Letter from Wheaton

Recently on the del.cio.us sidebar I linked to a very funny article called “How to Cheat Good.” Written by university professor Alex Halavais, it offers tips for cheating on papers without making the mistakes his students so often do. My favorite tip is the blatantly obvious number eight:

8. Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text

This is my Number 1 piece of advice, even if it is numbered eight. When you copy things from the web into Word, ignoring #3 above, don’t just “Edit > Paste” it into your document. When I am reading a document in black, Times New Roman, 12pt, and it suddenly changes to blue, Helvetica, 10pt (yes, really), I’m going to guess that something odd may be going on. This seems to happen in about 1% of student work turned in, and periodically makes me feel like becoming a hermit.

Which brings me to the email I received this morning from Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan. He is the first of the government officials to respond to a lengthy email I sent them about Barry’s Magic Shop and the county’s use of eminent domain. It would not have taken me long after starting to read it that this was a form letter failing to address half the things I wrote about it. An even bigger giveaway, however, was that “Dear Mr. Grier:” was in bright blue type while the rest of the text was black.

I don’t mind getting a form letter. I understand that when you spend your time eminent domaining people, you probably have to deal with a lot of email. I’d just like to see a little effort, you know?

So anyway, that’s the unintentionally funny part of the correspondence. And I’m actually glad he’s got this form letter made up, because at least that means he’s getting enough emails about Barry’s to make it worth writing one.

I’ve copied the letter beneath the fold if you’d like to read it. There’s nothing really new here, just more of the county’s reasons for why a bigger alley would be nice and no mention of eminent domain.

Dear Mr. Grier:

Thank you for your recent correspondence concerning Barry’s Magic Shop located in downtown Wheaton. I assure you that Montgomery County is working diligently to keep Barry’s Magic Shop in the Wheaton community where it has been an important business for so many years. After years of planning and negotiation, Montgomery County recently purchased the freestanding building in which Barry’s Magic Shop is located at 11234 Georgia Avenue. The building is a converted wood frame residential structure that is sandwiched between two important retail centers that front Georgia Avenue, one of the main streets of the Wheaton Central Business District. This building is slated for demolition and will complete an important pedestrian connection between the west side of Georgia Avenue and the public parking lot located in the Wheaton Triangle.

The purchase of this property to accommodate the walkway has been planned by the County for more than 12 years, and has been included in plans since the early 1990s. The completion of the pathway is a key component for providing a safer and more accessible pedestrian circulation system in downtown Wheaton. We recognize that Barry’s Magic Shop is one of Wheaton’s most unique businesses and has a long-standing and loyal clientele. It is our fervent wish to retain this one-of-a-kind business in our downtown. The staff of the Wheaton Redevelopment Office is working very hard to relocate this important and well known Wheaton business within the Central Business District.

County staff has advised the owner of Barry’s Magic Shop that funds are available to assist the business in relocating, and staff will continue to work with the owner to provide available relocation assistance. The assistance offered includes help in finding a nearby and convenient location for the business; moving assistance; temporary storage of merchandise; rental assistance; and related financial help to ease the pain of relocating a business. We are hopeful that the owner will take advantage of this assistance and use this opportunity for a fresh start that will revitalize the business to serve the magic needs of this and future generations of Montgomery County residents. We hope that you will encourage the owner to keep the business in Wheaton and that you will continue to support Barry’s Magic Shop in a new location.

The community’s need for a safe and accessible pedestrian connection between the public parking lot and the shops on Georgia Avenue is an overriding public consideration. I believe that a pedestrian friendly downtown is very important to the overall success of the County’s program to revitalize downtown Wheaton. With proper lighting, the walkway will be much safer and functional for evening use by downtown patrons.

I appreciate your taking the time to share your support for keeping Barry’s Magic Shop in Wheaton.

Sincerely,

Douglas M. Duncan

County Executive

Kelo: one year later

Though the previous post is much longer than the usual fare offered here, I strongly encourage readers not to skip over it. It presents in considerable detail a case of eminent domain abuse occuring right now in the DC area. It is, unfortunately, just one case of thousands like it occurring in the US this year. Yet this one brings the issue home for me. Having visited the business in person and seen firsthand how it has affected the owners and loyal customers, it really makes me sick. Moreover, this is one case that it may not be too late to stop.

