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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 | Comments (0)
March 07, 2003
Random thoughts

Random thoughts

Now Hightower is going on about "organochlorides." I had to go look them up online and the first thing I found was that they are, as he said, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and consequently dangerous to pump into our environment. The next thing I learned was that if I lived in the southeast of the USofA, I'd be worried about dangerous concentrations in my neighbourhood.

Still, I have my doubts about this book.

I mean, I was reading along with interest, having little more to complain about than that these chapters sometimes seem to contain dated material but thinking that maybe they're reprinted columns and should have had original publication dates on them or something, until I ran into the chapter where he talks specifically about bovine spongiform encephalopathy. (Try saying it out loud. There's a reason everyone calls it BSE or "mad cow disease," okay?)

Anyhow, I don't believe the part where he claims that ranchers and the FDA are in some kind of conspiracy to keep it secret that a form of BSE is loose and running wild in the cattle herds of the USofA. Or maybe he's claiming that it's possible that such a thing is happening. With his rhetoric, it can be difficult to know.

Still, he went over the line on this one. Can't be true.

Ranchers, even those who own big ranches or multiple ranches, are very simple people.

They raise cows. When they send the cows off to feed lots or slaughter houses, they get paid for the cows.

People eat the meat.

More meat is needed.

Ranchers raise more cows and send them off.

They get money.

Understand that the moment BSE breaks out in the USofA, not only will the entire "batch" of meat responsible be recalled, but every, single cow that rancher owns will be killed. (And probably the cows on neighbouring ranches.)

And no one gets paid. Ranchers go bankrupt. They lose their land.

Also? People freak out and instantly stop eating beef. One contaminated steak that finds its way onto the plate of one consumer means the end of every rancher in this country and the collapse of a major industry with collateral damage to the dairy industry.

And Hightower wants me to believe that out of carelessness or laziness, they're going to let this happen?


Forget altruism, okay? Sheer human greed...the desire to stay in business, make money, and (not incidentally) keep possession of a ranch that's probably been in their family for a hundred years or more would prevent this scenario, even if pride in what they do (and ranchers do possess that pride in abundance, believe me) didn't.

I'd like to know where Hightower got the information for this article but until I see something resembling proof, I'm going to have to say this one is mostly hot air and mirrors.(*)

Now I'm concerned, though. If he's as far off as I feel he is on this one subject, what about everything else I've read?

I don't have time to research every one of the approximately 45 essays in this book! Sheesh. I do have a life, okay?

( * In the interests of full disclosure (Look! My first disclosure!), I'm related to someone who works in the beef industry. Not a rancher, though.)

Posted by AnneZook at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)
March 03, 2003
Big Business

War is, that is.

I can't remember if I linked to The Business of War or not, but I certainly meant to.

"Amid the military downsizing and increasing number of small conflicts that followed the end of the Cold War, governments turned increasingly to private military companies - a recently coined euphemism for mercenaries - to intervene on their behalf in war zones around the globe. Often, these companies work as proxies for national or corporate interests, whose involvement is buried under layers of secrecy. Entrepreneurs selling arms and companies drilling and mining in unstable regions have prolonged the conflicts.

A nearly two-year investigation by the Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has also found that a handful of individuals and companies with connections to governments, multinational corporations and, sometimes, criminal syndicates in the United States, Europe, Africa and the Middle East have profited from this war commerce - a growth industry whose bottom line never takes into account the lives it destroys.

Read more on this subject in ICIJ's 11-part series, "Making a Killing: The Business of War.""

The series is completed and available on the website. Dates, names, connections. Well worth reading.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)
March 02, 2003
What am I?

Pursuant to a previous entry where I said I was going to be thinking about what I'm for, as opposed to my recent history of just being against this Administration and everything it stands for and does, I've been thinking.

(Warning: This is not a news-based, link-heavy entry. You might want to go elsewhere.)

I believe that a federal government that's too large is wasteful, inefficient, and prone to corruption through sheer negligence, if not by intent. On the other hand, a state government, through sheer efficiency, could restrict freedom by being able to so much more closely monitor individual citizens. It's a tricky issue. (How much "control" should be ceded to a federal government by the people and by the states is a tricky question and one that was under hot debate a couple of hundred years ago by people smarter than me. I don't intend to expose my ignorance on this subject in this forum, so I'll move on.)

I believe the federal government exists largely to insure that equality and opportunity are, as nearly as possible, equal in Los Angeles and Jackson, Mississippi, but I do understand that there are issues such as interstate roads and commerce, national treaties, armed forces, and other bits of business that are more appropriate to a federal government than a loose collection of states.


