It's not a good thing, but not wholly a bad thing either. The terrible tragedy of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas is bringing a lot of old relics out of the attic, and as the far right wingnuts brush the cobwebs off their terrorist tactics, something else is happening.
Some of the old style 70s feminists and other pro-choice activists who have been largely silent and inactive for the past 30 years are coming out of the woodwork too, speaking up and speaking out against what, if done by a Muslim in the United States, would have inspired a change in the National Terror Alert Level and anti-terrorist scare tactics of "Katie bar the door."
I need to strongly qualify that last paragraph. There were some feminists and pro-choice activists, compassionate doctors, nurses, rape crisis advocates, suspected child abuse and neglect social workers, and many others WHO DID NOT go silently into that good night of feminist movement forgetfulness of the past 30 years. They have stayed on the job, day in and day out, and, as we see in the article below, risking their lives more fully every day, especially when there is a Democrat or pro-choice president in the White House.
The medical professionals and social workers, the ones that kept working, like Dr. Tiller, the ones who are now speaking out nightly on MSNBC, these are people who didn't go away or shut down just because the movement politics had waned. They are true heroes.
For the rest of us, maybe we will remember our old activist selves. Maybe we'll remember what it was like to regularly staff the counter-protests at the clinics on Friday afternoons.
Maybe we'll remember what it was like to organize and stand up for what we believe in, as if it were the norm, and not something forgotten, in an old scrapbook.
Watch Rachel Maddow on MSNB in the evenings, and it makes you, makes me, remember the old days, of staffing the pro-choice tables in the student union on campus, bringing the speakers in, of marching and raising hell and pestering those folks with the oddly arched eyebrows and permanently angry faces protesting outside of clinics on Friday afternoons.
Maybe we forgot to be those people because the clinics disappeared, so we didn't see the protesters, forgot we still needed to fight back. I don't know why. I didn't stop being that feminist. But we sure did stop getting riled up over travesties that should have kept us riled up.
Some paragraphs in the article below just blew me away, so much so I have to bold them, call them out. Read them once. Then read them again.
For those who would like to think today's murder in church of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, is an isolated incident, here's the horrifying news: You are wrong. The pattern is clear and frightening.
In March 1993, three months into the administration of our first pro-choice president, Bill Clinton, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was murdered in Pensacola, Florida. That was the beginning of what would become a five-fold increase in violence against abortion providers throughout the Clinton years.
Today's assassination of Dr. George Tiller comes 5 months into the term of our second pro-choice president. For anyone who would like to believe that this is a statistical anomaly, a coincidence that doesn't portend anything, again, you are wrong.
During the entire Bush administration, from 2000-2008 there were no murders.
During the Clinton era, between 1994-2000 there were 6 abortion providers and clinic staff murdered, and 17 attempted murders of abortion providers. There were 12 bombings or arsons during the Clinton years.
During the Bush administration, not only were there no murders, there were no attempted murders. There was one clinic bombing during the Bush years.
One can only conclude that like terrorist sleeper cells, these extremists have now been set in motion. Indeed the evidence is already there. The chatter, the threats, the hate-filled rhetoric are abundant.
In the last year of the Bush administration there were 396 harassing calls to abortion clinics. In just the first four months of the Obama administration that number has jumped to 1401.
Battered women are at greatest danger of being killed by their abusers when they are most strong -- that is, when they muster the courage to leave. The same phenomenon may be true in the abusive political abortion debate. The pro-choice movement, specifically our abortion providers, are in the greatest danger of violence when we take power. When the anti-abortion movement loses power, their most extreme elements appear to move to the fore and take control. The murder of Dr. Tiller suggests that violence against abortion providers may be far more linked to the power, or lack thereof, anti-abortion groups have politically than to laws designed to increase penalties against such acts.
History has another disturbing lesson for us. The escalation of anti-abortion rhetoric plays a direct role in instigating violence. When anti-abortion groups ratchet up the rhetoric, they know exactly what they're doing and the results it will have.
Eleanor Bader, co-author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism, in an article in March for RHRealityCheck.org about clinics bracing for an uptick in violence after the election of Obama wrote, "immediately after Obama's election, Douglas Johnson, Legislative Director of the National Right to Life Committee, called him a "hardcore pro-abortion president." The American Life League dubbed him "one of the most radical pro-abortion politicians ever," and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life warned that Obama will "force Americans to pay for the killing of innocents." Americans United for Life, the Family Research Council and Operation Save America quickly joined the chorus."
Many in the pro-choice movement believed that the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) law, passed in 1994 in response to Gunn's murder, was responsible for reigning in violence against abortion providers. Clearly that is not the case. Based on statistics on violence against abortion providers compiled by the National Abortion Federation, even after the passage of FACE in 1994, there was still considerable violence and threats against clinic personnel, including six murders. As appears clear, the pro-choice movement has looked through rose-colored glasses, assuming or hoping that legalities can restrain terrorists.
In fact, it didn't abate after FACE, as we've seen. It was not until a comforting anti-abortion president did they calm down and stop the murder, bombing and harassment spree.
As a result of Bush's policies, recent reportings from clinics suggest that we may be seeing a surge in abortions.
That has failed to inspire introspection from anti-abortion groups.
That Clinton presided over the most dramatic decline in abortion rates
in the recorded history of our country left them unmoved. That Obama
has assigned his senior-most staff to the task of finding ways to
reduce the need for abortion has not protected clinics nor providers
nor Obama. Holder and his Justice Department should take note of the
chatter and move aggressively against this form of domestic terrorism.
The hate-filled rhetoric against Obama from the anti-abortion movement
is at unprecedented levels, even for this reflexively inflammatory
group. They refer to him as the "Most Pro-Abortion President Ever"
ignoring the fact that he is the first to extend an olive branch in
hopes that together we can make abortion more rare.
File this one under "How we raise kids today..."
Or under the "Child-bearing as disease" model of pregnancy.
Or just under "Neo-Gilded Age people still can't find enough to do with their excess wealth."
I love the headline the Jezebel site put on it, tho, and so I must quote it. I love how they invoke the feminist women's health classic, Our Bodies, Our Selves (I wish I still had that early edition of it. I wonder if it will ever be reprinted, for posterity? If the Boston Women's Health Collective is listening, please take note!)
Here's the perfect Mother's Day gift for your favorite surgically-enhanced breeder: My Beautiful Mommy, a picture book explaining plastic surgery to the under-8 set. Mommy is by Dr. Michael Salzhauer, a Florida plastic surgeon who tells Newsweek he was inspired to write the book when he saw parents coming into his office with their kids, who would become confused and upset when they saw their mothers in bandages. "Parents generally tend to go into this denial thing. They just try to ignore the kids' questions completely...With the tummy tucks, [the mothers] can't lift anything. They're in bed. The kids have questions." The hero of the book is named "Dr. Michael" and he looks like the dad in the Incredibles, all solid muscle and square jaw.
Newsweek ... gives stats about plastic surgery, including the fact that, last year, 348,000 women had boob jobs and 148,000 had tummy tucks, but what I'm wondering is who are these people?
There are so many articles about plastic surgery — women dying from Botox, women getting boob jobs for their weddings — but I barely know anyone who's had surgery at all. Sure, a smattering of post-grad nose jobs have occurred, but it doesn't seem to be this all-out country-wide body reconstruction/ self-loathing that the sheer amount of press makes it seem like. Is it because celebrities get so much surgery that it makes it seem like the norm? Or do I live in a fantasy land where women spend their money on new books, not new breasts?
The Obama wave was sweeping around me, and I just couldn't figure out why it was giving me the heebie jeebies (besides the fact that the guy is younger than I am).
I already laid out why at this point in my life, I think the most important thing I could do is take a stand as the proud feminist I have been all my life, to say Hillary Clinton will do a better job in the White House and will provide a strong enough dose of "politics as the art of the possible" than anyone else out there, in a previous blog post here.
But thank you so much to my feminist godmother, Gloria Steinem, for weighing in and saying the most important things that need saying, things that women in the 1970s and 1980s knew, but things that postmodern feminists have forgotten when they allowed postmodernism to sap their rage at the injustices in this world, ALL injustices, but NOT overlooking the injustices against women, which are in a major backlash of piggy chauvinism.