Coincidentally, I posted my entry about Barry’s Magic Shop precisely one year after the infamous Kelo decision that legitimized and encouraged just these sorts of abuses by local governments. The Institute for Justice — where would we be without them? — has marked the anniversary with the release of five publications about eminent domain abuse.

Most notably, Opening the Floodgates documents how the Kelo decision has emboldened local governments and private developers to use force or the threat of force to seize the property of individuals and small businesses. According to IJ’s research,

In just one year since the ruling, local governments pressed forward with more than 117 projects involving the use of eminent domain for private development. Local governments threatened to use eminent domain against more than 5,429 homes, businesses, churches, and other properties if the owners did not agree to sell, and government also filed or authorized at least 354 condemnation actions. These 5,783 properties either threatened or condemned for private development in a single year are more than half the 10,282 in the five years between 1998 and 2002.

If there is one bright side to Kelo, it is that it has raised awareness about eminent domain abuse and instigated nearly universal disdain for the practice. In researching the previous post, I was amazed at how many people made reference in some form or another to the decision. They all resented the Supreme Court for it, rightly blaming it for making the rights to the property where Barry’s is located so much harder to defend.

The IJ publications are available here. I have skimmed them all and plan to revisit some in further detail. The accompanying press release provides a good summary, but everyone should look over Opening the Floodgates. It spans 104 pages, most of which are devoted to documenting, state by state, examples of using eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another. Legislative Action Since Kelo is also interesting, describing actions by state legislatures to limit eminent domain takings to truly public purposes. (Maryland, alas, did nothing.)

Finally, I learned via Tom Palmer that President Bush issued an executive order yesterday instructing that federal eminent domain takings shall not be used to transfer property to private developers. This isn’t all that enforceable and most of the abuses come from local governments anyway. But still, how often do I get the chance to praise Bush? Nice work, Mr. Prez.

Property rights magically disappear in Wheaton

In the past decade much of magic retail sales has shifted online, leaving it relatively harder for bricks and mortar magic stores to stay afloat. Unless a store is in a tourist area, has a large Web presence, or is attached to a larger costume or theatrical outlet, running a profitable store that caters primarily to magicians is a tough business.

This is an unfortunate decline, as magic shops have played an important role in the development of the art. They are the spots where magicians go to hang out, where young dabblers get to know seasoned professionals and learn from them. For me, the shop that provided this experience was Danny’s Trix and Kix in Spring, TX. After a few months of merely purchasing tricks there, I eventually met up with some of the local pros who frequented the place. Their guidance was instrumental in my progression as a performer. Thousands of magicians around the country could tell similar stories.

Barry’s Magic Shop in Wheaton, MD, is the last of its kind remaining in the DC area. It’s been in business for thirty-one years, surviving the rise of e-commerce and competition from a large competitor in Baltimore. That takes a magic of its own kind. But whatever magic Barry’s possesses, it’s no match for county officials wielding the power of eminent domain. Montgomery County forcibly acquired title the building where Barry’s is housed a few months ago and is planning to evict Barry Taylor and tear the place down.

I had not been to Barry’s before because magic has been a smaller part of my life since moving to DC. But after reading on a local magicians’ list serve that Barry’s was being evicted and finding the county’s reasons for the taking highly dubious, I decided pay a visit with my camera this weekend and check the place out. Sadly, this case appears to be another of the type we’ve seen so much of in recent years: abuse of eminent domain to drive out an existing small business to make way for developers.

Barry’s is located on Georgia Ave. in one of the many strip malls that line the street north of the Beltway. The area is eclectic if not always charming. Barry’s neighbor on one side is an adult video store; bars and check cashing places abound. In this environment, Barry’s is a unique, family-friendly treasure the county ought to care about.