I believe we need fewer laws making it illegal to feed someone else's parking meter or make love to our consenting, adult partner and more laws regulating the behavior of corporate entities. Laws such as one making election/political party contributions from non-U.S. based, non-U.S. taxpaying corporations illegal.

(Side note: Businesses become "inhuman" when businessmen have no time for people in the press of adding up the right numbers. Achieving the presidency of any company should be treated like a white-collar crime and come with a mandatory 10-20 hour a month "community service" penalty to remind these CEO's of the society they live in and the consequences of their actions.)

I also believe in the local or regional ownership of a divided and largely unrestricted media. I believe that local ownership and wider competition can produce better and more even-handed coverage of all events, not just those our government and their corporate partners want us to hear about.

I know there is a danger that raunch-fests like Limbaugh's and Savage's will prosper in such an environment, but I believe that most people will either choose to stay away from unreliable, biased programs and gravitate toward news and events coverage of quality and intelligence. If not, they will at the least eventually tire of the relentless, one-note hatred of that kind of program and turn with gratitude toward more rational programs.

I realize that that sounds idealistic, but bear in mind that honest, even-handed coverage of events is not necessarily synonymous with boring, dry, and dull coverage.

I believe that both the news and entertainment media in this country have come to the habit of treating citizens like half-wits because it's easier to produce broad, meaningless programming to appeal to the shallowest instincts of a majority than it is to consistently produce programs of quality and depth targeted toward different interests. The media is so fixated on winning all of the market (an unrealistic goal) that they refuse to focus on any of the market specifically. As a result people have come to expect nothing but mindless diversion from either the news or entertainment programming. They gravitate toward the lowest common denominators of intelligence, whether it's a ranting, frothing "shock jock" who chooses his words to shock and titillate or a quasi-"reality" program that promises all of the thrills of blood and suffering with few or no real consequences.

Sensationalism has replaced the issues that used to produce honest emotion. Cheap thrills have replaced the heat of disagreement on issues of importance.

(I can never decide if the entertainment industry began producing short, regimented programming segments because our lifestyles were becoming so fast-paced that we demanded this short-attention-span theatre or if we became used to the fast, immediate gratification of "sound-bite" news and entertainment because we were "trained" to it by television, so I'll leave that one open for the experts.)


When I was growing up I was taught that there were three "unmentionables" in polite society. You were not to bring up sex, politics, or religion. (Some add 'money' to the list.) I went along with it but I've never understood or agreed with it. What is more fun to talk about than sex? What's more important to be informed about than politics? What breeds better understanding between differing groups than comparison/contrast of religions?

Why are we allowed, if we're "polite," to discuss anything except the subjects that really matter?


I believe in citizen oversight and freedom of information. I think the government should have to prove "national defense" before it can keep any government information out of the hands of citizens. I think there should be no such thing as a government meeting, of any sort, that is off-limits to the public.

I believe there should be no emergency so dire, no "national crisis" so urgent that any one part of the Bill of Rights or the Constitution can be overridden to allow the government to deal with it.

(So what if that makes their jobs harder? No one promised them a rose garden, okay?)

I believe that laws prohibiting the formation of monopolies in any field should be vigorously enforced, but not so vigorously as to hobble the true expression of a free-market economy. (Don't punish Microsoft because they're huge. They won the market. Live with it. If you can prove they're using their power to drive other companies out of the market or, more importantly, prevent others from joining the market, that's a different case. If it's just spitefulness by the losers, then tell them to take it to their mothers.)

I believe that the environment should be a primary concern of the people and the government, as should the education of each new generation of children. We need the planet more than the planet needs us and all the immortality most of us will ever get resides in the upbringing we give our children.

I believe in equality of all citizens and, as far as practicable, legislation that insures a level playing field.

I believe in taxes. Taxes for regulation and oversight of private business are a good idea. Taxes for public transportation are a good idea. Taxes to pay the salaries of policemen and firemen are a good idea. Taxes to support good public schools are a good idea. Taxes to promote the public interests are good. We need parks and wildlife and monuments of our past.

I believe in the viability of a welfare-to-work system for the poor (although not in the form that exists now), as I believe in Medicare and Medicaid for the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

I didn't have a point. I was just thinking about these things and decided to inflict them on you here.

Obviously I'll be voting with the Democratic party because I can think of nothing worse for this country or the world at large than four more years of Bush/Cheney, but I'm not actually a Democrat because as nearly as I can tell, the Democratic party leadership doesn't believe in most of this stuff.

Posted by AnneZook at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)