Why Simcha Felder is a Schmuck
Simcha Felder has a problem: In a year or so, he loses his plum job as a city councilperson. He is turfed out by term limits — and anyway, his patron, Dov Hikind, is finding Albany a bit too warm for him, so he needs to toots on down to town and find a different pulpit.
Simcha Felder's new ambition: To be New York City Comptroller. After all, the pay isn't bad. The perqs aren't bad. Mrs. Felder and her side of the family will not be embarrassed — and what else is poor Simcha good for? He took a modest degree in a very modest school, then added another modest degree from Baruch — a business school well regarded in news magazines, but never listed (not even at the bottom) among choice schools by business publications, a place only its former president now chancellor, Matt Goldstein, could love.
Simcha's problem: Outside of his own city council district, no one knows him. Inside his city council district, there are those who know him who sincerely wonder why he was elected. [Vid. inter alia: http://vosizneias.com/2006/12/new-york-ny-councilman-simcha-felder.html]
Simcha is not glad, not joyful. Simcha's answer: Pick on pigeons.
The Felder Report on Pigeons
So Simcha and his team product a farrago of a report. It is so bad, it even admits it's wrong about some of its key assertions. A really smart lawyer, Lori Barrett, put together the definitive response (http://citywildlifealliance.org/Felderrebuttal112607pm.pdf); she commented further in other places (http://www.sanepr.com/Simcha-Felder-s-proposal-lacks-scientific-data_28312.cfm).
Let's be perfectly clear about this: Simcha Felder made himself something of a foil. The popular press didn't like him (The Daily News had a field day). Possible mayoral candidate, currently police commissioner Kelly cited Felder for discovering the latest threat to the city: feral pigeons. Ordinary New Yorkers made clear they like pigeons better in informal polling (about 60/40 in favor of the pigeons in the AM New York poll). Man-on-the-street conversations confirm this; people who are not at activist on animal issues or the like, when asked, generally think the pigeons are inoffensive and should be left alone.
New York went through this before; some years ago the city banned a pesticide called Avitrol because people found dead pigeons dropping out of the sky or flopping about in terminal central nervous system collapse sickening.
The Really Silly Part
Simcha wants to be the city's fiscal watchdog. Are we to take seriously a person who would hold this position, and who proposes creating a million-dollar pigeon-czar office? Are we to take seriously as fiscally responsible a person who wants the city to spend between $5 million and $7 million to buy unproven birth control agents for pigeons, then pay city workers to feed this to the birds and stand there making sure they all eat it up? How does Simcha want to fund this? He is going to have city officials fine people who feed the birdies — pigeons, but necessarily all the others, since they all more or less share the same space. City employees — police, park rangers and so on — will have to be passing out tickets for this offense; it will have a $1,000 price tag, which means those same police, park rangers and so on will be sitting in court, waiting to testify, racking up overtime — and giving up donut-chomping or whatever to do the paper work. Uh huh.
All this Because Simcha Needs a New Job
Lemme tellya a story: When Mrs. Jenner started getting interested in pigeons, I was concerned. When she started bringing some up to our digs, to cut off the threads some of them get caught on their feet — leading to loss of toes, even the entire foot — I was very concerned. I did what I always do when I am concerned; I do research. It's a good thing, to find out if a concern is genuine, I think we can agree, before haring off on some wild set of misconceived false assumptions.
Here's what I found out — and you can verify it without much trouble, in about half an hour in front of the computer.
You can't get sick from pigeons; they are not a vector for any human disease. This is the clearly stated public view of the CDC, the NCID and New York's own DHMH. It is also held by numerous university researchers, both here and in Europe, including researchers who are anti-pigeon.
Pigeon poop is not a problem. It is not hazardous (your poop and mine, by the bye, is...). It is not hard to clean (water soluble, it hoses off; this assumes that maintenance staff is not too lazy to do their jobs).
No case of disease associated with natural garden fungi, sometimes associated with bird poop (not just pigeons...) has ever been traced back to pigeons. Such disease is very rare (max-1 case per year in New York, over the last half-century), and inevitably in people who work in petshops and don't wash their hands.
Pigeons are clean birds; they like baths and they preen constantly. If you see a dirty feral pigeon, it is dirty only because it has been driven to trash bins to forage for food.
Pigeons are smart, curious animals. They explore constantly the environment they inhabit; they adapt well to changes in it, both as a species and individually. They learn quickly and can be trained to do quite involved tasks; they retain that training. They have remarkable abilities for pattern matching and identification — substantially better than human beings.
Pigeons are social animals; they live peaceably in flocks. Pigeon cocks have a modest personal-space territorial imperative; pigeon hens are even less territorial. They are constant companions to each other and care for their offspring.
Many pigeons easily include humans in their social circle. They recognize specific human beings (and possibly, though it is disputed, particular birds, including self-recognition in mirrors, a sign of fairly developed intelligence if true). They will come to such people, and — this is very surprising — remain with them by choice, even when not being fed.
Pigeons are a scientific challenge. Cornell University's ornithology labs has a long-term project to study urban feral pigeons, mainly (as I understand it) to understand why they break all the rules for feral populations reverting to purely wild status. Pigeons don't.
Those are facts. It is verified in my own not uncritical experience. This is quite unlike the farrago foisted on the City Council (and readers of the New York Times) by Councilman Felder.
Pigeons are nice animals. They have a slightly declining population in this city. They give pleasure to many people — old people, children — and what a charming thing, to watch a child go wide-eyed with amazement, when a small soft ball of fluff sits quietly on the kid's arm eating seed from its hand.
These birds are for many people what, O, say, Councilmember Vacca's dog is for him. They are the city's pets. They are the companions for old folks and poor folks and people who cannot keep a pet in the house and so on.
So what to do?...
Councilman Felder — an honorable man, a religious man, a man who is “well liked in the body” (so says Councilman Vacca) — wants to employ a highly paid “ pigeon czar” (a councilman turfed out by term limits who couldn't get a real job, perhaps?) and accipitrine robots and adulterated feed (more folks on the city payroll to pass this out) and so on to control a naturally limited and declining population. He assaults the sensibilities of a wide array of people — the polls that have been taken show a 60/40 split in favor of the pigeons, after discounting for people who got counted more than once.
This is shameful on the surface of it, and imprudent as a legislative measure — enacting expensive legislation no one will obey is just plain foolish.
Absent such cogent reasons, perhaps the probity of those support such an initiative should be doubted.
Finally, we propose this as the Simcha-for-Comptroller campaign ditty.