I'm loving how the media punditcracy is looking so incredibly stupid tonight, given the time between Iowa and New Hampshire. Good lord, they were ready to coronate Obama. Regardless as it comes out tonight, it ain't over until it's over.
Go Gloria! This is one for the anthologies. And of course, Go Hillary!
Women Are Never Front-Runners
By GLORIA STEINEM
Published: January 8, 2008
THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.
Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?
If you answered no to either question, you’re not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.
That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).
If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.
So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.
I’m supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule. I’m not opposing Mr. Obama; if he’s the nominee, I’ll volunteer. Indeed, if you look at votes during their two-year overlap in the Senate, they were the same more than 90 percent of the time. Besides, to clean up the mess left by President Bush, we may need two terms of President Clinton and two of President Obama.
But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.
What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.
What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t.
What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.
This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”
I may not look my age these days, and I should do better at keeping it a secret, I suppose. But screw that. I was radical young and now I'm older and feel it all the more (I've seen more ugliness directed at women, perhaps), I can't wait until I can hang out with the elderly League of Women Voters ladies as a poll watcher!
I am happy that this kind of information is coming out more and more. The trickle should turn into a flood, once the more corrupt folks get out of office and the appalled people who had contact with them start speaking up.
Cancer in the White House, indeed. And a Justice Department that's turned into a strong-arm wing for patronage and political vendettas.
What I really want to know is why no one is talking about this and K Street and other Bush Administration behind the scenes maneuvers as it appears to me: the blatant rebirth of overt machine politics.
Ex-surgeon general faults White HouseRichard Carmona says the administration 'simply buried' his scientific data on such issues as stem cell research and teen pregnancy.By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Times Staff Writer
July 11, 2007
WASHINGTON — President Bush's first surgeon general testified Tuesday that his speeches were censored to match administration political positions and that he was prevented from giving the public accurate scientific information on issues such as stem cell research and teen pregnancy prevention.
"Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried," Dr. Richard H. Carmona, who was surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, told a congressional committee. "The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation — not the doctor of a political party."
Early in the administration, when the issue of federal funding for stem cell research arose, Carmona said, he felt he could play an educational role by discussing the latest scientific research. Instead, he said, he was told to "stand down" because the White House already had made a decision to limit stem cell studies. He said administration appointees who reviewed his speech texts deleted references to stem cells.
Carmona's remarks were the latest in a series of complaints from government scientists about what they say are administration efforts to control — and sometimes distort — scientific evidence in order to support policy decisions.
NASA scientists have complained, for example, of political pressure to tone down warnings about global warming. Environmental Protection Agency officials have complained that technical information on such subjects as power plant emissions and oil drilling have been ignored.
Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently dissented from the administration's position by saying its restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research were holding back progress and should be lifted.
Scientists outside the government also have complained about what some call the administration's "war on science."
Why believe me? It's right there below in the words of the founder of Operation Rescue, the militant anti-abortion group.
It's about a political movement (and it's well-paid PR and marketing professionals) forcing its rhetorical framing devices on an uncritical and under-funded media class.
How Media Mistakes Fueled the High Court Abortion Ruling
By Gloria Feldt, Women's Media Center
Posted on April 21, 2007, Printed on April 23, 2007
[The] partial birth abortion ban is a political scam but [also] a public relations goldmine. ... The major benefit is the debate that surrounds it. -- Randall Terry
So said the founder of Operation Rescue, a militant anti-choice group that blockaded abortion providers, in 2003.
Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision (Gonzales v. Carhart) upholding the federal abortion ban is the fruition of that pubic relations goldmine. It is a travesty of language bought and repeated endlessly by journalists who were sometimes uninformed and sometimes just too lazy to get it right.
Indeed, the travesty of language around abortion is so pervasive that even Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the decision for the court's majority, in addition to using the inaccurate term "partial birth abortion," also referred to the "abortion doctor" repeatedly in the ruling. Why did he not simply refer to doctors as "doctors," or "ob/gyns"? If another surgical procedure were under scrutiny, would he have he referred to "tonsillectomy doctor" or "hysterectomy doctor"? Of course not. But those who want to take away entirely a woman's human right to make her own childbearing decisions have used the term "abortion doctor" for so long as an epithet that they have succeeded in getting even the highest court in the land to adopt their language.
