brought to one of these “farming” facilities, usually a warehouse, and deposited in cages, cages that are usually so small the animal’s paws are forced to dangle through the bars. A catheter is inserted into the bear’s stomach, creating what amounts to a constant drip-feed of bile into a containment vessel. The animals are not provided with any form of anesthetic prior to the insertion “procedure,” and the insertion areas are prone to all manner of infection.
All things being equal, I’d rather these cruel assholes go back to shooting bears. This farming business is monstrous.
There are over 350 species of sharks in our oceans, and in many ways they are among the most perfect creatures ever to have evolved on this planet. Few things are as beautiful as a shark gliding effortlessly through the blue.
The Chinese government slaughters over 100,000 of these splendid animals every year. Why? First, to satisfy yet another example of pseudo-medical nonsense, and second, to make fucking soup.
In the mid-1990s, stories about sharks circulated the globe. According to the rumor, a rumor promulgated in the main by the usual band of medical holists, other New Agey dingbats, and their abettors in the media, sharks are immune to cancer. Cancer stricken people everywhere, sadly rendered naïve by their illnesses, began to demand access to this “miracle cure.” So, flying willfully in the face of all serious scientific knowledge and research, the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese quickly leapt aboard the gravy train, and began supplying shark cartilage to the world in about every form in which it could be packaged.
Then, in the early 2000s, the first legitimate research findings appeared, showing that, like all other living, multi-celled creatures, sharks are regularly stricken with cancer. One variety of the disease they are susceptible to is—yep—cancer of the cartilage. But did this information bring anyone to his senses? Of course not. The demand for shark cartilage is today just as high as ever.
If there is one thing to be said in favor of hunting sharks for their cartilaginous skeletons, it is this: at least the whole shark is consumed in the process. The same thing cannot be said, however, of shark fin soup.
As its name implies, all you need for a bowl of yummy shark fin soup is shark fins. Well, shark fins and about $200. That’s $200 per bowl. And how are these fins obtained? Oh my golly, it’s simplicity itself. First you set several miles of long-line with a baited hook dangling from it about every six to eight feet. The you come back the next day and haul those lines in, along with, you hope, a fine healthy shark firmly affixed to each hook. And, one by one, you haul the fish aboard, remove the hook, stretch it out on the deck, slice off its fins and tail, and toss the bleeding, still living animal back in the water, where it sinks to the bottom and dies, usually not from having been mutilated, but, since it can no longer swim, it dies of suffocation. This vile practice goes by the name “finning.”
Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and is eaten all over the world. At its most basic, it’s supposed to give the eater a vibrant glow and make him feel invincible. Far more disturbingly, though, it is said to cure cancer (why, duh…) and to act as an aphrodisiac. It does none of these things.
This is waste on a scale that surpasses what befell the American bison in the 1800s.
Oh, but Rich, you are saying. All of this goes on in other countries. Americans don’t do this sort of thing. Not anymore.
Just last week, ex-rodeo cowboy Wade Steffen was one of seven people arrested in a four-state crackdown on the illegal trafficking of rhinoceros horns. Steffen, who no longer competes as a steer wrestler after—get this—being attacked and savaged by a camel, was busted at the Long Beach (Ca) airport after authorities, acting on a tip from an undercover Fish & Wildlife agent, found $337,000 in his carry-on bag. All in all, federal agents seized 37 rhino horns (with a total black-market value estimated at close to $10 million), over $1 million in cash and $1 million in gold ingots. Steffen and his co-conspirators face, if convicted, which they had better be, penalties of up to five years in prison and $250,000 fines for conspiracy; five years in prison and $250,000 fines for Lacey Act violations; and up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for violations of the Endangered Species Act.
If only camels had claws.
Apologists whine persistently, like the five-year-olds they long to be, that scientific findings which contradict traditional Chinese “medicine” are not to be trusted, because Western science and medicine is “reductionary” and “invasive” while Eastern medicine is “holistic,” a word for which, in this context, no one has offered a worthwhile definition. Well, us “reductionary” Westerners have some things on our side that the holists do not. Things like logic, the scientific method, and duplicateable, peer-reviewed research. What the holists have is a sackful of myth, hearsay and apocrypha.
Other apologists, the postmodernists and cultural relativists, blather on about how all points of view, all claims to the truth, are equally valid. Accordingly, tiger penis soup won’t effect me the way it will someone for whom the dish is culturally entrenched. Or, apparently (and illogically), the soup will have the desired effect on the other guy and not on me simply because the other guy decided it will and I decided it won’t. On the rare occasion I encounter an actual relativist (they’re hard to find; society having had some success at keeping them confined to college humanities departments) I like to ask them to let me know the next time they fly on a “relative” airplane. Pretentious douchebags.
And then there’s the myth that says poaching in Africa and India is carried out by poverty- stricken villagers, desperate to feed their families, and who are we to stand in their way. Adherents to this point of view might have a point if the poaching in question was in fact being carried out by poverty-stricken villages, desperate to feed their families. But it isn’t. Large- animal poachers in Africa resemble para-military squads, and they are just as well-armed and organized. Some even have access to spotter planes and helicopters. As mentioned above, the only time hungry villagers benefit from a dead rhinoceros is if it happens to meet its end near them, so they can avail themselves of its meat before spoilage sets in. The rural poor of Africa and India are far better served by the presence of eco-tourists, who shoot animals with Nikons instead of .50 caliber machine guns.
And, finally, we come to perhaps the biggest culprit of all: Western—specifically American—apathy. Too many people in this country fail to grasp the importance of the superstitious killing of animals. It’s happening thousands of miles away, after all, right? What does it matter?
We can trace this apathy right back to the Book of Genesis, wherein, says the myth, god gave man dominion over the animals. (For a being that is supposed to be omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, the god of the Old Testament sure is a short-sighted, vindictive old fuck. It’s like an artist saying, “Here, I’ve made a lovely sculpture. Now, would you spray-paint it for me?”) I’ve actually had Christian whack-a-doos trot out selections from Genesis and fling them at me to excuse the inhumane treatment of animals. And what’s really messed up is that they actually believe what they are saying.
If I haven’t already offended you, I’m about to.
It is vital for the health of our planet’s ecosystem that we have an abundance of animals, large and small, running around doing nothing but leading their simple, beautiful animal lives. If you have to kill them because you feel run down, or you can’t get a hard-on, or your desk lacks for an ashtray, or your god gave you the go-ahead…then fuck you. Your pitiful superstitions aren’t worth the cost.
The last time I checked there were plenty of humans loose on the globe, and more coming by the second. The most recent survey of the southern white rhino came up with a grand total of eight. Eight. Not to put to fine a point on it, but what’s a few people, more or less.
So fuck you. Fuck your traditions, fuck your culture, fuck your superstitions, and fuck your fucked-up, low-rent god. Fuck ‘em in the cunt.
Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn by Richard Ellis
No Safe Refuge by Terry Grosz
The Besieged Desert by Mitch Reardon
The Plunderers by Jan Breytenbach
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Save the Rhino
The International Anti-Poaching Federation
Save Tigers Now!
World Wildlife Federation
Stop Shark Finning Now