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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thoughts on Cecil

As Dr. Walter J. Palmer has surely realized by now, karma's a bitch.  The Minnesota dentist, previously hated only by non-flossers, has over the last couple of days become Internet Enemy Number One.  His crime: killing Cecil, a beloved lion in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, who as far as I can tell spent his life napping and posing for tourists' snapshots.  The online backlash against Palmer has been swift and severe.  Palmer has (temporarily?) shuttered his practice as a result of the negative publicity.  How bad is it?  Let's just say that Laurence Olivier's character from "Marathon Man" would have an easier time getting dental referrals.

It's hard to feel sorry for Palmer.  So hard, in fact, that I don't.  I can't help but find something disingenuous about the whole backlash, particularly the number of his current clients who have abandoned him in the wake of Cecilgate.  After all, this was hardly Palmer's first kill: He's an avid hunter--was even profiled in the New York Times a few years back for his proficiency with a crossbow.  I find it difficult to believe that all these patients are only now finding out about his proclivities.

Palmer has "apologized" after a fashion: He apologized, essentially, for killing a lion he wasn't supposed to kill.  I'm willing to take him at his word that he didn't realize that this lion, y'know, had a name and was actually popular with the tourist folk.  At the same time, the apology is somewhat undermined by the fact that Palmer is not apologizing for killing a lion, just for killing this particular lion.

Now some people are saying--not unreasonably--that it's kind of ridiculous that the entire online world is inflamed over the killing of one lion, when every day thousands of people die because of starvation, preventable diseases, religious intolerance, etc.  We should certainly pay attention to these societal ills, as well.  Still, there is something about this story that rankles more than your run-of-the-mill tale of human inhumanity.

I think it comes down to money.  Because even putting the best possible spin on the events, we have one inescapable fact: Palmer paid about $50,000 for the opportunity to kill something.  That's not a typo.  Fifty. Thousand. Dollars.  You could do a lot of good in this world for $50,000.  I look around at the students at my college: $50,000 would pay for associate's degrees for about 20 of them.  It could pay for a lot of meals for hungry people.  Hell, it could pay for Palmer's own kids' educations--or cars!  ("Gee, Dad, if you had just gotten me that Camaro for my graduation like I asked for, you'd still have a dental practice!")

I imagine, even for a formerly successful dentist, $50,000 is not exactly pocket change, either.  So this guy just really, really, REALLY wanted to kill an animal.  He's like a character from "Hostel."  You didn't see it--nobody did.  But this Eli Roth torture-porn flick revolves around a club where one-percenters pay exorbitant sums for the right to torture and kill random strangers.  I guess we should be thankful that Palmer only got a shot at a lion.

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