Such bias is just the tip of the iceberg in the battle over what losing plaintiff Dr. Leroy Carhart has called "partial truth abortion." There is no such thing as partial birth abortion. The term will be found in no medical book. It was coined in 1995 by Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right-to-Life Committee, and former Congressional representative and current Florida appeals court judge Charles Canady explicitly to confuse, horrify, and deceive -- to manipulate language with the intent of sensationalizing the abortion debate.
An almost identical abortion ban was found unconstitutional by a different Supreme Court in 2000.
Now we have a landmark Supreme Court decision, built upon the counterfeit foundation of a made-up term that the media accepted and used uncritically, and that has propelled the highest court to issue a ruling permitting a law that at a minimum:
1. Does not provide adequate exceptions for a woman's health, which means that a fundamental legal principle of the primary importance of women's health has been overturned.
2. For the first time upholds a federal law that steps directly into the physician's exam room and tells him or her what medical technique cannot be used even if the physician's judgment is that it is the safest to protect a patient's health and future fertility.
3. Will not reduce the number of abortions but will over time, according to the doctors who know women's health best, cause an increase in medical complications, and possibly even deaths.
The public relations goldmine of those who aim for nothing less than to eliminate reproductive justice at all times from all women has paid off for them. Language, after all, has consequences too.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sums up today's grim ruling quite succinctly:
''Today's decision is alarming,'' Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent. She said the ruling ''refuses to take ... seriously'' previous Supreme Court decisions on abortion.
Ginsburg said the latest decision ''tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.''
Read the details of the decision below, and weep, especially for women whose health may be compromised by circumstances of their pregnancies.
Ban on Abortion Procedure Upheld by Supreme Court in 5-4 Ruling
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:30 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court upheld the nationwide ban on a controversial abortion procedure Wednesday, handing abortion opponents the long-awaited victory they expected from a more conservative bench.
The 5-4 ruling said the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act that Congress passed and President Bush signed into law in 2003 does not violate a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
The opponents of the act ''have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
It was the first time the court banned a specific procedure in a case over how -- not whether -- to perform an abortion.
More than 1 million abortions are performed in the United States each year, according to recent statistics. Nearly 90 percent of those occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and are not affected by Wednesday's ruling.
Six federal courts have said the law that was in focus Wednesday is an impermissible restriction on a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
The law bans a method of ending a pregnancy, rather than limiting when an abortion can be performed.
''Today's decision is alarming,'' Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent. She said the ruling ''refuses to take ... seriously'' previous Supreme Court decisions on abortion.
Ginsburg said the latest decision ''tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.''
She was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.
[And this was a STRONGLY split court. But for the two recent Bush appointments, it would not have gone through (there's the bone thrown to the religious right). Notice that ALL FOUR justices who voted against the ruling all signed on to Justice Ginsburg's written dissent.]
In 2000, the court with key differences in its membership struck down a state ban on partial-birth abortions. Writing for a 5-4 majority at that time, Justice Breyer said the law imposed an undue burden on a woman's right to make an abortion decision.
The Republican-controlled Congress responded in 2003 by passing a federal law that asserted the procedure is gruesome, inhumane and never medically necessary to preserve a woman's health. That statement was designed to overcome the health exception to restrictions that the court has demanded in abortion cases.
But federal judges in California, Nebraska and New York said the law was unconstitutional, and three appellate courts agreed. The Supreme Court accepted appeals from California and Nebraska, setting up Wednesday's ruling.
Kennedy's dissent in 2000 was so strong that few court watchers expected him to take a different view of the current case.
I should be watching CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 tonight... but I'm not time-shifted yet, and I refuse to miss my other Wednesday night show. Besides, they reportedly talked to Christie Keith, the author of the article below, so get the grim information there. SF Gate is usually the San Francisco Chronicle, but I don't know if this article ran in the print Chronicle.
It's quite sobering. I had to include a lot of it here, because the word needs to get out. [bold emphasis below is mine] Many many thanks to Christie Keith and others who are working to get the whole story in public.
