The story of Oklahoma State Senator Frank Shurden's campaign to reintroduce cockfighting into our state made the news last week, from New Zealand to NPR.
Shurden wants to dress the fighting cocks up in little elecronic sensor-wired vests and put tiny boxing gloves on the cocks's spurs. The vests would record hits and help keep score.
Cockfighting was outlawed in Oklahoma by State Question 687, passed on the 5 November 2002 state ballot. [The cockfight proponents appealed; the measure was upheld by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Edmonson v. Pearce, 2004 OK 23, 30 March 2004.]
On 28 November 2002, the senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States of America, Wayne Pacelle, appeared on "Crossfire" to debate the issue of cockfighting with hosts Robert Novak and James Carville.
It's pretty easy to guess how the "debate" went. Try this:
...PACELLE: Well, [a cockfight] is certainly not my idea of fun, Bob. It is two roosters that are bred for aggressive characteristics, pumped up with stimulants, and they have knives or ice pick-like devices called gaffs that are affixed to their legs, and they're placed in this pit where they can't escape. They're forced to fight to injury or death, all for amusement and illegal gambling. This is not some novel idea. A majority of states banned cockfighting in the 19th century.
NOVAK: Well, a lot of states banned boxing in the 19th century as well, and we were smart enough to change those bans.
PACELLE: None of these bans have been repealed in any of states.
Novak, and later Carville, drove the debate over to the completely different issue of animals as food:
PACELLE: And again, we're talking 48 states out of 50 [banning cockfighting]. We're not talking about some new experiment that is going on. Forty-eight out of 50, 96 percent of states, and voters do it by overwhelming margins.
CARVILLE: But Bob, let me give him credit here. He makes a good point. If I'm going to be upset about this, I am not going to be upset at Thanksgiving dinner. Yesterday, I made a chicken and sausage jambalaya. The rice didn't come from an animal, but it was damn good ...
Later, Novak revealed both his capacity for empathy and his deep knowledge regarding biology and animal physiology:
NOVAK: Do you personally know any chickens? You seem to be able to psychoanalyze them. They have a little tiny brain. They don't feel anything.
A little later, Novak-- unprotected by his aluminum-foil hat-- released "The Problem with This Country." Novak has a habit of releasing previously-classified information.
NOVAK: Here's a quote from Tillman Hammonds, he is a breeder in Oklahoma. He says, "That is what they are bred for," -- that is cockfighting -- "Why, I've bred them for 40 years -- their gameness and fighting ability."
That is their only purpose on earth, is to fight. That's what they are bred for.
PACELLE: You could say that about pit bulls. You could justify dogfighting with the exact same arguments. Is it OK to set two dogs and have them engage in a three-hour fight, to tear each other to death just for amusement and illegal gambling?
NOVAK: What would you do with the animals?
PACELLE: They're being bred for the specific purpose of injuring and maiming each other for human amusement.
NOVAK: What is wrong with that? They're animals.
PACELLE: Animals matter. We have 50 anti-cruelty statutes in this country.
NOVAK: That's the problem with this country.
PACELLE: Well, I don't think so.
CARVILLE: What's the problem with this country? Anti-cruelty statutes?
NOVAK: Too many -- that's right.
PACELLE: This is incredible. This is mind-boggling.
CARVILLE: America needs more cruelty. That's the one thing that people have to have. Kids need more cruelty. They need to learn about cruelty, right?
So, if we repeal anti-cruelty laws, we need not waste any time worrying our little heads about childabusehumanrightsimmigrationcleanairadequatehousingnationalsecurity-- or any of the other issues that have distracted us from the Problem with This Country. Why isn't this man our King?
By the way, cockfighting was illegal in Oklahoma from before statehood until 1963, when the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined that fowl were not animals, therefore the state animal cruelty laws and the laws forbidding other animal fights were inapplicable to this "sport". Among the decisive legal sources incorporated into the decision (Lock v. Falkenstine, 1963 OK CR 32) was the Bible, specifically the book of Genesis. We Okies have a rich anti-science heritage.
Back to the present.
In the New Zealand article, Sen. Shurden said that we should reinstitute cockfighting because the ban had wiped out a $100-million business. What other industries and businesses should flourish in this state without any tax benefit returning to the people? I must admit, Shurden is... uh, creative in his arguments. How about legalizing prostitution, meth and cocaine sales, or child pornography for the same reasons?
At any rate, The Economist covered this story this week (3 February 2005 print edition) in its "Diversions" section. The story did not add much to the other previously available information, except that Sen. Shurden has "only seen a brochure for the equipment, patented by a Californian lawyer."
The final two paragraphs are truly funny.
Animal-rights activists are not convinced. “Even if fitted with muffs, these roosters will deliver blows that will knock out eyes, break bones and possibly even kill,” says Cynthia Armstrong of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting. Mr Shurden admits there could be some face-pecking, but insists the sport would not violate the chickens' rights: “We're just letting them do what comes natural to them.” Odd words, perhaps, from a long-time champion of castration for sex offenders.
Mr Shurden also faces practical problems. For instance, Oklahoma's cockfighting ban after the 2002 vote also made training fights, in which muffs are used, a felony. Meanwhile, his roosters-in-slippers version of cockfighting may be a little tame for the state's cockfighting lobby. Unabashed, Mr Shurden is planning to stage a demonstration in the statehouse. “We'll get 'em down in the rotunda and let 'em fight.”
Fortunately, that's illegal now.