Upon entering the store, once can’t help but be struck by the history that emanates from the place. Magic memorabilia hanging from the walls and displayed in glass cases, stacks and stacks of books and videos for sale, and of course the standard demonstration counter where the staff shows off old standards and the latest tricks to customers looking for something new. It’s a well-stocked shop, and right away I regret not coming there sooner.

barrys-030.jpg

Everyone in the store is friendly, but the first greeting comes from Frankie, the store border collie. Frankie’s a bit of a star. When the postman arrives, he (or she, I didn’t check) runs up excitedly as the man drops off a biscuit with the mail. He does tricks, too, showing off his impressive goal keeping skills with a couple of stuffed balls. Frankie doesn’t perform for the camera, though. Here’s a shot of him declining to play, but you could more poetically interpret this as the sadness he expresses at his place of work being taken away. Frankie could be the poster dog for the consequences of eminent domain abuse.

barrys-023.jpg

I spend the next hour or so hanging out in the store, learning about the case as one of the owners, Susie Kang, asks customers to sign a petition expressing support for the store while cheering everyone up with gallows humor. In the meantime, normal store operations continue. At the counter, an adolescent kid buys a trick from the salesman. Dad is respectfully asked to retreat to the corner while the dealer explains the workings to the son, who will want to fool Dad with it later. Nostalgia sweeps in… I remember trips to the magic store like that!

If county officials have their way, none of this will last and an alley will take the place of these human interactions. By now, I hope, I have painted a sympathetic picture of Barry’s Magic Shop and given a good idea of the feel of what will be lost. It is necessary to turn next to the county’s reasons for destroying it. I am going to elaborate on this in some detail, as no one in the press has covered it well. Yet in doing so there is some risk in losing sight of the true issue at hand, of conceding the propriety of the county’s actions just in having the argument. The real story is that simply because a few county planners have decided that the land could be better used to attract developers than as a magic store, the man who owns the building has had his property forcibly taken from him and a small business that has thrived for decades is being evicted years before its lease is up. The rest is just details.

With that in mind, let’s go into those details. Barry’s is located at 11234 Georgia Ave. in one of the many strip malls that line the street. This is a view from the median:

barrys-016.jpg

Behind the store is a large shopping area with significantly more parking. This is a view of Barry’s from the rear parking lot:

barrys-004.jpg

Barry’s is the store in the center offset from the others. It has exclusive access to the handful of parking spaces in front of it. Notice the small alley located between Barry’s and the store on the right. Expanding this alley is the stated reason for the county’s takeover and eviction:

barrys-006.jpg

Though there are multiple exits from the shopping center, pedestrians occasionally use this alley as a convenient shortcut onto Georgia Avenue. The county claims that this alley is inadequate to the purpose. When I visited the store, I was told that not many pedestrians use the alley. Though there’s obviously an incentive for the owners to understate its use, this is consistent with my own observations — with the exception of Barry’s customers, I didn’t notice a single person walk through it while I was outside taking pictures.

To the county’s credit, the alley does leave something to be desired as a walkway. The small stairway on the left (see above) partially blocks access and this rail and ledge require some slight maneuvering to get through:

barrys-010.jpg

It does not appear that turning this alley into a more functional walkway without tearing down Barry’s would be difficult. Barry’s would surely consent to removing the small rear stairway as an alternative to closing down entirely. And the exit could be made more navigable by removing the last section of the rail and installing stairs or a ramp. This might require removing a parking space, but this is surely preferable to knocking down a long-standing business.

Regrettably, Montgomery County is not interested in finding ways to improve the alley that would leave the building in place. Instead, officials threatened the building’s owner, George Chaconas, that they would sieze the property using eminent domain and eventually took him to court. Chaconas concluded that he had no choice but to give in and agreed to a sale. The Examiner reports Chaconas’ feeling that this was not at all a consensual transfer:

The county threatened to condemn the building and, its owner George Chaconas said, finally sued last year. Chaconas said he settled out of court with the county agreeing to pay $987,000 for the building. He told The Examiner that he felt strong-armed into the deal.

“I didn’t sell it to the county,” Chaconas said. “They took it.”

County officials did not return phone calls from The Examiner requesting a response. I also tried calling for information and, unsurprisingly, was not given a reply either.

