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Friday, June 20, 2003

Intelligent 'Hunting' Leaps into the Fray

The life-and-death tangle of emotions and ambiguities tied to hunting is explored with rare intelligence tonight on the National Geographic Channel. The documentary next airs on Saturday, 6/21/03, at 4pm EST. It will replay again on Thursday 6/26, at 9pm and again at Midnight EST.

A killer speaks gleefully. He's pumped, juiced, still feeling the rush. "As soon as he passed that tree," he boasts, "bang, I let him have it."

The prey, in wooded rural New York, is a deer, fatally shot in the lungs, his head destined for the bushwhacker's wall.

"Nothing's better than this, baby," says this earnest trophy hunter in a documentary airing at 8 tonight on the National Geographic Channel. "This is what it's all about, right here. Life is good."

If you're not the deer.

The debate over hunting in the U.S. is "as dense and complex as the forest itself," reporter Jay Schadler notes in this superb new film produced by Robert Campos and Donna LoCicero. Unlike most discussions of this heated topic, density and complexity are exactly what "Hunting in America" is about. The life-and-death tangle of emotions and ambiguities tied to hunting is explored with rare intelligence here, in part because of Schadler's acute perceptiveness and sensitivity and the hour's avoidance of shrillness.

Compare that with the indulgent, self-serving burlesque of Steve Irwin, the Aussie who has become a poster clown for animal conservation while titling himself the Crocodile Hunter and professing to love the wild creatures he exploits for the camera. Animal Planet viewers got a heavier dose of him than usual during the cable channel's just-ended annual "Croc Week." And it wasn't pretty.

If Irwin's TV vamping and avowed affection for animals are in conflict, so are the emotions of some of the hunters shown tonight.

Schadler says 13 million Americans hunt. It's boggling to hear some of them express love and respect here for that which they destroy. Surely the greater gift is life, not death.

How to explain, also, the paradox of Bob Vitro, a hunter and taxidermist who kills animals that he wants to memorialize by stuffing them. Think of it, ending an animal's life with the intent of making it appear life-like as a wall decoration. "We're creating a real piece of art is what we're doing," he says.

Is there really as much beauty in death as in life? Schadler spots a photo of Vitro posing with a dead leopard across his shoulders like a huge shawl. Schadler: "As you look at that animal now in that picture, is it as beautiful dead as it was alive?" Vitro: "To me, it is." Go figure.

Just as another hunter tells Schadler he gets a bigger thrill from shooting an animal with a gun than with a camera, a seasoned female hunter speaks of "connecting with the outdoors in a way that you can't get when you take a hike in the woods."

And here, connecting in a Wisconsin field, is first-time hunter Tara Short, age 23, about to get her first kill. Up flies a pheasant from almost directly in front of her. Down it goes when she blows it away.

She equates this with Native Americans historically hunting for food: "They respect that animal. Thank you for giving up your life. Thank you for giving me the experience of catching you. Thank you for giving me the experience of being out here in the outdoors. Thank you for keeping me alive because you are ultimately how I live. I have to eat you."

Of course, with thank-yous like these, who needs enemies?

And surely the whoops of joy from Tara's female's comrades when her shot hits home indicate this is not about food sustenance. "She bagged a bird," one shouts euphorically.

Well, not quite bagged it, for it's still alive and twitching as she holds it in her hands. "It is beautiful, and that's what I came out here to do," Tara says. Yet obviously shaken, she adds: "Why can't it die faster?"

Another woman comforts her, hoping to ease her pain.

Her pain?

There is one point of view missing here, says Schadler. "The animal's."

So he's off to the University of Colorado to meet researcher Marc Bekoff, who believes animals experience fear. And he's off to see former trophy hunter Steve Hindi, now a prominent hunting foe who is sure animals suffer.

When Schadler asks for proof, Hindi can offer only his observations: "They cry. The way they struggle to live ... when they're dragging themselves by their front legs, pulling themselves by their front legs on the ground."

Unmentioned here are the worst of the worst, canned hunts -- opposed by most sports hunters -- in which caged animals are placed before shooters so they can blast them at point- blank range and claim a kill.

As Tara Short notes wisely, hunting opposition rings hollow when protesters have no compunction (which is sometimes the case) about wearing animals killed for their skins, or eating those treated horrifically, out of sight and out of mind, in slaughterhouses. In fact, the litany of grief imposed on animals by humans is virtually endless.

