Tag Archives: “Liam Neeson”

Gotcha – Tackling The “Journalism” Of The New York City Carriage Trade

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Liam Neeson

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

I have to confess that I’d have no reason to read the soporific New York Daily News if it weren’t for their coverage of the NYC carriage horse industry.   For the past few months, the NYDN has been going into overdrive with a series of drama-loving, over-the-top articles promoting the carriage industry (when they aren’t also highlighting what Alex Rodriguez is doing in a Miami bathroom with a woman,  or the various people who have gone missing while swimming in the East River). The NYDNs’ spokesperson, Ken Frydman, is also advising the carriage industry, so I understand that they will of course take the side of the carriage drivers. What I don’t understand is how the paper can call its coverage of the issue “journalism.” I’m not sure what you can call it honestly, because you can’t exactly tease any logic out of any of the articles I’ve referenced below, which set the bar nice and low as any standard for “journalism.”

The following articles are all strongly reminiscent of The Onion-style parodies wrapped in lukewarm sarcasm. Except that they’re not parodies.   In May, the NYDN published an article claiming that, if the carriage industry in New York is abolished, the nation’s largest mushroom grower in Pennsylvania could go belly-up. This scare tactic fails the smell test however,  since there’s certainly no shortage of manure in Pennsylvania of all places. What’s next from the NYDN? Will carrots become extinct if there are no urban horses available to eat them?   Shortly afterwards, another article appeared, highly suggestive that, without the carriage trade in New York, the $7 billion dollar movie business will subsequently fail to thrive.   Rounding out the trifecta of crazy, the paper followed up with an article on the 70’s mentalist The Amazing Kreskin’s prediction that New York City Mayor De Basio’s Bill will fail (I guess the Long Island Medium wasn’t available). Somewhat shockingly, the annual predictions of Cuban Santeria priests contained no mention of the carriage horses or of Bill De Blasio’s tenure in New York. I can only assume that the paper somehow overlooked the venerable opinions of those followers of santeria….nor did they approach Miss Cleo for her opinion either…

Just a few days ago, a really well-written article on the carriage horses and the new Liam Neeson narrated pro-carriage film crossed my path. The video is here if your eyes need it. Refreshingly, the article, written by Jason Hribal, makes no attempt to anthropomorphize the horses, nor does it rely on Uri Geller-style magic tricks, flawed arguments, or unproven premises.  Also worthy of mention in the Neeson-narrated video are the warnings of imminent slaughter for deregulated carriage horses,  which is highly ironic and hypocritical considering that many proponents of the urban carriage trade in NYC are uncloseted pro-slaughter advocates.

NYC Horse Carriages vs. Carriage Horses (originally published on Counterpunch.org)

by JASON HRIBAL

Bill Maher

Bill Maher has recently been critical of the urban carriage trade.

Thirty two million dollars is a conservative estimate. This would be the annual revenue produced by the approximate 220 registered carriage horses based in Manhattan.  Rides start at $50 for a ¾ mile tour of Central Park. Reserved rides for 45 minutes begin at $165. During peak season with add-ons, expect to pay much more. Horses work nine hours a day on the line. There are 68 licensed carriages.  When you do the math, you see exactly why the carriage owners desperately want to keep their horses working for them.

The organization, Save NYC Horse Carriages, recently released a short film narrated by the actor Liam Neeson. In full support of the carriage owners and operators, what emerges from the film are essentially four themes. Each of these themes is significant and deserving of some consideration.

Neeson starts out at the very beginning of the film telling us that horses helped build the modern world. As a carriage driver later states, it was horses who built New York City. This is true. In the 19th century alone, there were tens of millions of horses working in every city, on every farm, and in every mine. They were global, everywhere you looked, and in sheer numbers that are hard to even fathom. Their work created our society and produced a level of wealth that probably can’t even be measured.

The film then goes on to describe this historical bond between humans and horses as one of companionship. This is not true.  For my dissertation, I researched a four hundred year period, roughly from 1600 to the present, examining the relationships between humans and working animals. For horses and those individuals who used them for their labor, it was very rare to find any sort of friendship or companionship. It was wonderful when I did come across such things but this was the exception to rule. Whether for farmers, loggers, wagon drivers, canal boaters, coal miners, or cotton millers, their primary relationship to horses was exploitative. The attitudes ranged from indifference to hostility to sadism. This was all about work and getting it done. These above individuals were the ones who oversaw that the horses did just that. This was the rule.