And I don't mean to foster unnecessary hysteria, but I do have to wonder. How much of ALL processed food regularly gets scads of this thick gluten added as filler, or artery-clogging neo-pseudo-carbs that are really ground up grocery bags processed through China (is it cholesterol that causes heart problems, or the inflammation in savaged arteries that causes the bad cholesterol to cling to it?). I mean, how much fake food GUNK is just routinely dumped into fake agri-business "food" products?!
See, here's the thing that GETS me: all these people showing up these days with CELIAC DISEASE. What the devil is celiac disease? Entire families "allergic" to wheat, or wheat gluten. People have been eating wheat for centuries, just as they've also been drinking milk. Now that there's steroids given to dairy cows, all these folks are lactose intolerant. Is it the milk, or what's in it now? Is it the wheat, or the powder filler crap they add to it? Or is it a Northern European genetic pre-disposition, as they are always trying to tell us?
Even if some scientist tried to figure it out, some food industry-protecting government agency would demand mono-causality, direct single cause, single effect, lab results, and discount the whole idea because every single organism doesn't respond to the test constants and variables the exact same way. In the hands of a PR person, that's an opening big enough to drive a truck through.
I know there are scientists out there who would snort at my last paragraph above, and good for them, for seeing beyond such silly distortions of the scientific method, because evidently the scientists paid to demand direct causality are happy with the peculiar things going on with the food supply.
You know what I think it is? We are all turning into a pine forest, and here come the bark beetles.
YOUR WHOLE PET
Bigger than you think: The story behind the pet food recall
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
The March 16 recall of 91 pet food products manufactured by Menu Foods wasn't big news at first. Early coverage reported only 10-15 cats and dogs dying after eating canned and pouched foods manufactured by Menu. The foods were recalled -- among them some of the country's best-known and biggest-selling brands -- and while it was certainly a sad story, and maybe even a bit of a wake-up call about some aspects of pet food manufacturing, that was about it.
At first, that was it for me, too. But I'm a contributing editor for a nationally syndicated pet feature, Universal Press Syndicate's Pet Connection, and all of us there have close ties to the veterinary profession. Two of our contributors are vets themselves, including Dr. Marty Becker, the vet on "Good Morning America." And what we were hearing from veterinarians wasn't matching what we were hearing on the news.
When we started digging into the story, it quickly became clear that the implications of the recall were much larger than they first appeared. Most critically, it turned out that the initially reported tally of dead animals only included the cats and dogs who died in Menu's test lab and not the much larger number of affected pets.
Second, the timeline of the recall raised a number of concerns. Although there have been some media reports that Menu Foods started getting complaints as early as December 2006, FDA records state the company received their first report of a food-related pet death on February 20.
One week later, on February 27, Menu started testing the suspect foods. Three days later, on March 3, the first cat in the trial died of acute kidney failure. Three days after that, Menu switched wheat gluten suppliers, and 10 days later, on March 16, recalled the 91 products that contained gluten from their previous source.
Nearly one month passed from the date Menu got its first report of a death to the date it issued the recall. During that time, no veterinarians were warned to be on the lookout for unusual numbers of kidney failure in their patients. No pet owners were warned to watch their pets for its symptoms. And thousands and thousands of pet owners kept buying those foods and giving them to their dogs and cats.
At that point, Menu had seen a 35 percent death rate in their test-lab cats, with another 45 percent suffering kidney damage. The overall death rate for animals in Menu's tests was around 20 percent. How many pets, eating those recalled foods, had died, become ill or suffered kidney damage in the time leading up to the recall and in the days since? The answer to that hasn't changed since the day the recall was issued: We don't know.
We at Pet Connection knew the 10-15 deaths being reported by the media did not reflect an accurate count. We wanted to get an idea of the real scope of the problem, so we started a database for people to report their dead or sick pets. On March 21, two days after opening the database, we had over 600 reported cases and more than 200 reported deaths. As of March 31, the number of deaths alone was at 2,797.
There are all kinds of problems with self-reported cases, and while we did correct for a couple of them, our numbers are not considered "confirmed." But USA Today reported on March 25 that data from Banfield, a nationwide chain of over 600 veterinary hospitals, "suggests [the number of cases of kidney failure] is as high as hundreds a week during the three months the food was on the market."