Although Steve Irwin is among the more benign offenders, it's still hard reconciling his self-proclaimed role as wildlife protector (based at the Australia Zoo in Queensland) with his television behavior as a daredevil buffoon who uses animals as props.

Neither dense nor complex, he's just out there.

"Steve Irwin takes the greatest risk of his life!" shouted the Animal Planet promo one evening last week. And there he was, crawling on a rock toward a crocodile in western Australia, while his wife, Teri, and their 4-year-old daughter watched. From about 10 feet, Irwin and the croc stared at each other, both bodies still, both mouths open, TV at its finest.

Next he was underwater at sea, hand-feeding a block of fish to frenzied reef sharks with scary music in the background, saying in a voice-over how nervous he was, because "make a mistake and your hand's gonna come off." If only his tongue came off. "This is not anything I would recommend, hand-feeding 'em like that," he told viewers who were thinking of hand-feeding sharks.

"Up next," he announced, "a sea full of snakes." One of which he pursued and, puckering up, tried to kiss on the mouth. "Whatever you see me doing with these sea snakes, never do," he warned viewers who were contemplating kissing sea snakes.

Then he was back with the crocs, dragging a young 6-footer onto a mud bank and wrestling it in the muck, a demonstration of love and respect that the croc didn't appear to understand. Irwin's voice-over: "Oh, he's bit me! That's it! I've been bitten! How's that for pushin' it for the limit? How's that for takin' it beyond all boundaries?"

Once again, he had shown disbelievers that crocs don't enjoy being taunted and tormented. Just in case some viewers were planning to do it.

All of this was a drum roll leading to the show's terrifying conclusion. "Coming up we risk our lives to demonstrate a famous crocodile fatality," Irwin announced. To show viewers at home what not to do, Irwin jumped into the water where he said a 24-year-old American tourist had been attacked and dragged under by a croc years ago. "Never do this!" he ordered viewers. To emphasize that point, Teri joined him the water and the scary music crescendoed.

"That was the greatest risk I've ever let my wife take, but with good reason," he said later. That reason: He's doing it all for us and for the creatures in the wild. What a risk. What a hero. What a benevolent champion of animals.

What a croc.

By: Howard Rosenberg, LA Times

Posted by Richard
6/20/2003 08:39:52 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Report by the E.P.A. Leaves Out Data on Climate Change

Via: The New York Times

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs.

The report, commissioned in 2001 by the agency's administrator, Christie Whitman, was intended to provide the first comprehensive review of what is known about various environmental problems, where gaps in understanding exist and how to fill them.

Agency officials said it was tentatively scheduled to be released early next week, before Mrs. Whitman steps down on June 27, ending a troubled time in office that often put her at odds with President Bush.

Drafts of the climate section, with changes sought by the White House, were given to The New York Times yesterday by a former E.P.A. official, along with earlier drafts and an internal memorandum in which some officials protested the changes. Two agency officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the documents were authentic.

The editing eliminated references to many studies concluding that warming is at least partly caused by rising concentrations of smokestack and tail-pipe emissions and could threaten health and ecosystems.

Among the deletions were conclusions about the likely human contribution to warming from a 2001 report on climate by the National Research Council that the White House had commissioned and that President Bush had endorsed in speeches that year. White House officials also deleted a reference to a 1999 study showing that global temperatures had risen sharply in the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion. [...]

Posted by Richard
6/19/2003 09:19:35 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Study Links Low Sperm Count to Ag Chemicals

Via: ENS

Following an earlier study that found that men in rural mid-Missouri had lower sperm counts and quality than their peers in urban centers, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher has identified and linked three agricultural chemicals to the problem.
In the study, samples from Missouri men with poor semen quality contained significantly higher concentrations of alachlor, atrazine, and diazinon metabolites than samples from men with higher-quality sperm.
"We think it is likely that men are ingesting these chemicals through their drinking water," said Shann Swan, one of the report's authors.  Swan said that researchers should investigate ways of removing the pesticides from drinking water and that safer alternatives to these chemicals need to be found.

Posted by Richard
6/18/2003 09:01:25 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Polar Bear Population in Jeopardy

Via: New York Times

Polar bears that traverse the floating ice between the Russian Arctic and Alaska are being shot in rising numbers by poachers on Russian shores, according to a new report by federal wildlife biologists in the United States, and the killing could greatly diminish the bear population if it is not slowed. The findings were released as the United States and Russia consider ratifying a treaty they signed in 2000 to protect the shared population of about 4,000 bears. The treaty would allow limited hunting by native populations but would clamp down on poaching under a plan developed by scientists and representatives of native communities.

