Hold the Mochaccino

Das Boot

Date Rape Panic


Spaniel on a Leash

Wobbly Nightmare for the WTO

Hold the Mochaccino

While most environmentalists, union members, and progressives sat on their hands during the Clinton years, last week’s WTO demonstrations in Seattle showed they still have some fight left.

The people who stopped the session in its tracks were mostly from the newer, more aggressive grassroots groups—Rainforest Action Network, Earth First, the Black Bloc (anarchists from Oregon), members of the Sea Shepherd darting around in slickers, and Food Not Bombs, a group that has been feeding the homeless in San Francisco. Many of these activists underwent training in nonviolent civil disobedience in British Columbia last summer by the Ruckus Society, itself run by an ex-Yippie.

These activists were galvanized by two main leaders: David Foster, director of Steelworkers District 11 in Minnesota, and David Brower, 87, very ill but still a towering symbol of what the environmental movement might yet become. Brower and Foster charged Seattle’s police with provocation and violence, and focused on Clinton’s duplicity. (The opportunism of the president knows no bounds. Having spent most of the decade fighting for free trade against union and public-interest groups in Congress, Clinton in Seattle urged the WTO to heed the protesters in the streets.) Foster and Brower want to bring unions and environmentalists together in a new Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment.

Brower deserves special mention. Time and again he has pulled the sniveling environmentalists out of the fire and braced them to fight on. It was Brower who transformed the Sierra Club from a social society during the 1950s into the nation’s most powerful environmental organization. He led the fight against a dam in the Grand Canyon and the movement to save Alaska’s forests, argued for more national parks, and fought nuclear power. His confrontational approach resulted in his ouster from the Sierra Club in 1969. He thereupon set up Friends of the Earth and later Earth Island Institute, which has been trying to establish protection for whales, sea turtles, and dolphins. Brower remains the most visionary and radical environmentalist, and his latest move toward labor could well initiate a powerful and popular new political alliance.

Submariner Would Give Pregnant Women . . .

Das Boot

Submarine officer Clinton C. Owen, writing in David Hackworth’s online Voice of the Grunt last week, threw cold water on the idea of women serving in subs, and excoriated in particularly harsh rhetoric the possibility that women might become pregnant while encapsulated beneath the waves.

“I have been a submariner for 20 years,” wrote Owen, “and I am not against women serving in any billet for which they can compete on the basis of qualification: straight up, no exceptions, no excuses, let the best person get the job. However, for a variety of reasons, very few women would make it into the submarine force. . . . The problems are not in hardware or ship design, but in attitudes, discipline, and prejudices built into our society. . . . There is no privacy on submarines, so don’t expect any. If you need privacy while you dress, undress, eat, sleep, shower, or relieve yourself, don’t volunteer for the submarine force!” Owen confided that “hormones and hanky-panky will always be a factor,” but said they could be controlled by discipline and professionalism.

But when it came to the prospect of pregnant women aboard subs, Owen lost it. “The answer is simple: Don’t allow it! Any female assigned to a ship or other deployable unit should receive a direct order not to become pregnant while attached to such a unit, and should acknowledge in writing that she understands the order. If we can all be randomly tested for various illegal drugs, then women can be randomly tested for pregnancy. A woman who gets pregnant while assigned to a ship could (and should) be charged under the UCMJ [Universal Code of Military Justice] in at least three areas: violating a direct order, dereliction of duty, and/or malingering. If a woman wants to be a steely-eyed underwater killer then she should be prepared to put off being a mother.”

Sterile Lies

Date Rape Panic

Last week’s wildfire Web rumor that frat-boy date rapists were stalking their prey with a new concoction that puts their pickup to sleep and then sterilizes her to remove evidence that could be used in a paternity suit turned out to be a hoax. But not before thousands of women bombarded rape crisis centers with frantic calls and and passed on warnings through e-mail chains stretching around the world.

The rumor started when women on college campuses began receiving an e-mail chain letter warning that a new date-rape drug called Progesterex had hit the streets. “Any woman that takes it will not have children ever in her life,” the e-mail cautioned, adding that the pill was “being used” at frat parties at Columbia and Penn State.

According to the message, one dose of the white pill, supposedly used by veterinarians to sedate horses, could leave a woman infertile for life. After Columbia University’s Q&A Web health service, Go Ask Alice, was inundated with queries, staffers consulted pharmacists, veterinarians, and researchers. None had ever heard of Progesterex or any drug that remotely fit the description. Among those consulted were the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine, the American Veterinary Medical Association, as well as the veterinary divisions at Cornell, Penn State, and the University of Saskatchewan.

So, for now, the threat of a date-rape drug is for the most part limited to Rohypnol, little white pills also referred to as “roofies,” “roachies,” “roofenol,” “La Rocha,” “rope,” and “the forget pill.” This surgical anesthetic (manufactured by Hoffmann-La Roche, from which some of the drug’s street names are derived) is a hypnotic sedative that causes loss of inhibitions as well as weakness, drowsiness, and memory loss. It is the last effect that accounts for the total confusion of victims when they wake up alone and naked in a strange room or hotel.

But there is some good news. Hoffman-La Roche has recently modified Rohypnol to make it more recognizable in drinks. The new pills turn drinks bright blue. If the drink is dark, look for a cloudy appearance. They also take longer to dissolve and form chunks. In both its new and old form, Rohypnol can be picked up in urine tests for up to about three days, although the sooner the test, the more accurate the results. (Of course, the most common of all date-rape drugs is still alcohol.)

There is no question that rape is a pervasive issue for college women. A major research study (Koss, M., “Scope of Rape,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology) has shown that one in eight college women is the victim of rape during her college years, and one in four is the victim of attempted rape. Eighty-four percent of the women know the men who raped them, and 57 percent were on dates. If these numbers seem high, it is because the silence that surrounds rape is astonishing. Ninety-five percent of women did not report being raped to police or college officials, and 42 percent told no one at all.

British Syndrome

Bargain-Basement Nukes

After years of fruitless lobbying, British industry has come up with a surefire scheme to make money off the U.S.’s rapidly aging nuclear power plants, which have become an albatross around the electric utilities’ plans for a sparky, deregulated future.

The plan is simple. Buy up the old U.S. plants at bargain-basement rates (a plant that cost taxpayers $4.2 billion goes for as little as $20 million). Then the Brits cut back operations—running the plant into the ground, reducing safety and health standards, and taking advantage of loopholes in U.S. laws that allow compensation for plants that have been stripped down and decommissioned.

This has led to the rise of a company called Amergen, the U.S. affiliate of once government-owned British Energy. Through different combines, including one with Philadelphia Electric Co., Amergen currently controls 20 nuclear reactors, or about 20 percent of U.S. nuclear-generating capacity. And that’s just the beginning. British Energy’s aggressive takeover plans in Britain and Canada could end up with the parent utility controlling 10 percent of the world’s entire capacity.

Spaniel on a Leash

“Is there anything more ridiculous in the news today than the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle? I doubt it. These anti-WTO protesters—who are a Noah’s ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix—are protesting against the wrong target with the wrong tools.” —Thomas Friedman, December 1, The New York Times

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi