Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Louisiana Politics

Things are getting interesting. Most notable is that Kimberly Williamson Butler, our city's former CAO (quit/fired because she's a "strong Christian woman"), turned abysmal clerk of court (hasn't filed insurance claims; couldn't get voting booths here, despite the fact that it's her main job), went into hiding after being wanted for contempt of court after she wouldn't turn over her office to people who knew what they were doing. Now she's come out of hiding, is serving her 3rd of 3 days in jail for contempt, and should emerge tomorrow to begin her mayoral campaign(!). It's quite an accomplishment to be considered one of the nuttiest politicians in Louisiana history.

On other levels, my city councilman is a dick named Jay Batt. He basically favors business above all else, but mainly only those of his friends. I responded to a survey the other night that was obviously sponsored by him because it had all these great things about him imbedded in the questions. What I would rather have told the questioner was that I wouldn't vote for Batt if he were the only person on the ballot. This guy essentially holds disdain for my neighborhood, and he hasn't delivered on his main campaign pledge of his first term--to put a grocery store on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton. There was one there when I first moved to town, but it's been empty for more than a decade. Batt said he wouldn't run again if he couldn't get it done, but of course that was BS. Typical Republican. I'm ashamed to say that I voted for him because I thought no one could be worse than our previous councilman, Scott Shea. Boy was I wrong. It's not on the scale of people who miss Clinton's scandals, but we really could not be more poorly represented.

More optimistically, the first mayoral debate occurred last night. Although I question the sanity of anyone who would want the job, I'm actually pretty encouraged by the field (save for the incarcerated one mentioned above). So far, Mitch Landrieu has my vote. I don't hate Nagin or resent the job he's done, and I would hope he'd have a job in the next administration. However, I think these are going to be extremely tough times, and Mitch has the experience, wisdom, and perspective to get the job done. I've been impressed with him for many years because of his willingness to give the bad news and to focus on longterm goals. He's still a politician, but I think he could be good. Of the others in the debate last night, I can generally have a quick reason not to vote for them: Arey's too lightweight, Wilson's a Republican loon, Watermeier's not up to the task, Watson is a reverend (sorry, not voting for a reverend), and I don't know enough about the rest yet. Forman did well last night, and I'm sure he's a good leader, but he pissed me off several years ago when E and I called him on the zoo's prominent placement of a McDonald's and the lack of vegetarian food on site. We wrote the following letter and received basically a "sorry, we put it out for bids" response. Fine, but you can still put constraints on the bidders, and Mickey D's doesn't deserve a place among animals that we should appreciate.

As longtime Audubon supporters, we would like to bring your attention to an issue that is of serious concern to us. Although we are generally happy with the general maintenance, exhibition, and education regarding the animals, we believe that you should address the manner of concessions in the zoo.

We realize that problems such as concessions may seem minor to most people, but we have two observations of hypocrisy that should be addressed. One is the lack of vegetarian options in the zoo, and the other is the dominance of the presence of McDonalds.

We are both longtime vegetarians, and we are continually frustrated by the lack of concessions for people who choose not to eat meat. Although this may seem to be a complaint regarding only our personal inconvenience (and a few extra dollars for you when we visit), we believe that the problem is larger than that. Specifically, a zoo should encourage appreciation and preservation of nonhuman animal life, and yet the message at the concession stands is that animals, once again, are the only things available for our consumption. You tell us about the struggle to bring the alligator back from endangered status and then sell us its meat. Another message is that, although some animals are exotic and rare, the cow is common and therefore should be our lunch.

Although we disagree with the consumption of these animals, we are not expecting you to discontinue your marketing of animal products in the zoo. We are, however, asking that you seriously consider selling a variety of vegetarian meal options. At present, french fries and drinks just about comprise the entire vegetarian menu. Someone who attends the zoo and becomes, for the first time, sympathetic to the plight of animals, is quickly brought back to the mentality that animals are here only for our use. We believe it is inappropriate for the zoo to be the agent of that disillusionment. Such menu items would not complicate the fast food nature of your offerings. Veggie burgers are everywhere nowadays; why not at the zoo? In Toronto, one can get vegetarian hot dogs on the street. Taco Bell serves vegetarian burritos. Wendy’s has baked potatoes and vegetarian pita sandwiches. Many companies sell vegetarian wraps and even falafel. There are many options, and we would very much like to see the zoo move in that direction.

Our other concern is the presence of McDonald’s at the zoo, which, frankly, smacks of a major sellout. As you should know, McDonald’s has a long history of anti-environmental behavior, and, therefore, goes directly against the purpose of the zoo. Although it is telling about their policies, we are not referring to their persistent refusal to move away from Styrofoam containers (until public pressure became too much). Rather we believe that McDonald’s has no place in a zoo because of the countless acres of Central and South American rain forest that have been destroyed to graze cattle for McDonald’s to sell in their stores. Again, the hypocrisy: We need to preserve the ecosystems of the world, but let’s give McDonald’s a hugely visible presence in our park. Such a move once again tells people that profit comes before principle at that Audubon zoo.

We realize that you could make the argument that the (certainly) hefty sum McDonald’s pays for its presence goes to the greater good of the animals, but we disagree because of the message that it sends to the public. It influences everyone who comes to the zoo to think of the company in positive terms, which is a serious mistake. Surely a lower-impact restaurant (perhaps a local one?) could fit into the zoo’s plans without endangering the zoo’s financial situation. Even if the money were essential to, say, the new entrance buildings, we encourage you to scale back such ambitions for the sake of integrity and loyalty to the park’s mission.

Please respond to us and let us know what you plan to do to address our concerns. Thank you for your attention and for the many hours of enjoyment and education with which the park has provided us.

So although I won't be too upset if Forman wins, I sure can't vote for the guy.

Should be plenty more election news coming.

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