Posted by Richard
6/17/2003 02:38:54 PM | PermaLink

Sonar Issue Heads for Federal Court Showdown

Via: ENS

A long awaited courtroom battle will begin June 30 to determine whether the U.S. Navy can deploy its Low Frequency Active sonar system, a new technology that scientists say blasts ocean habitat with noise so intense it can maim, deafen and even kill marine mammals.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is taking the Bush administration to court over the sonar system. Last year the National Marine Fisheries Service issued the Navy a permit to deploy the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) Low Frequency Active (LFA) Low Frequency sonar over 75 percent of the world's oceans.

The NRDC says deployment of the sonar will harass or injure up to 12 percent of every single marine mammal species. Whales, dolphins and seals have been using sonar for thousands of years for communication purposes and echolocation. Echolocation works by the animals sending sonar clicks to find their favorite prey species.

The U.S. Navy says the low frequency sonar booms are necessary to protect American ships and coastlines. Submarines are hard to detect, and the benefits include the ability to locate enemy submarines before they are able to launch any sort of attack.

Low Frequency Active sonar sends waves of low frequency sound or pings into the ocean waters. If these pings intersect an enemy submarine, they will rebound back to the source ship. The ship that carries the sonar system will also have a towed passive sonar system to detect rebounding signals from submarines.

Since sound travels extremely well in water, these pings at the sound level of 235 decibels will travel across entire ocean basins. They are louder than the noise made by a jet takeoff which measures 150 decibels at 25 meters distance, enough to rupture a human eardrum. According to U.S. Navy documents, marine mammals will suffer harm when subjected to a sound louder than 180 decibels.

Conservationists and some scientists are warning that LFA sonar may threaten the very survival of entire populations of whales. At close range, the system's shock waves are so intense they can destroy a whale's eardrums, cause its lungs to hemorrhage, and even cause death.

Two years ago, testing of a lower intensity Navy sonar in a mid-frequency range caused a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas. Whales from three different species died, their inner ears bleeding from the explosive power of the sonar signal.

Last month, a group of biologists off the coast of Washington state witnessed a "stampede" of distressed marine mammals as a U.S. destroyer operating a powerful mid-frequency sonar system passed. Over the next several days, 10 porpoises were discovered stranded on nearby beaches.

The NRDC went to court on this issue last fall, and a federal judge blocked global deployment of the SURTASS sonar system until a full trial could be held.

"Just why is this LFA system being deployed? It is only useful in nuclear submarine warfare," said Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and an early member of Greenpeace.

"The Soviets are not a threat anymore," Watson said. "Terrorists do not deploy submarines. None of the so-called axis of evil nations have submarines. This is simply one of those pork barrel, waste the taxpayers money schemes, but this time with the potential for serious global destruction to the world's whales and dolphins."

Posted by Richard
6/17/2003 09:03:36 AM | PermaLink

Mobilizing in Sacramento for Global Justice

Via: Indymedia

From June 23-25 in Sacramento, the US Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development, and the U.S. State Department are hosting government ministers from 180 nations and transnational corporate reps to lay out the US government and agribusiness' vision for the future of the world. A major grassroots mobilization and convergence is planned to confront the corporados. The event has been referred to as "a showdown for people to say no to a genetically engineered future, and to voice instead a living world vision, rooted in social justice and ecological sanity. It is also a chance to stand in solidarity with the people's movements and hundreds of peasant farmers groups from around the world that have called on social movements in the US to denounce and protest this meeting." Sacramento is the most important destination at the moment for anyone concerned about genetically engineered trees, foods, and fish, the rights of small farmers, and the environment and corporations controlling and commidifying the world's forests and food supply.

Organizers in the U.S. note: "The Sacramento mobilization is time to show that we understand it is not enough for those of us who live in the US to turn out in hundreds of thousands at the outbreak of a military invasion - we need to be looking for strategic opportunities to confront Empire on an ongoing basis to turn this nation 180 degrees and walk together in a radically new direction."

See: Portland Indymedia on Sacramento, Resistance is Rising, and biodev for more information.

Posted by Richard
6/17/2003 08:49:36 AM | PermaLink

Monday, June 16, 2003

Oh Canada! Stop Your Seal Beaters...

I watched on Canadian news television this morning that the Canadian government is very upset with the Humane Society of the United States after the HSUS took out a full page ad today in the New York Times blasting Canada for its 3 year support of murdering nearly 1,000,000 seals. Replying to the charge, Canada claims that its practices of seal hunting are "humane" -- sort of like when the US Pentagon claimed that its shock and awe campaign was done with great humanitarian consideration.