With the building now in the county’s hands, there is nothing stopping officials from evicting Barry and tearing the place down. Barry sums up the senselessness of this situation well, noting that “It’s going to cost over $2 million, and it’s still going to be an alleyway.” The tab for that $2 million expenditure will be picked up by taxpayers.

If this whole exchange sounds a bit fishy, it’s because this fight is about a lot more than an alleyway. County officials and big developers have been planning for years to dramatically change the face of the area with what is known as the Wheaton Redevelopment Project. Originally, planners were considering putting a Mall of America scale shopping center in the area. Fortunately that monstrosity got nixed. Developers and residents are currently fighting over proposals to raise height limitations on buildings to bring in larger stores, office buildings, and residences. This would be good for developers, obviously, and may be a good idea, but many residents fear losing Wheaton’s mix of independent businesses and becoming more like the smoothly corporate Silver Spring, which is just a few miles away and whose own redevelopment is much further along.

A fluff piece recently published in the Maryland Gazette describes the Redevelopment Project in rosy terms, complete with a big smiling photo of project director Joseph Davis. It’s a PR-friendly article that makes the project look like a model collaboration among county officials, developers, and existing business owners:

But it’s taken a lot of more than dollars and cents and bricks and mortar to make all this redevelopment happen. It’s taken a lot of listening.

Bozzuto officials have listened to suggestions from residents, small-business owners and others when creating plans, keeping in mind Wheaton’s need for more residential and office space, said Artie Harris, a vice president of the development company. ‘‘You don’t want to be a cookie-cutter community,” he said.

Local business officials and residents must be involved in the process or the projects might not meet their needs, said Marian Fryer, a Wheaton small-business owner who serves on several advisory committees. Besides more office and residential space, Wheaton needs to ensure that existing small businesses are not forced to move — as some did from downtown Silver Spring — and there is proper access to key sites such as the Westfield mall, she said.

That’s a lovely thought, but it’s completely out of touch with reality. That article was published June 9, well after the county was in court to seize George Chaconas’ land.

Joseph Davis finally spoke to the press about the issue in a Washington Times article published yesterday. There he explained that the alley was indeed being expanded for the sake of redevelopment:

On May 4, Montgomery County acquired the property that is home to Barry’s Magic Shop on Georgia Avenue. The building will be demolished to create pedestrian and handicapped access between the shops and parking lots on Georgia Avenue and the shops and lots on Triangle Lane, west of Georgia Avenue, said Joseph R. Davis, director of the Wheaton Redevelopment Program, which aims to create new retail, residential and office development in downtown Wheaton…

Mr. Davis said the shop’s location is the best place for a well-designed, well-lit walkway because it is mid-block between the two plazas.

Also the store, unlike the two shopping plazas it is sandwiched between, is a free-standing building.

“There are over 40 businesses on this block that would directly benefit from the demolition of this building,” Mr. Davis said, citing the improved access to downtown businesses the walkway is meant to create.

Let’s take a closer look at this claim. Here’s a satellite map of the shopping center with Barry’s marked with the red spot. That’s Georgia Avenue running vertically on the right:

barrys-sat.jpg

As Davis notes, the building is roughly in the middle of the block. He says that this is a compelling reason to knock it down. But while it might be nice to have a walkway there, it’s far from essential. For one thing, there is no intersection across the street from which pedestrians will be coming. I had to scramble across traffic to the median in order to take a picture of the front facade; most pedestrians would be coming from the intersections north and south of the shopping center, both of which already have entrances. Putting a big entrance where Barry’s sits just isn’t necessary.

Secondly, tearing down Barry’s to put in an alley is going to do nothing for redevelopment. The entrance will still just be an alley wedged between buildings in an old strip mall. Turning the area into the kind of place that the people with the Wheaton Redevelopment Project envision is going to require doing a lot of rebuilding. And with rebuilding comes flexibility. A similar entrance could be obtained by getting land from a willing buyer somewhere else on the strip with minimal impact on plans for the shopping center.

All of this makes the statement from the neighboring adult video store manager, quoted in the Times piece, not just appallingly indifferent but also extremely short-sighted:

A manager of the Cadmus II Video & Newsstand next door, said the store sells adult material and that he is not concerned with Mr. Taylor’s situation.