The Teamsters Union has just recently come out in vocal support of the NYC carriage drivers. This is most edifying because what you probably don’t not know is that “teamsters” originally referred the teams of horses who transported the goods across the United States. It was these teams who did the work and made the profit. The drivers were middle management and their job was to get the horses to work harder, longer, and faster. In fact, the drivers’ wages were dependent upon this arrangement. It is with a strong sense of irony that the drivers would eventually choose to take the name teamsters for themselves. Sure, two horse heads were featured on the union logo but the actual horses got nothing out of the deal.  They continued to work until they could no longer be productive. Their final job was to be made into glue. Significantly, the current Teamsters’ website contains a few historical photos of horses pulling wagons and such, but their history, their labor, and the wealth that they created are completely absent from mention.

This primary relationship has not changed. The NYC carriage horses do the work by pulling the tourists through Central Park and Times Square. The drivers manage this work. Their job, indeed their wages, come from making the horses work harder, longer, and faster. More rides equal more money, both for themselves and the carriage owners. This is not about companionship.

Keep on werking that middle finger!

Keep on werking that middle finger!

In 2007, the New York City comptroller office audited the city’s policies concerning carriage horses. It found that the city had abandoned most of its oversight duties towards the horses thus allowing the owners and drivers to maintain “substandard conditions.” The department of health, which was supposed to review and inspect the health of every horse, had not done so for a period of no less than 21 months.  The audit went on to state that the horses themselves were not being provided with enough water during working hours. At the Central Park South site, for instance, there were no designate water spigots, a general lack of shade, and no proper drainage. The horses were being forced to stand in their own waste. In addition, the audit found that the owners provided “lax veterinary care” and that they were actually falsifying certificates of health. In just over a one-year period, 57 of 135 certifications were incorrect. While the horses had the same license numbers, they differed “in age, color, breed, name, and in one instance, gender.” In other words, the owners were dumping worn-out horses furtively and switching them with fresh ones. This is exploitation. It is about keeping expenses at a minimum and production levels at a maximum in order to extract the largest profit possible.

Back to the film, it speaks of continuing a tradition. Neeson has said that horses are always “at their happiest and healthiest when working.” I have heard this a lot and from many quarters. For those of you who thought that the Protestant Ethic only applied to humans, you would be most mistaken. All working animals have to deal with this ideology. Horses, sheep, cows, and pigs have long since been domesticated. They could never survive on their own. Their very existence is predicated on them working for humans. But we have to ask, is this true?

The definition of domestication itself has undergone significant changes over the centuries. Originally it meant to make a member of a household. This would slowly over time become more defined as being attached to a home and duties. Our more modern meaning, to tame or bring under control, did not come about until 1641. Interestingly, it was first applied to the Irish people, as they were brought under British imperialist control, and only much later to sheep in 1805. None of these definitions, in fact, made any distinction between humans and other animals. All were included: men, women, children, horses, cows, and sheep. The division, wherein the word only applies to non-humans, occurred very recently.

But whatever definition we choose, none of them means the removal of agency. It has been the story of my life’s work to prove this: from discovering resistance to highlighting autonomy. It’s always been there. You just have to look for it. In the Appalachians of Kentucky, wild horses can be found. In Harlan County, they have been there for decades. More towards Pikeville, newer communities are beginning to be formed. All of these horses were domesticated and lived on farms, generation after generation. But at some point, they were let go or just left behind. After the most recent economic collapse, hundreds have been abandoned. The horses, though, figure it out. They, just like their far western counterparts once did, learn to survive. They form their own communities and develop their own culture. In the Danube delta of Romania, some 4000 horses live autonomously. When the communist regime collapsed, many farmers and villagers turned their horses loose. These working horses left their plows, wagons, and carriages behind and learned how to make it on their own. Without humans, they have thrived. Indeed, for every type of domesticated animal, there exists their counterpoint: maroon communities.

middle finger salute

Another carriage driver flashes the “digitus impudicus”

