Book Review: The Culling, Robert Johnson (2014)

Monday, January 6th, 2014

The Momentum of Folly

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

Young upstart Dr. Carl Sims is moving on up the food chain at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta – though not as quickly as he’d like. While visions of Level 4 Ebola research dance in his head, Carl is dispatched to Guangdong, China, in order to track down an emerging flu virus. What was to be a rather mundane and tedious assignment quickly morphs into a battle for the future of humanity, as Carl is thrust into a conspiracy orchestrated by his senior colleagues. Led by his own superior on the assignment, Dr. Jenna Williams, the scientists hope to release the 1918 “Eskimo” flu strain, thus “culling” two thirds of the earth’s population and saving the rest from impending environment collapse. It’s up to Carl to stop them – that is, if he doesn’t decide to join them.

Robert Johnson has an interesting idea in The Culling – but, for whatever reason (or combination of reasons), the finished product just didn’t do it for me. Johnson is an adept enough writer, and mostly keeps a quick pace, but it takes some time for the conspiracy angle to get off the ground. The book – or at least the ARC I received – isn’t divided into chapters, which makes the story feel as though it’s unfolding more slowly than it is. Johnson fills the book with facts and figures that are supposed to drive home the urgency of the situation, but which mostly made my eyes glaze over. (To be fair, I’m already convinced that humanity is headed swiftly off a cliff. A member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement – emphasis on “voluntary” – I can do Johnson’s “just two children” credo two better: I have none. So I didn’t really need any convincing, is my point.)

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Book Review: No Easy Way Out, Dayna Lorentz (2013)

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Lord of the Taylor

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. Also, trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

After a biological bomb is found strapped to the HVAC system at the Shops of Stonecliff, the mall’s quickly quarantined, with thousands of hapless shoppers and employees (not to mention a few police officers and research scientists) trapped inside. In the aftermath, a new society forms. Led by Senator Ross – on the authority of the US president, no less – the official government forces attempt to provide for the needs of the mall’s residents: food, water, clothing, hygiene, and safety – both from one another, as well as the lethal flu strain ripping a path of destruction through the captive population. Naturally, not everyone accepts the power of this autocracy: rebellion, coups, conspiracy theories, and general mayhem ensues.

Book one in the series (No Safety in Numbers) introduced us to four protagonists – Lexi, Shay, Ryan, and Marco – through whose eyes we saw the story unfold. Each section of the book equaled one day in the mall; each chapter alternated between a different character’s perspective. As with No Safety in Numbers, No Easy Way Out also covers a week’s worth of the quarantine: in this case, days 7 through 14. However, Lorentz breaks with the structure she introduced in the first book: sections are divided by day, chapters by time period, with shifting character perspectives throughout. Initially I wasn’t I thrilled with this change, but it quickly won me over: it helps move the story along at a quicker pace.

That said, No Easy Way Out is rather hefty at 470 pages (for the ARC; the “real” copy will run 480 pages); No Safety in Numbers is a slim 263 pages in comparison. By no means do I shy away from thick books (Stephen King is one of my favorites, so.), but in this case I felt like the story was slow and a bit bloated, particularly in the first half. Much of the focus in No Easy Way Out is on relationships: love triangles, shifting alliances, back-stabbing, and the like. The action doesn’t really pick up until the last third of the book, when a second flu strain begins dropping teenagers like flies.

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Odds & Ends: Flu Factories, Shelter "Pets" & JVM

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Here are a few links I’ve been sitting on for awhile. So much to discuss, so little time. Oh, the life of a B-list blogger!

In no particular order:

1. Flu Factories: Tracing the Origins of the Swine Flu Pandemic

Dr. Greger, whose Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching I reviewed several years back, was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest project, Flu Factories: Tracing the Origins of the Swine Flu Pandemic. Flu Factories is a one-hour presentation by Dr. Greger on the H1N1 influenza pandemic; it’s available for purchase on DVD, or for free viewing (in 40 parts!) on the HSUS’s website.