On March 28, "NBC News" featured California veterinarian Paul Pion, who surveyed the 30,000 members of his national Veterinary Information Network and told anchor Tom Costello, "If what veterinarians are suspecting are cases, then it's much larger than anything we've seen before." Costello commented that it amounted to "potentially thousands of sick or dead pets."
The FDA was asked about the numbers at a press conference it held on Friday morning to announce that melamine had been found in the urine and tissues of some affected animals as well as in the foods they tested. Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, told reporters that the FDA couldn't confirm any cases beyond the first few, even though they had received over 8,800 additional reports, because "we have not had the luxury of confirming these reports." They would work on that, he said, after they "make sure all the product is off the shelves." He pointed out that in human medicine, the job of defining what constitutes a confirmed case would fall to the Centers for Disease Control, but there is no CDC for animals.
Instead, pet owners were encouraged to report deaths and illness to the FDA. But when they tried to file reports, there was no place on the agency's Web site to do so and nothing but endless busy signals when people tried to call.
The lack of any notification system was extremely hard on veterinarians, many of whom first heard about the problem on the news or from their clients. Professional groups such as the Veterinary Information Network were crucial in disseminating information about the recall to their members, but not all vets belong to VIN, and not all vets log on to VIN on the weekend (the Menu press release, like most corporate or government bad news, was issued on a Friday).
Many of them [pet owners] were also being driven by a feeling of guilt. At Pet Connection, we received a flood of stories from owners whose pets became ill with kidney failure, and who took them to the vet. The dogs or cats were hospitalized and treated, often at great expense -- sometimes into the thousands of dollars -- and then, when they were finally well enough, sent home.
For some, the story ended there. But for others, there was one more horrifying chapter. Because kidney failure causes nausea, it's often hard to get recovering pets to eat. So a lot of these owners got down on their hands and knees and coaxed and begged and eventually hand-fed their pets the very same food that had made them sick. Those animals ended up right back in the hospital and died, because their loving owners didn't know that the food was tainted.
The issue may not be that the system broke down, but that there isn't really a system.
There is, as the FDA pointed out, no veterinary version of the CDC. This meant the FDA kept confirming a number it had to have known was only the tip of the iceberg. It prevented veterinarians from having the information they needed to treat their patients and advise pet owners. It allowed the media to repeat a misleadingly low number, creating a false sense of security in pet owners -- and preventing a lot of people from really grasping the scope and implication of the problem.
And it was why Rosie O'Donnell felt free to comment last week on "The View": "Fifteen cats and one dog have died, and it's been all over the news. And you know, since that date, 29 soldiers have died, and we haven't heard much about them. No. I think that we have the wrong focus in the country. That when pets are killed in America from some horrific poisoning accident, 16 of them, it's all over the news and people are like, 'The kitty! It's so sad.' Twenty-nine sons and daughters killed since that day, it's not newsworthy. I don't understand."
In fact, Rosie didn't understand. She didn't understand that the same government she blames for sending America's sons and daughters to die in Iraq is the government that told her only 15 animals had died, and that the story was about a pet "poisoning accident" and not a systemic failure of FEMA-esque proportions.
Think that's going too far? Maybe not. On Sunday night, April 1, Pet Connection got a report from one of its blog readers, Joy Drawdy, who said that she had found an import alert buried on the FDA Web site. That alert, issued on Friday, the same day that the FDA held its last press conference about the recall, identified the Chinese company that is the source of the contaminated gluten -- gluten that is now known to be sold not only for use in animal feed, but in human food products, too. (The Chinese company is now denying that they are responsible, although they are investigating it.)
Although the FDA said on Friday it has no reason to think the contaminated gluten found its way into the human food supply, Sundlof told reporters that it couldn't be ruled out. He also assured us that they would notify the public as soon as they had any more information -- except, of course, that they did have more information and didn't give it to us, publishing it instead as an obscure import alert, found by chance by a concerned pet owner, which was then spread to the larger media.
All of which begs the question: If a system to report and track had been in place for animal illness, would this issue have emerged sooner? Even lacking a reporting and tracking system, if the initial news reports had included, as so many human stories do, suspected or estimated cases from credible sources, it's likely this story would have been taken more seriously and not just by Rosie O'Donnell. It may turn out that our dogs and cats were the canaries in the coal mine of an enormous system failure -- one that could have profound impacts on American food manufacturing and safety in the years to come.