Neeson concludes the film by stating that there is honor at stake. I am not sure what he means. The carriage owners and drivers, for instance, like to point out the horses get five weeks of vacation per year, wherein they are sent out of the city to pasture. This certainly sounds decent enough but there are two major problems. First, these vacations were mandated by the city in 2010, after the scandal caused by the release of the comptroller’s audit. This decision did not come from the owners or drivers. Second, I doubt the horses are even getting such a vacation. Most of NYC carriage horses are former Amish draft horses. The Amish work them through their productive years, profiting greatly off their labor. Only then do the Amish sell, or possibly lease, them to the carriage industry. During these vacation periods, many of the horses end up being sent back to the Amish—who, I would bet, are either working them even more or subleasing them out. It has been observed that when the horses return from these supposed vacations they often look thinner and more worn out than they were before they left. When the horse’s carriage-pulling days have ended, most, if not it all, will eventually find their way to a kill buyer, who will sell them for slaughter. With an annual turnover rate at a steady 30%, this is quite a few horses per year. I don’t see any honor in this. There is only avarice.

Anthropomorphizing is a political act. We are always told not to do it and from all sorts of directions. In responding to the possible ban, Harry Werner, a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, warned that the critics of the carriage industry are guilt of anthropomorphizing. “They see a circumstance where they wouldn’t want to work in it, and think a horse wouldn’t work in it.” I can understand this fear, for it is from such actions that class relations can develop. Carriage owners have 32 million reasons to be afraid of such a development. So to New York City Mayor de Blasio, I say stand up to the industry and its supporters like Save NYC Horse Carriages. Tell them that carriages are just instruments of labor. Instead, you’ll take the side of those who actually do the work and pull those carriages. Horses have done enough for New York City. They built it. They suffered for it. They died for it. That’s enough. Each of the registered 220 carriage horses deserves a retirement to a carefully selected sanctuary. Who will pay for it? Let the carriage owners. The horses made that money anyway. This is the definition of honor.

Jason Hribal is a historian and author of Fear of the Animal Planet: the Hidden History of Animal Resistance (CounterPunch / AK Press). He can be reached at: jasonchribal@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

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Liam Neeson – High-Horse Hypocrite

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hollywood hypocrisy

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Let’s face it, Schindler’s List would not have been the same calibre movie with say, Kevin Costner in the lead role.  Liam Neeson is a commanding presence and a great actor. But I’m not feelin’ it for Mr. Neeson any longer, and don’t see myself watching any more of his movies.  Truthfully, I think he’s a bit of a doofus.

The_Grey_PosterNeeson fell out of favour with me starting with his role preparation for the movie “The Grey,” filmed in Canada with British Columbia subbing in for Alaska.  While other actors may prepare for a role in harsh climate or conditions by showering every day for 10 minutes in a cold shower, Neeson prepped for role immersion by eating the meat of a trapped wolf.  At a press conference to promote the movie, Neeson, who was born in County Antrim, said that while some cast members had been sick after eating the wolf meat, he was not fazed by the experience. “I’m Irish, so I’m used to odd stews,” was his attempt at explanation.

In January 2012, British Columbia’s The Province featured an article about the movie’s buying four wolf carcasses from a local trapper, two for props for the movie and two wolves for the cast to eat. Naturally, this act angered environmentalists and animal activists, who were already irate that the movie depicted wolves in a negative light, specifically at a time when gray wolves had recently been removed from the Endangered Species Act in many western American states.  But Sarah Palin gives it five stars! Both the film’s director and Neeson knew, or should have known, that leghold traps are one of the worst ways to kill an animal.  Most animals caught in these traps end up chewing, or nearly chewing off their ensnared limbs in order to escape. Miscellaneous species of animals,  caught in traps intended for fur-bearing targets are killed and then discarded because of their lack of value.  I think leghold traps should be illegal everywhere due to the suffering inflicted, so the ensuing criticism that was heaped on both men was perfectly valid, IMO.

Fast forward to 2014, Neeson has become the unofficial and much vaunted (hat tip to Glen) spokesperson for the NYC carriage trade, whose existence is threatened by Mayor DeBlasio’s edict to remove the carriage operators from New York City.  His ad-hoc discussion of the urban carriage trade wasn’t exactly endorsed by Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show,  where Neeson appeared earlier this week.  Interjecting the issue of the carriage horses was a risk that didn’t quite pay off for Neeson since Stewart rejected his position.

In case the video goes away, here’s a transcript:

NEESON: He wants to close this horse and carriage industry in New York. And there was a poll last week, over 60 percent of New Yorkers want to keep the horse carriage industry in Central Park.