While I haven’t yet had a chance to view the entire video, if it’s anything like Bird Flu (and, judging from the chapter titles, there looks to be much crossover, particularly in the areas of biology and history), it’s bound to be both illuminating and terrifying. Although Dr. Greger doesn’t take an explicitly animal rights/vegan position in Bird Flu (nor do I know anything about his personal politics, his position at the HSUS notwithstanding), he does emphasize the role that factory farming – and, to a lesser extent, animal agriculture in general – plays in zoonotic diseases, including the influenza (avian and swine). If you can ignore the speciesism (e.g., in the quoted resources), it’s well worth a watch.

Embedded above is a clip from the presentation: Chapter 2, the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

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Faux news ain’t got nothing on these guys.

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Via United Poultry Concerns, I stumbled upon this article from (ahem) Lancaster Farming:

‘Real World’ Experience with New Poultry Depopulation Method

MANHEIM, Pa. — On April Fool’s Day, April 1, at 8:30 in the evening, University of Delaware Poultry Specialist George “Bud” Malone received a phone call. A turkey farm in West Virginia confirmed the H5N2 Avian Influenza (A.I.) strain on the farm. Could he please bring his equipment to foam the house for depopulation.

This was not an April Fool’s joke, but a chance for Malone and others to earn some “real world” experience with a new technology for depopulation — foaming a house.

At hand for depopulation were four houses — two with 10,000 birds, one with 3,000 birds and one with 2,000 birds. Through this experience, Malone said a lot of lessons have been learned for bringing this application to the real world.

Now, those familiar with bird flu and its consequences will pick up on the trigger words employed by author and poultry industry lackey Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade. Yet, those not schooled in the evils of factory farming and the threat of bird flu might not understand what exactly went down on that mystery West Virginian turkey farm. Charlene, much like Tony Snow, sure knows how to work the spin.

The words “killed”, “suffocated”, and “dead” aren’t used even once throughout the entire article; the closest Charlene comes to saying that 25,000 turkeys were murdered (due to shoddy industry practices, to boot) is the following impersonal statement: “With foam, consistency is critical to get the needed height to cover the birds and ensure death” – and this refers to the practice of foaming in a general sense, with no acknowledgment of the deaths of these 25,000 individuals.

Rather than killed and suffocated, they were “depopulated” and “foamed”. Factory farmers and their groupies sure have a knack for create euphemisms, don’t they? Seriously, who talks like this? If y’all aren’t ashamed of what you do, then call it what it is: mass murder, genocide (specicide?), or cruelty of convenience. Please. An outbreak of bird flu necessitated the eradication of 25,000 birds housed in four (four!) structures, and yet the words “kill” (or even “destroy”, which I detest for its impersonality) and “suffocate” appear nowhere in the story. Talk about disingenuous.

Of course, you can bet that Charlene and her ilk have damn well heard the maxim about slaughterhouses with glass walls

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Book Review: Bird Flu by Michael Greger (2006)

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Well, it took me long enough, but I’ve finally read and reviewed Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, by Michael Greger (2006). The review is posted on Amazon, but in the spirit of supporting independent publishing, if you decide to buy a copy, hop on over to Lantern Books to make your purchase. Dr. Greger has also made the book, in its entirety, available for free online: http://birdflubook.com – so really, you’ve got no reason not to read it.

Just to add to the review I posted on Amazon – a longer version of which I included after the jump – this is one of the rare books I’d recommend to anyone, veg*n or omni, ARA or anti. Greger does address animal welfare issues in the animal agriculture industry, however, this isn’t his main focus. Rather, he explains how our mistreatment of animals actually comes back to bite us in the arse, time and time again. For example, commonplace factory farming practices make livestock more susceptible to disease. Because of various anatomical and biological similarities that chicken and pigs (in particular) share with humans, these diseases reproduce, mutate and evolve in their avian and swine hosts until they’re capable of infecting people. Case in point: bird flu, which may very well cause the next global pandemic.

Given that Greger is the is Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for the HSUS and was previously Farm Sanctuary’s Chief Medical Investigator, I think it’s safe to say that he’s a vegetarian or vegan, with at least a strong animal welfare streak. Even so, he avoids calling for the worldwide adoption of veganism. His most radical suggestion is a global moratorium on (chicken) meat/egg production: cycle through the existing flocks of broiler and laying birds, and then simply stop breeding more in order to eradicate bird flu from all domestic bird sources. Implicit in the plan is the eventual return to chicken and egg production, albeit on a less intensive scale (read: no more factory farming and artificially cheap meat). Not exactly ideal by animals rights standards, but still too radical to actually happen anytime soon.

