Letters for June 26, 2008

Letter of the week
Chickens are smart

Re “One for the birds” by Alex Felsinger (SN&R Frontlines, June 12):

Thank you for drawing attention to the plight of egg-laying hens confined in battery cages. The humane treatment of animals on farms is an important issue and California’s voters will have the opportunity to pass the California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act this fall, which would allow hens kept for egg production enough room to stretch their wings and ensure that gestating sows and calves raised for veal are able to turn around—simple movements presently denied to most of these animals. Animals raised for food deserve basic, humane treatment.

Unfortunately, the article included two issues in need of clarification.

Science is increasingly demonstrating that the cognitive abilities of birds are much more complex than previously imagined, illustrating their intelligence. Chickens, for example, have a specific set of alarm calls, which are context-specific and differ depending on the type of predator they have spotted. Mother hens actively teach their young, correcting feeding mistakes and helping them distinguish food from inedible bits. In laboratory settings, chickens have demonstrated that they can think about future events by forgoing a small reward in order to wait for a larger one.

Regardless of the clear scientific evidence that exists that chickens are intelligent, however, the critical point does not rest on how smart they are, but whether they can suffer—and both science and common sense tell us that they certainly do when confined to barren, restrictive battery cages.

The article also exaggerated to a degree the differences between Joy Mench and myself. While Dr. Mench and I engaged in many lively debates while I completed my Ph.D. degree under her guidance, it was always in a friendly and instructive atmosphere of mutual respect.

Again, thank you for letting your readers know about the California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act that will be on this November’s ballot. As an animal scientist and former Californian, I hope voters will pass this important legislation and make the state a leader in the nation. There is more information at www.humanecalifornia.org.

Sara Shields
via e-mail

She’s a chick

Re “He’s being judgmental” (SN&R Letters, June 19):

First of all, August, I’m a chick. I know, like Terry and yourself, it’s hard to tell by my name alone.

As far as your statement that I believe “any reason for killing is enough cause to kill,” that’s just dumb, dude. Although I do agree that abortion kills (that’s science), what this procedure does not do is take a life. It takes the potential for a life. Abortion is way different from organized crime or genocide, and I find it your comparison to be extremely offensive in that it diminishes the real pain and suffering felt by thousands of people.

I am not afraid of being judgmental, August. I believe very firmly that we should pay for abortions for those who cannot pay themselves. Kudos to you for admitting your flaw, now it’s my turn: Abortion is not wrong, fetuses are not people. If you don’t agree with me, I seriously think you’re stupid. With the rampant overpopulation of the planet and the excess of shitty parents, impoverished families and foster kids, I think abortions should be required. Still in middle-school? Abortion. Ignorant, bigoted racist? Abortion. Too strung-out on your drug du jour to remember to take your prenatal vitamins? Abortion. Of course, I do not really believe that anyone should be prevented from exercising their right to procreate—no matter how young, strung-out, or stupid—but sometimes I think the world would be much nicer if we could all be fascist.

Do you think that “killing in all its forms is more wrong than right”? I’m a vegan, and I don’t even think that. Isn’t killing a part of nature? Isn’t it how we evolved? Oh yeah, you probably don’t believe in evolution, do you, August?

I don’t know what would “put a smile on the face of God,” because I don’t know if “God” exists. Sorry to break it to you, August, but neither do you. Don’t believe everything you read.

I have now responded to a letter in response to my letter in response to another letter which was in response to an article that was not even about abortion in the first place. As I’m writing this, I realize that this letter is tantamount to literary masturbation. Therefore, it will be my last installment in this game of tug of war. I have better things to do with my time … in fact, I think I’ll go get pregnant.

(Ms.) Ari Ambrose

Caveat lector!

Re “Pointing fingers at the Humane Society” (SN&R Letters, June 19):

The inappropriately named Center for Consumer Freedom is a front group for tobacco, alcohol, restaurant and agribusiness interests. It has been condemned by the editorial boards of USA Today and The Washington Post for misleading the public. ABC News has also exposed the organization as a front group. Started with a $600,000 grant from Philip Morris, the CCF campaigns against groups as varied as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Centers for Disease Control and the Humane Society of the United States.

The fact that this Washington, D.C.-based corporate shill is trying to influence California voters is just another example of how Big Agribusiness is pursuing a strategy aimed at misleading Californians. The opposition cannot win on the merits of the debate—whether factory-farmed animals should merely have enough room to turn around and extend their limbs—so it is bringing in industry front groups notorious for their lack of interest in the truth. Californians who care about animal welfare should vote yes on the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

David Middlesworth

Get over it, poor Cosmo

Re “Smears, fears and queers” by Cosmo Garvin (SN&R Bites, June 19):

After explaining how a report by the Sacramento Police chief confirms that the allegations against Kevin Johnson are unfounded, the Johnson campaign states that “continued reference to these allegations after this information is public can now only be construed as an effort to wrongfully discredit Johnson and continue this smear campaign.”

