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Knapp: Cruelty is not a cultural ‘tradition’

<p>George Knapp (portrait by Jeferson Applegate)</p>

George Knapp (portrait by Jeferson Applegate)

COMING SOON to the fabulous South Point arena, the ultimate showdown of man versus beast — full-throttle bullfighting. That‘s right, it’s Toro Time.

Hey, why not? What could be more exciting than a duel to the death between men in glittery tights and a few angry, bewildered bulls? Bring the wife and kids and let them see a confused behemoth get tortured, teased and stabbed through the heart. After all, bullfighting is a cultural tradition in many Hispanic countries, so why not suspend our animal-cruelty laws and sell a bunch of tickets?

We could keep the crowd occupied between bullfights with good old-fashioned cockfighting? Get some fighting cocks jacked up on amphetamines, strap some razor-sharp spurs onto their tiny legs and let them shred each other into taco meat. After all, this too is a centuries-old tradition, so ingrained in Hispanic countries that illegal cockfighting rings operate in surreptitious backyard arenas all over the valley.

Even though our county commissioners came to their senses at the last minute and rejected a temporary suspension of anti-horse tripping ordinances, there is much about this sordid little drama that really stinks. The Mexican rodeo planned for the South Point next month will not go on as scheduled, but how in the world did it ever get this far?

Did someone assume that the public would be bulldozed by money, power and some not-so-subtle political threats from people who tried to make it seem as if anyone who opposes horse-tripping must be anti-Hispanic? This ham-handed tactic came close to succeeding. We live in Las Vegas, after all, a place where money and juice usually prevail over the will of the public. But not this time.

Ask yourself this — why in the world would organizers put this much time and money into planning an event that they knew, going in, was illegal? They knew that three of their planned events were flat-out against the law in Clark County. So why did they proceed as if it would be allowed? They must have figured they could muscle it through the system, that politicians would fold their pup tents and run away at the first veiled threats from the “Hispanic community.”

I will concede the point that horse roping and horse tripping are not quite the same thing. The rodeos that are held in Mexico and other Hispanic countries are not so particular. Their events require horses to be roped by the legs while running at full speed, which results in horrible injuries when their bodies smash into the dirt. Horse roping, we are told, is not nearly as violent for the horses because the ropers let go of the horses legs right away. Well, that explains it.

Such fine distinctions leave much to be desired. For one thing, how many horses get crushed, battered and killed during the years that these cowboys are perfecting their craft, learning their trade in ranches and corrals far removed from the view of Las Vegas rodeo fans? The same cowboys who were going to compete in rope-and-release events at the South Point are up to their necks in the more brutal horse-tripping events back home. We can’t tell them what to do in their home countries, but we sure as hell can tell them what is allowable here.

The argument that the event deserved to be exempt from our anti-cruelty laws because it is such an important “tradition” is pathetic and reprehensible. Over the past few weeks, I heard from many local Hispanics who say horse tripping and horse roping most certainly are not part of any cultural tradition they would defend, and that a few rodeo promoters from south of the border most certainly do not speak for them.

But even if it were true that horse tripping is a part of the culture in Hispanic countries, so what? It most certainly is not a cultural tradition here in the U.S. The public has spoken pretty clearly about the issue, which is why horse tripping is illegal. I heard the same phony arguments last year, when Sen. Harry Reid led the charge in Congress to outlaw the reprehensible practice known as shark-finning. Each year, millions of sharks are caught in nets so that fishermen can hack off their fins. The bloodied animals are then dumped into the ocean to die slow, agonizing deaths.

Proponents of this foul “tradition” say it is important to them because they love shark-fin soup. Shark fins are not exactly yummy. They have no taste at all. They also have no nutritional value whatsoever. But shark fins are expensive, meaning the soup has become a status symbol among some Asians, who really don’t give a rat’s ass about shark species being decimated all over the planet. All for a bowl of crappy soup? That’s not a cultural tradition. That’s stupidity. Congress rejected the straw man “cultural tradition” argument made by the shark-fin industry.

Thankfully, a majority of our county commissioners found the courage to do the right thing. They recognized that Mexican rodeo promoters out to make a buck do not speak for all Hispanics.

In this country, we honor the cultural traditions that Americans of all nationalities bring to the big melting pot, but when one of those traditions is wrong, illegal and cruel, it must take a back seat to the shared values of all.

AREA 51 “SCOOP”

If you were confused by the flurry of “news” about Nevada’s infamous Area 51 military base, join the club. Every news organization in the country seems to have fallen for this nonstory, reporting that the CIA has finally lifted the veil of secrecy when it comes to Area 51 by admitting there’s a base out there after all.

I don’t exactly understand why outfits like NBC News, the AP, Washington Post and others fell for this canard, but they did. The existence of Area 51 is not exactly a secret, not in a town that has an Area 51 museum exhibit and a baseball team named the 51’s. The CIA, Air Force, DOE and Atomic Energy Commission have each confirmed the existence of the base, many times and in many ways dating back more than three decades. As far as I can tell, the only reason this nonscoop got so much attention is that it gave news writers an excuse to joke that the CIA still won’t admit there are space aliens out at 51. Yuckety-yuck. The sound you are hearing is milk spurting out of my nose.

MINIONS OF THE WATER MONSTER

We are beaming with pride here in Knappster Land. Never before have we seen a front-page, above-the-fold news story in the state’s largest newspaper written in response to a little ol’column in this space. Wow. Almost peed my pants, I was so giddy.

The RJ certainly is a full-service newspaper when it comes to servicing the bosses at local water agencies. I hope you will all clip and save that incredible piece of journalism from Saturday’s paper, especially the quote from a water spokesperson about how it would make no difference to our local water supply even if every person who lives here stopped using water for an entire year. Wouldn’t amount to a drop in the bucket, the RJ reported.

Keep that in mind the next time you hear the water agencies boast about how they managed to save 28 billion gallons by bribing you to remove your front lawns. And maybe we should ask them why they still spend millions on slick TV ads and billboards that ask us to conserve water “because it’s a desert out there.” What’s the point, if it will make no difference at all to our water supply? Maybe we will get some answers, just as soon as one of the water agency’s 28 public information officers writes the next press release for the front page.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8.