Christie Keith is a contributing editor for Universal Press Syndicate's Pet Connection and past director of the Pet Care Forum on America Online. She lives in San Francisco.
OK, this is pretty frightening. I use one of the brands of dog food that is on the list, Nutro. While I mostly use the dry food, I often get 1-2 cans of the wet. Last I remember doing so was back in February, so of course I don't have those cans any more, to check to see if they're on the list.
My dog is doing OK, tho, or seems to be. But I am concerned because I'm still feeding her from the big bin of dry Nutro food, although I've mixed in a bag of another kind now. It's just such a freaky thing. Not sure if I should throw the dry stuff out or not. Anybody want to offer some advice? What would you do?
Rat poison found in pet food, official says
POSTED: 1:12 p.m. EDT, March 23, 2007
ALBANY, New York (AP) -- Rat poison has been found in pet food blamed for the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Agriculture and Markets said Friday.
The toxin was identified as aminopterin, state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said in a statement. Aminopterin is used to kill rats in some countries but is not registered for that use in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The officials did not say how they believed it got into the pet food. (Watch why devastated pet owners are suing )
The substance was found at a level of at least 40 parts per million in tested cat food samples, according to Donald Smith, dean of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Aminopterin, also used as a cancer drug, is highly toxic in high doses. It inhibits the growth of malignant cells and suppresses the immune system.
The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation was focusing on wheat gluten in the food. Wheat gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but the common ingredient could have been contaminated by heavy metals or mold toxins, the FDA said.
It appears that wild elephants around the world are going ballistic, worse than the attack of "must" written about in George Orwell's classic "Shooting an Elephant."
I can't read the New York Times story below without thinking once more of Orwell's prescience, and how much the story, this time of wild, not tame, elephants, echos Orwell's symbolic warning of the dangers of a slowly dying but deeply exploitive Empire, the British Empire as the slowly dying elephant.
The article cites stress and habitat reduction as possible causes for elephant craziness (male elephants raping rhinos?!), but these are large and highly sensitive mammals who, like whales, communicate by subaudible sounds (to humans) over long distances. I'm wondering if some of the stress on the elephants might not also be from the air-transmitted equivalent of Navy sonar on whales, sounds we don't hear that mess with the elephants' finely-tuned hearing. You know, like what would happen to you if you had a stuck and constantly buzzing doorbell in your home.
But mainly I just wanted an excuse to quote two of my favorite passages from "Shooting an Elephant." This essay is just too profound for words to explain.
"Shooting an Elephant," by George Orwell
For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically, and secretly, of course, I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos, all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.
In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time, it might have been five seconds, I dare say, he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.
I have to add one godawful Orwell quotation at the end of the Times excerpts. I don't know why I have to, because the Charles Siebert piece is excellent and very well-written, and it moves me greatly. But it just seemed appropriate to give Orwell the last word.
An Elephant Crackup?
By CHARLES SIEBERTPublished: October 8, 2006
All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a whole new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem. In the Indian state Jharkhand near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001; 265 elephants have died in that same period, the majority of them as a result of retaliation by angry villagers, who have used everything from poison-tipped arrows to laced food to exact their revenge. In Africa, reports of human-elephant conflicts appear almost daily, from Zambia to Tanzania, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, where 300 villagers evacuated their homes last year because of unprovoked elephant attacks.
Still, it is not only the increasing number of these incidents that is causing alarm but also the singular perversity — for want of a less anthropocentric term — of recent elephant aggression. Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in
South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in “a number of reserves” in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles. In Addo Elephant National Park, also in South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in more stable elephant communities.
In a coming book on this phenomenon, Gay Bradshaw, a psychologist at the environmental-sciences program at
Oregon State University, notes that in India, where the elephant has long been regarded as a deity, a recent headline in a leading newspaper warned, “To Avoid Confrontation, Don’t Worship Elephants.” “Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed,” Bradshaw told me recently. “What we are seeing today is extraordinary. Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relative peaceful coexistence, there is now hostility and violence. Now, I use the term ‘violence’ because of the intentionality associated with it, both in the aggression of humans and, at times, the recently observed behavior of elephants.”