STEWART: Maybe if they put it in the park. I feel bad – we actually live right next door to them. And I always feel bad for them on the streets. It seems like they and a lot of the van traffic don’t get along. The horses –

NEESON: The horse carriage industry, they made the roads in New York. I just want that to rest there.

STEWART: They made the roads? What, are the roads made out of horse (bleep)? What do you mean they made the roads? Construction made the roads. What if they moved it into the park, so the horses wouldn’t have to walk the streets? Maybe that would be the –

trapped horse dies in Ireland

SPCA workers in Offaly spent around eight hours trying to save a horse that became trapped in a drain. The horse was rescued from the water but was extemely weak and suffered from hypothermia. ISPCA fought to save the horse, which initially looked as though it could be successful. Veterinary first aid was given and the horse was dried off and kept warm, even eating some food. While the animal made attempts to get to her feet, she soon weakened and was euthanized.

STEWART: If DYFS – if the Division of Youth and Family Services ever found out that they are keeping their children in 60 square foot stalls and feeding them twice a day buckets of grain, that is not good parenting as far as I’m concerned. No, you feel passionate about this. But it’s – I think there probably is – I think the two sides do not trust each other at all. And unfortunately the horses –

NEESON: He won’t even take a meeting with the horse carriage industry. He is supposed to be representing the New York people.

STEWART: You’re –

NEESON: Dammit!

(Laughter)

STEWART: Is this a job you’ve done? Have you been in that industry before?

NEESON: I know a couple of the guys. I’ve been in the stables quite a few times eating.

(Laughter)

Sulky horse death and abandonment

Irish horse racing is typically done by the “travellers.” They have no licences and no insurance and this type of activity, done on the main commuter roads between Cork and Dublin, is a public liability. It compromises the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and animal welfare. Five men were jailed for racing horses through commuter traffic on one of Ireland’s busiest roads in May 2012. Why don’t we ask Jon Katz, author of the Bedlamfarm blog, to find out if these horses “love their jobs?”

NEESON: It is, Jon. It is a fulfilling life.

STEWART: Well, we don’t know.

NEESON: They are. They’re trained for this.

STEWART: Unless it’s Mr. Ed, you really don’t know. They may look at you and say “neigh.”

Smithfield Horse Market

The Smithfield Horse market is extremely controversial. City council and various animal welfare organizations have campaigned tirelessly to shut the market down for abuses to animals. Traders and buyers have continued using the cobbled area once a month to sell their animals and prices as low as 10 Euros – around seven dollars.An ancient by-law giving traders the right to use the market means that there is little police or council officials can do to remove the horses.

STEWART: Well, they could be trained to sit in a field and eat fermented oats

“The guys,” as Neeson puts it, are the drivers, many of them transplanted Irishmen like himself.  This includes Colm McKeever, a native of County Meath and a friend of Liam’s, who met the actor when McKeever’s wife served as midwife in the birth of the actor’s first son.

They’ll die, you know, darlin,’ says Liam,  of the NYC carriage horses. “The horses are incredibly well-treated. They’re regulated up the wazoo. They get five weeks’ holiday every year.  Tourists love them.”   Along with former Mayor Bloomberg, Neeson also perpetuates the opinion that they’ll all be slaughtered too, and it’ll be the fault of meddling big city liberals, according to him.

I hope Neeson will somehow find a way to highlight the fate of horses in Ireland and elsewhere in Great Britain, where it’s popular to race horses on the commuter highways and evade the garda (police), often crashing the horses and abandoning them, injured.  Ireland also has an ongoing problem with fly-grazing, where horses are illegally grazed on private property without the knowledge or consent of the owners of the property.  I realize that the incidents of cruelty depicted here can and do happen everywhere,  but Ireland,  which has the highest horse population per capita in the whole of Europe, has a huge crisis of horses, with up to 20,000 of the animals currently needing immediate intervention by authorities for abuse and cruelty.  Unlike Neeson,  the horses are not actors and can’t walk away from these situations.

