As we reflect this week on the passing of Norman Mailer, I find myself thinking about his contemporary and acquaintance, playwright Arthur Miller, author of the acclaimed “Death of a Salesman.” I can’t help but think that if Miller, who died in 2005, had lived a bit longer, he might have written a new play entitled “Death of a Feline.” Like his previous work it would also have been a multi-layered play about apparently banal and normal events, which somehow take on an almost epic tone as they convey the prejudices, follies, and cruelties of the society they occur in.

We’ve moved from a cold, heartless society which could reflexively and accidentally grind a man into the dust to an overheated, mushy-hearted society which may systematically and deliberately grind a man into the dust for the unforgivable crime of acting like a human being. I can’t help but think that both Mailer and Miller would be all over this one.

Here are the facts, which no one disputes: James M. Stevenson, 54, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society and famed bird enthusiast, used a .22-caliber rifle to kill, with full pre-meditation and with malice, Mama Cat, a feral cat living under a toll bridge. His reason: Mama Cat preyed upon piping plovers, endangered shorebirds, with the efficiency common to her breed. Mr. Stevenson, believing that the world is better with piping plovers than without, decided to eliminate a serious threat to their continued survival. And he did so.

And so, now Mr. Stevenson is on trial for the crime of animal cruelty, and could spend up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

In Texas. Where the state regularly executes morons without a qualm. In Texas, Mr. Stevenson faces serious jail time for shooting a cat to defend a bird. Mind you, this isn’t his first cat-killing, as he freely admits to killing numerous cats on his own property for similar crimes against avians.

In other words, he did exactly what human beings have done for at least 10,000 years: he killed an animal he didn’t like in defense of other animals he did like. He did no more, and no less, than what farmers, shepherds, hunters, and pet owners have done from the dawn of civilization. But, sadly for him, he did it in a civilization that no longer accepts such acts—even in its most individualistic and firearms-friendly area.

Now, it’d be one thing if Mr. Stevenson had killed a beloved pet which was simply wandering around on its own property. But, as far as he knew, he was killing a feral cat which preyed upon an endangered species. A cat which probably would have been put to death (humanely) in a shelter if it had been picked up by the very state which now tries Mr. Stevenson. The very state which extended the protection of law to the birds the cat sought to kill.

If a human had dared to do what Mama Cat did each and every day, he would have found himself prosecuted to the full extent of the law, facing probably even more jail time than Mr. Stevenson is now. Texas law and society would recognize that bird-killer as a menace whose willingness to finish off the piping plover justified their depriving him of liberty and, if he resisted arrest or attempted flight from prison, even his life.

Society reserves to itself the right to mete out justice to human beings, and rightly so. Rule of law and civilized society demand that I not be free to pursue my private vendetta against you. But Texas now seeks to extend that principle much further. Under its new animal cruelty laws, it would seem that the state now reserves to itself the right to defend animals, no longer allowing human beings to intervene freely in nature’s struggle.

So another human freedom, enshrined since the Dawn of Man, falls. And for what? To protect our ridiculously emotional and anthropocentric view of animal life. I own a cat, love it very much, and can understand just how painful it would be for my cat to be killed by another human being. But, as much as I love my cat, it is just a cat, and infinitely less valuable than any human person. If someone cruelly and needlessly shot down my cat, I would be angry, and seek justice. But if I, through my own carelessness, let my cat threaten endangered animals or the valuable property of another, shouldn’t those I’ve wronged be able to defend life or property against my cat?

Should my emotional attachment to my cat, or cats in general, be allowed to curtail the freedom of another to defend either their property or other species they value more than my cat? Once my cat leaves my property, aren’t my wishes secondary?

The Texas case has turned into a shouting match between cat-fanciers and bird-lovers. But there’s a much more important principle at stake: should the emotion of either side be allowed to dominate logic and reason? If a beloved cat is killed, it’s a tragedy, but it’s not a crime on par with murder, simple battery, or even assault.

It should not be treated as such.

The winter sports here are drawing to a close – basketball, men’s volleyball, and local elections. I decided that I should pay more attention to the local governance of these simple folks who surround me, and perhaps that would unlock the secret logic the drives them forward in directions that are so unthinkable to a common-sense citizen in the old country. I’ve found that even in their local governance policies these people start with their heads in the wrong place.

Lately, the local politics of my quaint hamlet have stunk like horse manure. Oh, I would that that were only a figure of speech. Burbank, CA, for historical reasons, has an area of town where most of the houses have a horse stable attached. If you think people are strange when they’re way too interested in their pets, you’ve never seen horse owners. And nothing brings a community together like all sharing the same ridiculous interest.

When their quiet, peaceful neighborhood was threatened by the invasion of an evil big-box retailer, they banded together and mounted an All-American grassroots effort to show the overbearing city council that they meant business. Well, they meant business for the council that is – they didn’t mean business for the retailer. That, they were trying to prevent.

This sounds like a familiar enough story, except that this is California. This is Burbank. This is the Rancho Equestrian District. What would normally be cries of ‘The extra traffic will endanger the children in our little subdivision – think of the children’ became Californicated into: ‘There will be wine tastings, so drunken drivers will endanger us as we ride around the RanchoThink of the Horses!’ (Burbank Leader – sorry for the login)

The usual cries of our quaint little mom & pop shops will be replaced by boring huge store” were Californicated into: “it’s replacing a uniquely Burbank business” (The current tenant of the building to be replaced is Captions, Inc – providers of closed-captioning, credits, subtitles, and translations)

The semi-usual cries of “We don’t want that evil, socially irresponsible corporation infecting our town’s policy of social justice and low environmental-impact” ring somewhat hollow when the big-box chain store moving in is Whole Foods. Yeah. That Whole Foods – organic granola is always half-off.