So, while the book isn’t explicitly an animal rights (or even welfare) treatise, it does make a very compelling case for the humane treatment of animals – if not for their sake, then for our own. And, quite frankly, self-preservation might be the only argument to sway some hard-core omnivores.

If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Greger will be updating the online version of the book; he’s already noted some important corrections, such as how Tamiflu cannot be readministered through urine (!). He also maintains a newsletter, “Dr. Greger’s Pandemic Updates”, over at Google Groups. And do check out Dr. Karen Davis (of United Poultry Concerns) and Dr. John Oxford’s (.pdf; Centre for Infectious Diseases) reviews, too.

And, of course, a video summary for the bibliophobic among us:

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my basement bunker fortress of solitude, rearranging my canned corn.

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Priorities, anyone?

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

“The prospect of a virulent flu to which we have absolutely no resistance is frightening. However, to me, the threat is much greater to the poultry industry. I’m not as worried about the U.S. human population dying from bird flu as I am that there will be no chicken to eat.

– The executive editor of Poultry magazine, in a 2005 editorial, as quoted by Michael Greger in Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching.

FYI: Review and discussion coming soon. I just finished reading it today, and want to do some additional research before jumping in. Great book, though – check it out online if you’ve got a chance!

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My very first shout-out!

Monday, November 13th, 2006

I received my first package of swag in the mail Friday, so here comes the promised shout-out.

Colbert Report Shout-Out

Sorry, I had to do that. Really.

Anywho – the good folks at Lantern Books sent me copies of Dr. Michael Greger’s newest book, Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (tbr November 15),

Bird Flu by Michael Greger

as well as Hillary Rettig’s recent release, The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way.

The Lifelong Activist by Hillary Rettig

Thanks, guys!

So far I’ve only had a chance to skim each, but they both look like good reads. Reviews forthcoming – I’ll post them here and on Amazon when I’m done.

BTW, if you haven’t yet, go check out Lantern Books. Their catalog focuses on a number of progressive topics, including animal advocacy, vegetarianism, nature and environment, and social thought. They also maintain a mailing list for animal advocates and NYC residents (sign up to receive notices of NYC events, and watch while this Kansan turns green with envy).

As always, if you’ve got a book, CD, movie, etc. that you’d like me to mention here and/or review – I like stuff. Especially free stuff. Details and contact info here.

An interesting aside on Bird Flu – one of my biggest gripes with the mainstream media is their (collective) bad habit of not following up on stories. I was recently considering this in relation to the whole bird flu scare (remember how the bird flu reports practically disappeared after 2004, even though the virus is still spreading today?), when I happened to spot a mention of the bird flu on the CNN ticker.

The general gist of it:

The U.S. government has approved the use of firefighting foam to kill chickens quickly if there is an outbreak of deadly bird flu in commercial poultry.

The Agriculture Department says water-based foam can be an alternative to carbon dioxide, which has traditionally been used to quickly kill large quantities of birds.

Foam can be used to suffocate floor-reared flocks _ chickens and turkeys raised primarily for meat _ to contain deadly bird flu, said APHIS spokeswoman Karen Eggert. Foam also can be used in outbreaks of rapidly spreading disease such as Exotic Newcastle, a fatal respiratory virus in birds, when state or federal officials deem it necessary.

And it can be used when birds are in structurally unsound buildings, such as a building damaged by a hurricane or other natural disaster, she said.

But in Canada, a senior official with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said this form of killing is not considered humane and Canada will not adopt the practice.

“The information that we have at this point in time suggests that rather than humanely destroying the birds, they in effect drown from inhaling the material, the water in it.”

The practice has other critics. Animal rights advocates argue against using the foam because it suffocates the animals, and they are urging authorities to use gases instead.

Lovely. And in their true lazy, ADD-addled fashion, nary a word of this was said on CNN. Apparently, only the intern who operates the ticker thought that widespread, government-endorsed animal cruelty was worth a mention.

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