John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Also, Mumbai outlaws spitting tobacco on buses and Swaziland bans clothing that could tempt men to rape.
Welcome back to our weekly look at what's been outlawed in cities across the world (past editions here):
CIRCUS ELEPHANTS, IN CALIFORNIA
Does making Asian elephants perform tricks for circus crowds constitute cruelty toward an endangered species? Or is it a good way to get people thinking about elephant-conservation efforts, as the Big Top industry asserts?
Los Angeles is mulling such questions as it prepares to decide early next year on the legality of performing pachyderms. Which way the city council votes will directly affect the business of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, which has been bringing elephants to L.A. for almost a century. Councilman Paul Koretz, sponsor of the prospective ban, said that Ringling Bros. shouldn't be allowed into town unless it nixes this popular feature of its show, reports The New York Times: "The treatment of elephants in traveling circuses is one of the crueler practices, and it’s time for us to stand up for them."
What "treatment" is he talking about? While some trainers no doubt treat their charges with gentleness and respect, animal-rights activists have caught others beating, whipping or shocking the lumbering beasts. (That includes a baby elephant, in the case of one entertainment company.) Elephants who operate in the bright lights of the hippodrome also face a pretty grueling tour schedule, being shipped from town to town for most of the year in truck containers – not all of which stay on the road. Negative press has led six other California cities to outlaw circus elephants; recently, the Miami-area community of Hallandale Beach passed an ordinance criminalizing training equipment like bullwhips, "shocking spurs" and "chains used as tie-downs."
In its defense, Ringling Bros. funds a conservation and breeding center for Asian elephants in Florida. Banning them from the circus could be detrimental to their survival in the long run, to believe this tidbit in the Times' story:
Trainers argue that letting people interact with elephants makes them more likely to support conservation efforts.
“Seeing animals up close is one of the main reasons people come to Ringling Brothers,” said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, which bought Ringling Brothers in 1967. “Animal rights organizations want no human-animal interaction, period, regardless of how the animals are cared for.”
MINISKIRTS, IN SWAZILAND
Looking good while staying cool just took a big blow in Mbabane, Lobamba and other metropolises in Swaziland, where it's now illegal to wear miniskirts. The government outlawed the thigh-baring garment, along with midriff-exposing tops and low-rise jeans, because scientific research has proven that these types of clothing incite men to rape.
Actually, no, it was just the country's police agency jerking its knees hard enough to kick its face. Here's how it happened: Last month, a bunch of women tried to hold a march to protest against several recent rapes. Police reportedly blocked the protest, but wanted to do something to help, so they looked around for the culprits in these crimes and discovered they were "skimpy clothes," according to the BBC. "The act of the rapist is made easy," explained police spokeswoman Wendy Hleta, "because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women."
Inviting a sexual assault via fashion choice can now earn a girl six months in jail in Swaziland, with one notable exception. Reports Agence France-Presse:
However, the ban does not apply to traditional costumes worn by young women during ceremonies like the annual Reed Dance, where the ruling chooses a wife.
The flamboyant king already has 13 wives.
During the ceremony, beaded traditional skirts worn by young bare-breasted virgins only cover the front, leaving the back exposed. Underwear is not allowed.
SPITTING ON BUSES, IN INDIA
Rejoice, Mumbai commuters: Taking a bus in the city no longer means dodging flying strings of brown tobacco-spit. The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport, which operates Mumbai's public-transit network, has announced it will turn away passengers whose mouths are bulging with drippy quids of tobacco and betel leaf.
For years, riders indulging their oral addictions have been free to launch gooey gobs of sputum out of bus windows. Many a Mumbai pedestrian has been the victim of a tragic drive-by spitting. Things get really foul when the weather turns stormy. One rider told the Hindustan Times, "I have seen people spit inside the buses, especially during the monsoons, when windows are kept shut due to avoid rain water from entering the vehicle."
But this unsanitary era is ending at the start of 2013, thanks to more and more people complaining about the nasty habit. The BEST agency says it will bar people who chew leaves from getting on its buses – beginning with its own conductors, naturally – and will call the police if individuals insist on salivating all over the seats. This prohibition will make riding around town nicer for many folks and perhaps will encourage municipal workers to finally clean off the walls of bus stops and depots. Presently, they're coated with brackish spit stains that one official has described as quite "difficult to remove."
Top photo courtesy of Nazim Uddin on Flickr.