The HSUS -- the self-proclaimed champion of "humane" behavior in North America -- insists that Canada is fooling both itself and its citizens into believing that there is anything kindly about what is occuring on the northern ice fields. Contrary to the Canadian government's charge that only adult seals are slaughtered, the HSUS has documented that an astounding percentage of the seals who meet their doom at the seal beaters hands are immature.

Posted by Richard
6/16/2003 02:24:54 PM | PermaLink

Update: Depleted Uranium

Dr. Helen Caldicott is doing her best to keep the media's attention focused on one of the gravest military cover-ups that I can remember in recent history...the illegal use of radioactive munitions as weapons of war abroad (and in testing grounds like Vieques). At a recent conference on the use of the material -- a conference in which the Pentagon declined to send a scientist, it should be added -- experts once again cited the numerous indicators that DU is not safe for anyone, especially in large quantities strewn throughout Third World-type conditions. Interestingly, this article cites:
Experts at the Pentagon and the United Nations have estimated 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of depleted uranium were used by U.S.-led coalition forces during their attack on Iraq in March and April. This contrasts with about 340 tonnes used in the 1991 Gulf War.
But as recently, as the Christian Science Monitor's expose on the reality of DU in Iraq, dated 5/16/03 -- so 1 month ago, the Pentagon was spinning the issue to suggest that much less had been used in this war than previously and were touting figures of between 75-97 tons of bullets.

How many tons of DU were used in Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld? With answers like, "75 tons, give or take a couple thousand", how are we ever to trust this administration again?

Posted by Richard
6/16/2003 11:03:14 AM | PermaLink

Scientists Raise Alarm Over Sea-Mammal Deaths  

Via: Seattle Times

Nearly 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises drown every day after becoming tangled in fishing nets and other equipment, scientists say in what appears to be the first global estimate of the problem. Annually, the researchers said 308,000 of the marine mammals die unintentionally in fishermen's hauls. There are more than 80 species collectively known as cetaceans, or fishlike sea mammals. They range from porpoises weighing 100 pounds to the blue whale, the world's largest creature at more than 120 tons. Some species are near extinction because of centuries of overhunting.

Posted by Richard
6/16/2003 10:42:33 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Vegan Means Reading the Small Print

Getting vegan is an educational journey into waking up to the horrors of a mass-production culture that fetishizes the animal body, grinds it up and renders it obsessively, and then adds it to everything. The animal body is first and foremost a commodity, and in the fate of commodity capitalism, the destiny of commodities is only to be further transformed towards additional commodification.

Most vegans, or vegans-to-be, become quickly aware of some of the major uses of animal bodies -- the meat and dairy industries, the leather market, etc. But, of course, it does not stop there -- animals are in everything. So many vegans eventually get around to checking for the bone char in their sugar, the finishing process used to produce their beer and wine, the gelatin in their camera must read the fine print and do a little research at this stage of the game. It turns out that most companies aren't looking to jeopardize their profits by over-announcing the degree to which the animal body finds a home in its commodity.

The following story, then, will shock but come as no surprise -- it comes by way of a vegan listserv I belong to:
It never occurred to me that bottled fruit juices could not be vegan, so I bought a bottle of Minute Maid "Ruby Red grapefruit juice." It was painfully sweet, so I looked at the label to see what the sweetener was. I found it was colored with "cochineal extract." Now, I just checked the dictionary to be sure-- cochineal is "a brilliant red dye made by drying and pulverizing the bodies of the female of a tropical American scale insect, Dactylopius coccus..."

BLECCCHHHHH! Wow, Coca-Cola (which owns this brand) must really be banking on the illiteracy/laziness of the American people, because I don't think even most omnivores like to know that they're drinking crushed insects.

I was in a store today & decided to check out the red grapefruit juice by Tropicana, their major competitor. Theirs is colored with "carmine" which is -- you guessed it -- a "crimson pigment derived from cochineal." I guess this is their solution to the alleged cancer-causing properties of Red Dye No. 2.

When I was at Girl Scout camp, they used to serve sweet drinks (Kool-Aid or some such) that were referred to as "bug juice," both because it was wonderfully disgusting and because bugs like sweet drinks. I'd never have dreamed there was actual BUG juice.

Posted by Richard
6/15/2003 09:21:21 AM | PermaLink