“I could care less about what’s happening to him; he ain’t got nothing to do with us,” said Earl, who declined to give his last name.

I’ve got news for Earl: when the area redevelopment begins in earnest, the friendly neighborhood planners aren’t going to be happy with a porn store flanking the shopping center entrance. If they’re willing to use eminent domain to replace a magic shop with an alley, I doubt they’ll think twice about knocking down an adult video store to put in some kind of upscale retail. I predict the eminent domain takings in Wheaton have just begun.

And this, really, is the major flaw in the Times article. Reading it one may easily be persuaded that putting in a walkway is the best use of the land, momentarily feel sad that the magic store is closing, and chalk it up to the costs of progress. It never mentions that the land was seized against the owner’s will through eminent domain. Sadness is inappropriate. This is a story that should make people angry. Angry that George Chaconas had his land taken from him. Angry that Barry Taylor and Suzie Kang are being evicted years before their lease is up. Angry that this is all being done with taxpayers’ money to subsidize the developers who will eventually move into the area, just because some guy named Joseph Davis thinks that’s the way things ought to be.

If creating a big walkway running perpendicular to a street with no corresponding intersection is truly the best use of the land where Barry’s sits, there is a simple way to make that happen: let the developers who will benefit buy up the land fairly and build it themselves. If there’s development potential here and property values go up, Barry’s might indeed have to move. That’s life. That’s the magic business. But at least that would be voluntary and the owners would have time to find a suitable new location.

With title to the land already transferred to Montgomery County, there may not be much left one can do for Barry’s. But the least one can do is write county officials and give this eminent domain abuse as much publicity as possible. If you have a weblog, especially if you’re in the DC area, please help spread the word.

Barry and Susie have also published a letter on their web site asking for support and listing contact information of the relevant government officials. I encourage you to read it. If you’re willing to voice your opinion on this matter, copy the email addresses there or click on this hyperlink to get them all at once. Let them know what you think, preferably without profanity, tempting as its use may be. Send a copy to Barry’s, too, so they can keep track of the responses.

Finally, if you have any additional information about this case or other eminent domain takings in connection with the Wheaton Redevelopment Project, please let me know by emailing me at jacobgrier – at – gmail.com. I suspect there is much more to this story that has yet to be reported.

[Update: Thanks to everyone who has helped publicize this situation so far:

The Pacific Legal Foundation
David Barzelay
DC Blogs
To The People
Mike Mott
Jeff Woodhead
Radley Balko
DC Transplant
Chad Wilcox

Your posts are appreciated. Thanks to those writing the government officials, too.]

All lobsters, all the time

More lobster blogging… because you demanded it!*

Fresh on the heels of the lobster link fest, Whole Foods CEO (and libertarian) John Mackey has announced that his stores will no longer be selling live lobsters:

Ultimately, Whole Foods management decided to immediately stop selling live lobsters and soft-shell crabs, saying they could not ensure the creatures are treated with respect and compassion.

”We place as much emphasis on the importance of humane treatment and quality of life for all animals as we do on the expectations for quality and flavor,” John Mackey, Whole Foods’ co-founder and chief executive, said in a statement.

This seems rather silly. Whole Foods will still sell the meat of cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals with nervous systems far more developed than lobsters’. Regardless of whether or not lobsters can feel pain (there is disagreement about this), even from a strict utilitarian perspective it would be hard to argue that what lobsters experience being transported and then cooked at home is worse than what other animals go through at a slaughter house.

Another of Trevor Corson’s points is worth reiterating here. Corson notes, “Live lobster is one of the last feasts still harvested in a sustainable fashion directly from nature by individuals, not corporations, and sold absolutely fresh, without processing.” That’s something I’d think Whole Foods would want to celebrate.

For more on humane lobster treatment, see the previous post.

[Via Slashfood.]

*Truthfully, no one demanded it, or showed even the slightest interest in additional lobster blogging. I’m just covering this until someone invites me spin it off into smellingthelobster.com.

Recently at STC

Some recent posts from Smelling the Coffee:

More evidence that smoking bans are unnecessary. The French are abandoning their famous cafés and staying home. Cigarettes and high prices are the reason.

