Friday, December 27, 2013

My choices for Person of the Year – and Ass of the Year

At the beginning of 2013, NIH Director Francis Collins was the ugly face of government-funded research using chimpanzees. Leonardo DiCaprio was the handsome face of star power used to advance public opinion for animal welfare. By the end of year, Collins and DiCaprio were unmasked, revealed by the individual decisions they made. It turns out that Dr. Collins is the protector, Leo the exploiter.

For decades, chimpanzee advocates ran into a brick wall at the National Institutes of Health, as they tried to end the useless and destructive research on chimps. No one listened, until Collins. In a stunning series of decisions that has ended research for most of the federally-supported chimps, this man has turned our image of government indifference upside down. His support for transferring the use of federal dollars from research labs to the sanctuary system has done more than we had a right to hope to advance the quality of life for these chimps.

DiCaprio, on the other hand, has single-handedly given the implicit “green light” to lesser actors who know that appearing with a baby chimpanzee increases the delight of an audience that is ignorant to the exploitation by chimp trainer Pam Rosaire (and a dwindling number of other trainers). By his conscious decision to be filmed with chimpanzee Chance in Wolf of Wall Street – even though his character’s true story never involved a chimp – he has used his star power to set back the progress we were making in convincing Hollywood to stop their decades-long exploitation of chimps.

Several animal welfare organizations and ape protection groups have correctly called for a boycott of Wolf of Wall Street. We need to go further. We should boycott Leo DiCaprio, the man who had nothing to lose by standing up against the use of the chimps in entertainment but decided, instead, to join the ranks of the exploiters.

People are not happy with government. We are enraged by the dysfunction of Congress, the failure of government to hold Wall Street and big banks accountable, the “1984”-ishness of an intelligence complex run amok… While we fight against the faceless government institutions that degrade humanity, however, we must recognize the federal employees whose decisions lift us up. We need to recognize Dr. Francis Collins, the man who ended exploitation for most of the federally-supported research chimpanzees. 

Dr. Collins is my Person of the Year. Leo is an ass.

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