Poor Cosmo doesn’t like this. He construes this as “reporters doing their jobs.” Wrong! Good reporters don’t waste our time beating a dead horse. The story’s finished. Get over it and move on.

Steve Mehlman

Bravo, Josh

Re “Sac after hours” by Josh Fernandez (SN&R Arts&Culture, June 19):

Although I found Josh Fernandez’ article, “Sac after hours,” quite dark, I enjoyed it for some reason. Maybe it was the reality, or the tone that no one ever wants to write (or face), or perhaps it was the awareness that I appreciated the most.

Whatever the case, I live in Midtown, work by day and sleep by night, and have always thought of “my” neighborhood as quite trendy and hip; eating at chic bistros and attending Second Saturday art walks, but after reading this article, I remembered that I’m still living in Sacramento, rather than Napa, Carmel or Santa Barbara.

I’m reminded about the problems Sacramento faces, and that even though I live in a popular neighborhood (and pay high rent for it), it’s very dichotomous to the late night. Thanks for reminding me of the realities of downtown/Midtown late nights.

Bill Kilgore

Science of fuelish behavior

Re “Fuelish behavior” by R.V. Scheide (SN&R Race to the Bottom, June 12):

I am writing to verify the conclusions of R.V. Scheide in his column.

Five years ago, I made a study of the variety of pathways, from energy source (e.g., solar, wind, nuclear) through the transmission and distribution system, then to the vehicle systems and finally to wheel power (see “Comparison of Investment and Related Requirements for Selected Hydrogen Vehicle System Pathways,” Journal of Fusion Energy, Vol. 21, Nos. 3/4, December 2003, available upon request). The study examined the chain of efficiencies and costs from source to sink and determined that hydrogen as a vehicle fuel was extremely inefficient and very costly in comparison with, say, the use of hydrogen to create a liquid fuel such as methanol.

The reason is that the making of hydrogen from splitting water is very energy intensive and the delivery of hydrogen through the chain from source to sink is very inefficient and costly. This arises because of the fundamental nature of the element—very poor volumetric energy-storage density. It must be compressed or liquefied for transmission and storage is very problematic.

In addition, the costs were a very strong function of the nature of the energy source. In general, it was found that photovoltaic solar energy was the most costly, wind of intermediate cost and nuclear power the least costly. This arises because both solar PV and wind have very low utilization (the sun is not shining and there is no wind), thus being available for only 25 to 35 percent of the time (capacity factor), whereas the capital cost charges apply all of the time.

With these points made, I wish the state of California well on what I perceive as its quixotic quest for pure “renewable” energy making hydrogen for its motor vehicles.

S. Locke Bogart
Weeki Wachee, Fla.

Let the sun shine in

Re “Fuelish behavior” by R.V. Scheide (SN&R Race to the Bottom, June 12):

It seems to me that we are going about energy in the wrong way. Oil, hydrogen and ethanol all rely on limited commodities. However, one commodity we have in abundance is solar energy. It is the only commodity that is constant, at least until it explodes, according to some scientists (but that’s not for a million years, give or take a millennia).

Solar power is also the only commodity that’s predictable (it rises and sets 24-seven-365). Humans already harness the power of the sun within their homes, so why can’t this work for vehicles?

Last year, researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets. The application is primarily for home use. However, these flexible plastic sheets could expand to polymer flexible sheets for vehicle bodies. In small trials, these flexible polymer sheets could replace portions of a vehicle’s body such as roof panels or all passenger doors. The panel would seamlessly fit with the rest of the vehicle because the panels would be treated with the same paint that covers the entire vehicle.

A meta-hybrid vehicle comprised of solar, electricity and fuel could use solar energy during the day to power its electrical cells as well as the vehicle. At night or during cloudy days, this vehicle would use the electricity stored in its electrical cells. In theory, a meta-hybrid vehicle could run indefinitely without ever touching an ounce of fuel, and only [require oil] during rare situations where solar and electricity isn’t available. One tank of gas could last for months.

I’ll leave the details up to scientist to figure out, but the point is that I can’t imagine flexible polymer sheets would be hard to develop en masse. The key is to convince the solar panel industry they can develop this technology with automotive industry, state and federal grants.

This seems to me to be the sanest course of action to take. I mean, the sun is always around. Let’s use it to power our vehicles!

Ryan Allen
Elk Grove