Wal-Mart is getting into the Fair Trade coffee business. Good thing? Bad thing? Tacit admission of evil?

And… latte porn! With animals!

Looking for a new host

A few days ago the server hosting this site experienced some technical difficulties. The blog pages couldn’t be accessed and emails to me bounced. If you sent me something in the past few days and haven’t received a response, please resend it.

In the meantime I am looking into better hosting options. Recommendations?

[Update 6/20/06: Thanks for the tips. We're in the process of switching everything over to hostingexcellence.com. So far everything blog-related has been transferred and should be reliably available from now on; emails and the various other pages will transfer soon.]

Lobster link fest

Why lobster blogging? Because it’s been too long a day for me to consider writing something serious, but I don’t want this site to become too idle. And lobsters seem to be turning up everywhere lately. Read on, you might learn something. You’re just wasting time at work anyway.
Pity the lobster

Let’s keep up the pretense of being a political blog and start with a post by Rogier van Bakel, who asks “Lobsters, dogs, what’s the difference?” An Italian restaurant (a real one, like, in Italy and stuff) was fined 688 Euros under an animal cruelty law designed to protect household pets. The crime? Displaying live lobsters on ice to attract customers:

A court in the northeastern city of Vicenza ruled the display was a form of abuse dooming the crustaceans to a slow death by suffocation. “We’re appealing,” said Giuseppe Scalesia, who runs La Conchiglia D’Oro, or “Golden Shell,” restaurant along with his brother Camillo. “They said that the lobsters, laying on the ice, suffer… They compared them in court to other animals, like cats and dogs.”

The case was brought by Gianpaolo Cecchetto, a former environmental activist, who took his two young children to the Vicenza restaurant in May 2002. “They were shocked by the display,” Cecchetto told Reuters, adding he immediately got in touch with the ENPA national animal protection entity.

“It might not hurt to keep in mind that most lobsters are boiled alive before they’re eaten,” Rogier notes. “Should that be declared illegal, too, in favor of — I dunno, what’s sufficiently humane?” I’m sure he meant that as a rhetorical question, but that’s no reason not to answer it. There’re lobsters’ lives at stake, after all.

Trevor Corson, author of The Secret Life of Lobsters, wrote a rather lengthy, yet fascinating, blog post on this very subject not too long ago. He says that the most humane way to kill a lobster is to chill it in the freezer for fifteen minutes and then split it quickly in half with a large knife. The accompanying photos make this appear not so fun for the lobster, but luckily it is cold blooded. The brief chill slows down its nervous system while the fast work of the knife cuts it in twain. The method is good for the lobster and doesn’t compromise on meat quality for the consumer. And, incidentally, it means that Mr. Scalesia was doing right by putting the lobster on ice — whether he knew it or not, it was a nice anaesthetic touch.

So all you need to kill a lobster a humanely is a freezer, a knife, and a bit of skill. Or maybe you need several thousand dollars, dedicated counter space, and a big jolt of electricity. When the knife method just won’t cut it, the CrustaStun comes to the rescue:

Lobsters could soon be “crusta-stunned” to death, if an invention by a British barrister takes off.

Simon Buckhaven says his electronic stun-gun would be a humane way of killing the creatures…

He said: “In a fraction of a second it knocks them unconscious and then, by the sustaining of the current, it destroys the entire nervous system, which kills them…”

“Until now there has been no electronic method of dealing with crabs, lobsters and crayfish. We have it now. We know it works,” he said at the time.”

CrustaStun is lots oI, for one, have long desired an electronic method method of dealing with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish. They never respond to my old-fashioned letters.

But seriously, this could be a decent idea. The CrustaStun requires less skill than knifing a live animal with claws and the company claims it results in meat that tastes better than other killing methods. All well and good. Unfortunately, the inventor isn’t just marketing his device to seafood processors and restaurants. He’s going straight to Parliament, where it appears he’s using proposed animal cruelty laws to drum up demand:

Last year Mr Buckhaven told a parliamentary select committee that workers in the fishing industry would be able to afford the stun-gun…

“When the question of cost has been raised, the shellfish producers in Cornwall think it is very viable in terms of the equipment they have to use.”