Every animal welfare charity in the country would probably say that Ireland is unique in terms of the volume of abandoned horses all over the country. Although there are no official figures, animal charities estimate that up to 20,000 horses could be owner-less and fending for themselves. So it’s a good litmus test of what’s happening elsewhere in the EU, especially as concerns large, expensive-to-keep animals such as horses, who might be the most disadvantaged four-legged victims of Ireland’s recession.  Bought as trophy-pets during the Celtic Tiger boom years, homeless horses now run wild in their thousands across the Republic, most abandoned by owners who have no money for their upkeep.    A total of 2,969 stray animals were seized in 2012 of which 72% were euthanised. In contrast, 2,936 horses were seized in 2011 and 54% were slaughtered. There are reportedly 3,000 horses in Dublin alone who need urgent care.

horse+death

The horse was one of eight being unloaded into a field (probably for flygrazing) when she refused to co-operate. After repeatedly trying to coax the mare out of the box, a group of men got extremely violent with her, said a spokeswoman for the Irish Horse and Welfare Trust. She said: “When it refused to get out, the car drove off which sent the horse shooting out the back and it collapsed on the road. They then beat it to get up and it was beaten quite badly because it was so distressed it wasn’t able to get up.” Here the poor foal stands over its mother, his or her own fate looking very bleak.

So why is Neeson seemingly unconcerned about these horses being abused, neglected, and slaughtered?  Does he do anything at all to expose this crisis? Sure, he’s not obligated to do so,  but it’s not like the horse industry couldn’t use his help as a spokesperson. Canadian singer/songwriter Jann Arden is speaking out on behalf of Canada’s wild horses.  The Irish Farmers’ Association has been calling on the Government to introduce a scheme to provide financial assistance to horse owners to tackle the growing problem of unwanted horses. Maybe Neeson should advocating on behalf of these horses?  I imagine someone his stature could lend a credible voice to these concerns,  as Jann Arden is trying to do for Canadian horses.

So why does he speak up for horses who, according to the industry, are loved and would never be slaughtered, whilst ignoring horses who ARE being slaughtered in his native country? A potential explanation turned up on the Tuesday’s Horse blog, the official blog of the Horse Fund.

Vivian Farrell commented on her own blog post:

“This is not about the horses with Neeson. It’s like the Hispanics who scream when you try to ban their cruel horse tripping events that it is a personal attack on them and their rights to be in the US, blah, blah, blah. I was married to a very mild-mannered Irishman who worked with horses all his life; gentle soul. Yet he said during the troubles that he would hide IRA members even if they had killed children because no true Irishman would turn against his brother . . . I was stunned. So no surprise here about Neeson.”

Horse beaten and mowed down

This horse was mown down by a quad bike and reportedly beaten to death with a wooden plank in a council estate. The garda tried to intervene, but were deterred by locals throwing bottles at them. Anyone else think the garda are the most ineffective police force anywhere? How bad can it be for animals who live here when the police are too afraid to intervene on their behalf?

But her comment was met with disdain when urban carriage supporters retaliated by questioning the status of the charity behind the blog by asking about the status of The Horse Fund’s 990s.  Of course, this is a common tactic of Humanwatchers and their ilk, when someone writes something they don’t like – they set about attacking the credentials or status of their charity. They start poking through Guidestar and see if they can dig up any dirt on the person making the “inflammatory” post.  And Ms. Farrell no sooner wrote those words making a comparison to Mexican rodeos than the quintessential horse tripper himself, Randy Janssen made an appearance to support urban carriages,   denounce the ASPCA, and promote horse tripping on a different site.  Ms. Farrell is not only wise, but she’s psychic! And that about rounds out the support for the NYC urban carriages –  Humanewatchers, the Cavalry Group,  United Horsemen,  and now eaters of wolves and charreadors!

I try not to take offence at the politics in movies, and I don’t really care that much whether James T. Kirk was inspired by John F. Kennedy or whether Zero Dark Thirty fails to point out that torture is immoral.  I don’t think we need political correctness in movies or television, because they often portray periods where societal attitudes or government policy were controversial.  So, it doesn’t bother me that Neeson has taken a stance in favour of urban NYC Carriages, only that while doing so, he has seemingly ignored the chaos in the country of his birth.  He apparently does so out of allegiance to the Irish, rather than casting a critical lens on the industry.  Would he speak out if the drivers were predominately Serbian or Italian?  I don’t know, but I rather doubt it.  But the next time he’s in town and hanging with his buddies on 59th street, perhaps he can get in-character by eating some oats that have been spilled out into the street amongst the pigeon droppings, just for authenticity’s sake of course.

And next time Neeson comes to Canada, instead of eating an inhumanely trapped wild animal, I hope he would speak out for them instead.