Only in California would you have a ridiculous situation like this. The skeleton outline seems reasonable, but when you have a bunch of rich, homogenously white wanna-be ranchers in the middle of the LA sprawl whose idea of a grassroots effort involves have each one of their lawyers threaten to sue the city complain about the removal of an historic cottage industry of a closed captioning studio in order to bring in the evil big box retailer of fine organic groceries, wines, and other healthy foods, the odds that the folks back in the old country will believe me when I tell them are just astronomically low.

These are the people that annoy me on my walk to work. Their sprinklers are watering their little postage stamp lawns every day of the year. Their sidewalks are frequently covered in excess manure. And on days when I have to get up at dawn to hit the office early, there’s a little smart-aleck rooster next to my office who feels he has to remind me of that fact.

On the other hand, I’ve got no big need for a Whole Foods. I’ve got no dog in this fight. This is Burbank – the “normal” grocery store has a massive organic food section. If I need to impress a vegan, there are two Trader Joe’s within 10 minutes of here. If I badly need to locate something to eat that inconvenienced no animals, I know where I can find some well-watered grass.

I’m just an observer trying to make sense of it all. This is the biggest thing going on in town right now. In the old country we often saw reports of these people and their bickering ways spreading to national affairs. They would often try to cast their opponent as being the privileged favorite, then argue that everyone should only listen to the oppressed minority – establishing a tyranny of the minority. It’s interesting to see their methods turned on each other, and coming to a complete stalemate.

The developer ceded the latest round, but he ceded in a way that allows him to return next time stronger that they can possibly imagine. Possibly in a glowing ghostly aura. The glow might be due to the extra-healthy foods.

Pointless euphemisms bother me for all the reasons that George Orwell, in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” despised them: they are obfuscations, and, as often as not, intended to cover up something beastly. Whatever else they may be, they are definitely there to stop listeners from facing reality. (If you haven’t read Orwell’s essay, go read it first. It’s far better than anything we’ll ever write.) Enter Neuticles, prosthetic testicles for neutered (dare I say “altered”?—nah, “castrated”) pets.

It is a silicone implantable euphemism.

When I showed this web page to my roommate, her first reaction was “This must be a joke.” Upon being assured that, these are the real, well fake, deal, she said “Who is this really for?” It seems that some owners—unable to own up to the fact that they’ve had Fido’s doghood docked—won’t do the right thing. (Does anyone actually name a dog Fido?) According to the company’s web page, various organizations like the ASPCA support the use of Neuticles. I’m sure the ASPCA’s position is really: If you feel so squeamish about doing the right thing for the animal for which you have taken responsibility, by all means spend some extra $$$ to alleviate your misplaced guilt. I understand because I do feel a bit squeamish (most people do), but I would still take Fido to the vet to be neutered (sans Neuticles). It’s the right thing to do for all sorts of reasons. But I also think that it’s important not to be a moral coward and to face squarely just what you have had done to Fido for his own good.

Their tag line is “It’s like nothing ever changed.” I have my doubts. You see, first of all I don’t buy that a young animal knows all that much after he’s had his doghood, cathood, etc., removed, though I’m sure he wasn’t too happy to have to go to surgery. Neutering is traumatic because it’s surgery, and Neuticles won’t change that fact one bit. He’s just not that smart and thinking that he somehow misses their absence is engaging in crass anthropomorphizing. And you are making fundamental behavioral changes, which is the entire point: Fido won’t be interested in Fidette anymore, and he’s not going to be doing all the nasty stuff around the house that a dog filled with testosterone will do to get at Fidette. Some of the comments seemed to indicate that neutering was somehow “messing with God’s plan.” Big duh. Of course you are messing with God’s plan, because God’s plan said good old Fido should have a built-in source of testosterone and spermbank so he can propagate the canine species. (Freely replace “God’s plan” with “evolution” if you’re so inclined.) Putting lumps of silicone in an empty scrotum to fool yourself doesn’t change that fact. You haven’t really done anything, but you sure gentled Fido down by removing his source of testosterone and the little swimmers of doggie DNA that testosterone is telling him to spread. (They don’t do vasectomies for pets. What’s the point?) You can buy the low end model for under $100 but surely Fido deserves only the best, and thus needs to have the “ultra” model complete with fake epididymis that costs quite a bit more. As if he, or you, could tell, unless you gave Fido a testicular examination. Do not read me wrong. I think that cosmetic surgery is often justified. For instance, a woman getting reconstruction after breast cancer surgery makes sense to me and I’m libertarian enough to believe people should be able to make up their own minds about it. Perception is an important part of experienced reality. I don’t even think Neuticles is wrong. In the big picture of odd things people do, it’s pretty small beer. It’s not wrong. No, it’s pathetic.

You know how I know this is for Fido’s owner (who is probably a somewhat neurotic male with that age-old Freudian fear of castration), not Fido: Fidette doesn’t get the benefit of silicone teat implants.

Want more? Watch this Penn and Teller video.