He said that the cost for restaurants would be between £1,000 and £2,000 for one machine.

The CrustaStun website prominently mentions legislative concerns as a reason for purchasing one of the machines. That’s good news for lobsters, but not for restauranteurs who may have to shell out for the device at regulators’ demand.

CrustaStun has the Shellfish Network on board, too. Who is the Shellfish Network, you ask?

The Shellfish Network was formed by Joe Solomon in 1994 to campaign peacefully against cruelty to these animals… While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other Animal Rights groups include shellfish in their campaigns, we believe that we are the only organisation to give a consistently high profile to the suffering of shellfish. But they still remain at or near the bottom of the league-table of public sympathy!

A fringe group, to be sure, but that didn’t stop them from submitting a 2004 memo to the Parliament’s Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

We believe that traditional methods of cooking are cruel and that the methods outlined in our Guidelines should be mandatory, at the very least for lobsters, crabs, crayfish and langoustines. These include the freezing method; placing the crab or lobster in a plastic bag and placed in a deep-freeze cabinet set at -20°C and left for two hours, or alternatively cutting through the nerve centres, which must only be carried out by experienced staff. The anatomy of the crayfish is like that of the lobster on a small scale, and it therefore may well have a similarly complex nervous system, although piercing nerve centres would not be practicable as it is so small an animal. The freezing method would be necessary in this case. We have heard from a scientist that langoustines can take up to 30 seconds to die when boiled. Subjecting live, conscious animals to cutting up, boiling, steaming or other cooking processes should be banned and the killing only carried out by competent experts. The Crustastun, mentioned in our Guidelines, is an electrical stunning tank which has recently been developed in prototype by scientists at Bristol University and the Silsoe Research Institute near Bedford. This stuns crabs and lobsters in a fraction of a second, and ensures that they remain insensible to pain long enough to be cooked by boiling immediately. Once the device is available it ought to replace all other methods.

My favorite line is, “We have heard from a scientist…” No research citation, no name of the scientist. Just this guy they know who wears a white lab coat. And his business card says he’s a scientist, so he must know what he’s talking about.

The Shellfish Society doesn’t want people being cruel to lobsters in their own kitchens either:

Since the majority of the general public will have no idea on the most humane ways of killing shellfish, we suggest that such sales should no longer be legal. Only licensed experts should be allowed to kill the animals, using our Guidelines.

Not even in self-defense? CrustaStun, by the way, links to the memo.

We haven’t even gotten to the worst and most humorous aspects of lobster exploitation yet. If you think being boiled alive, stabbed in the chest, CrustaStunned, or displayed on ice to hungry Italians are unpleasant things to endure, I’ve got news for you: the worst is yet to come for our lobster friends. These, at least, are deaths with dignity. Not so our next atrocity.

Bobbing for lobstersThe Business Opportunities Weblog reports that a company in Maine is marketing the Maine Lobster Claw Game. It’s like the old arcade game where a player maneuvers a claw that unexpectedly drops down into the tank and grabs whatever prize waits below. Except in this game, the prizes are live lobsters. For $2 the player gets a shot at taking one home. What they do with the lobster when they win it isn’t explained. Do they carry it around in a plastic bag like a goldfish? I have no idea.

In any case, animal rights activists aren’t too happy about this innovation:

The Maine Animal Coalition (MAC) says the state’s lobster industry is only now beginning to follow the standards for humane treatment of lobsters set by European countries, New Zealand and Australia…

“This game is adding insult to injury,” says MAC President Christina Connors. “They can’t go anywhere or get away. Not only will they be boiled alive, but they are being taunted in the meanwhile.”

Budding entrepreneurs can buy the lobster games for just $14, 950. If they can sleep at night knowing the humiliation they will impose on the lobsters, they’re sure to make millions. The only question is what to use as the grand prize. Sure, a Maine lobster is nice, but there’s got to be one prize that’s so enticing that the rubes will keep on dropping cash to pursue it. Something like, say, an incredibly rare blue lobster from Canada.

Really, a blue freaking lobster!
Blue freaking lobster!

And on that note, our foray into lobster blogging comes to an end.