Animal rights is a difficult topic. On the one hand, we should appreciate that other organisms than ourselves can feel pain and confusion, but on the other hand, had there not been animal research, most animal rights protesters would not live long enough to protest.
The latest kerfuffle over animal rights is courtesy of the US President. During an interview, a large fly started zooming around Obama's head, and the President finally slapped the fly dead between his hands, commenting "I got the sucker".
PETA has started making a fuss over the incident; “Well, I guess it can’t be said that President Obama wouldn’t hurt a fly” (found on the PETA blog). They are also sending non-lethal fly-trappers for the White House, to avoid any future incidents.
Now, had PETA been Jainists, who seek to never harm a living being (monks sweep the road in front of them to avoid stepping on insects), I would understand their sentiment. However, PETA have been involved in a number of violent demonstrations bringing humans to harm, and they seem to have no qualms about that. It is much more important to them to save defenseless animals (they typically use familiar animals like dogs and horses in their propaganda videos) than to help their fellow humans lead healthy, safe lives.
Personally, I find their tactics and policies hysterical and partly reprehensible. The Wikipedia entry on PETA mentions their affiliation with the Animal Liberation Front which was listed in a draft planning an overview of domestic terrorist threats from the Department of Homeland Security.
Also, they euthanize animals that they rescue, claiming that the only way to end some animals´ misery is to put them to sleep forever.
Now, concerning insects. Sure, they might feel pain and fear. However, it is impossible not to kill insects in one´s lifetime. It may not be that we swallow eight spiders a year in our sleep, but I am sure most people have inadvertently stepped on a few, or even slapped a few so hard in a reflex reaction that we all have a few on our consciences. Sure, killing one at will is a little different, but for a man with the power to declare war on nations, I think we can let this one slide.
The President also has a more pressing need than Joe Sixpack to concentrate and speak fluently, which can be difficult with buzzing insects flying around one's head. Would it be in any way practical or even utilitaristic for Obama to have fetched a fly-removal device in the middle of an interview for safe removal of a house fly? No. If anything, it could have damaged his reputation as a forceful decisionmaker and worthy of being the most powerful man in the world. He will probably need to make some tough decisions later in his career, and I am happy he dealt with this little issue swiftly and calmly.
It is absurd to me to use resources the way PETA does, and still claim to be morally superior to the American President. If Obama's biggest fumble so far is to swat a fly, then I am looking forward to the next couple of years.
I think the logical next step for PETA is to join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
For more dirt on PETA, see the Penn&Teller Bullshit! episode by the same name, or find the South Park Episodes that bring up PETA for a lighter treatment. Reading the Wikipedia entry is also quite sobering.