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March 08, 2003
Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos (Hightower)

There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos (Jim Hightower)

Well, I finally made it through this one. First, a very cursory amount of research convinced me that the material that seems so dated now probably wasn't all that dated when the book was first published in '97.

Second...well, I'm not sure just how much I believe some of his accusations. As I said previously, the ones about BSE and the beef industry really didn't sound logical to me. (Really. I'm no expert, but simple logic tells me that after watching the disaster that ensued in the U.K. after they underestimated the danger, then tried to hide the facts from the public, I just can't believe the UsofA ranchers would repeat those same mistakes. One thing the citizens of this country seem to have are short memories regarding things that never quite come to pass. An "outbreak" caught at the source and eliminated before contaminated meat hits the shelves will pass from the collective public's memory in comparatively little time. Letting tainted meat hit the grocery store shelves and waiting until people get sick...that's going to make a lasting impression.) I'm not insisting that I'm right on this one...just that my internal warnings are going off. It just doesn't make sense.

He also claimed that DDT takes "hundreds of years" to break down in the environment. I've found research that gives it a half-life of 30 years. I've also found research that says it doesn't really break down at all. Other research talks about the components as it breaks down. It's all very confusing but I'm left with the impression that Hightower more-or-less "made up" the "hundreds of years" claim.

Nor, as he rails madly against the evils of DDT and the industry cover-up of its dangers, does he mention that most uses of it in the USofA and Canada were banned in the 70s. He also fails to mention that DDT, used in underdeveloped countries, is a key weapon in the fight against malaria since it attacks the disease-carrying mosquitoes; a critical function in a society where people don't have and can't afford tight walls and windows. (Not that I'm condoning its use on those grounds. I'm just making the point that the continued usage of the chemical isn't corporate stubbornness but because it's useful to people who have few alternatives.)

DDT and it's related compounds are distributed throughout the environment. Although DDT is found in the environment sometimes, it breaks down to DDE and other compounds (called metabolites.) DDE is less toxic to humans than DDT, but it is more persistent in the environment. DDE also has a stronger attraction to fat than DDT, so that DDE, rather than DDE is the major residue stored in human tissues.
Okay, I'm not saying this research was available when Hightower wrote his book, but the fact that research on the toxicity of such chemicals is being done, and the negative results shared publicly, certainly contradicts Hightower's insistence that powerful forces are at work to keep such dangers from our attention. Unless we're to assume that corporations somehow became less powerful in the last five or six years.

Resorting to the invaluable proves what I suspected, that whether or not Hightower was indulging in a little exaggeration, there is too much pollution in our country. Nor is it just our country that's at risk.

Anyhow. I don't know what to think of Hightower's book. One thing I can say is that reading it was never boring. If he came off as something of an "extremist" from time to time, well, I know that not everyone shares my instant distrust of that approach, so it may be my own biases at work.

(Next up: Spin Cycle, I think.)

Posted by AnneZook at 10:09 PM