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White Mischief: Are anthrax hoaxes intended to fray our nerves and exhaust our resources?


Powder Puffery

According to the Urban Legends archive, a warning that terrorists will carry out an attack on a mall this Halloween has spread faster than any other entry in the post-9/11 zeitgeist--a claim Nüz believes, having personally received multiple copies of the fabled message.

As an FOAF (friend of a friend) related tale, this email bears the classic hallmarks of an urban legend.

But with only 14 days left to Halloween, envelopes containing white powder (once a sign of high times) have suddenly become the Next Big Downer. Guvmint reaction to these fear-inducing packages has left the public feeling less than trusting--witness the debacles in Florida and New York where anthrax testing was delayed for days while workers continued to be exposed. And then there was Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson's claim on CNN Sunday that the fed med stash includes drugs to combat smallpox, whereas there are none according to the American Medical Association.

According to the Santa Cruz County Health Services website, "No unusual illnesses or deaths suggestive of bioterrorism have been reported in California, nor have there been any credible threats of bioterrorism. Therefore, preventive antibiotics are not needed for anthrax, plague, or any other bioterrorist threat diseases, and public health officials do not recommend prescribing them."

Just in case Santa Cruzers want to take matters into their own hands, former Air Force Gulf War nurse Joyce Riley offered these tips on a recent talk show: Boost your immune system with raw organic foods; give up sugar, alcohol and smoking; wash hands often; keep hands out of mouth; carry a 5 percent solution of bleach and use it to spray payphones and public bathrooms (which she says you should avoid when possible); don't shake hands; and stay out of cities. If there's a chemical attack, don chemical-resistant gloves and, if you don't have a gas mask, apply Vaseline to your face, use eye goggles, and breathe through wet towels.

Or burka. Indeed, all of the above sound to Nu-z like the first stages of "Life for Women Under the Taliban."

The U.S. Disaster Preparedness Institute (usdpi.org) adds this advice: Buy two low-cost disposable HEPA or N95 face masks and two pairs of latex gloves for each family member, bleach for decontamination, antibacterial soap, and two months of extra food, canned or stored in an airtight package or container. Get at least a three-day supply of Cipro (for use by your doctor, not you), and if there's a biological agent alert, stay home, seal windows with plastic sheet and duct tape, turn off air conditioning and heating, and turn on a HEPA-filter air cleaner.

Cheery, huh? According to Santa Cruz herbologist and author Michael Tierra, the best defense may be to boost your immune system. Tierra recommends astragalus root (external or in soup). For bacterial infection, Tierra suggests supplementing antibiotics with andrographis paniculata, which lessens the adverse effects of pathogens and makes drug-resistant strains of bacteria responsive again to antibiotics, plus goldenseal, echinacea, olive leaf and poke weed--which Tierra told Nu-z the military is investigating to combat bioweapons.

Local homeopath Willa E. Keizer claims homeopathy has been used successfully in previous centuries to combat epidemic diseases, and that homeopathy has remedies for smallpox, anthrax and plague. She is planning a free "Homeopathy for Traumatic Events" workshop at the Greek Orthodox Church, 223 Church St. in Santa Cruz, on Nov. 5. Call 466.0516; preregistration required.

Preparing for bioterrorism and nuclear terrorism: practical tips

Preparing for Terrorism
Best overall guide:

Anthrax as a Biological Weapon: Medical and Public Health Management
American Medical Association guide for doctors

Doctors for Disaster Preparedness
Nuclear War Survival Skills
Free downloadable book (Oak Ridge National Labs)

HSA's Response to Bioterrorism
Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency

Bioterrorism Internet list archives

Remember This

While Nu-z and other media monsters were fretting about anthrax-laced press releases Oct. 9, about 30 Santa Cruz area firefighters were in Sacramento participating in a memorial tribute for their 343 comrades killed in the WTC collapse on Sept. 11. Nearly 2,500 firefighters and 1,000 police officers from every corner of California descended upon the State Capitol, among them personnel from our Central Fire District, Boulder Creek, Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, Aptos/La Selva and Watsonville fire departments. Also on hand were members of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Dept., Capitola PD and the Santa Cruz Police Dept., including Chief Steve Belcher.

Cheered and applauded by thousands of spectators and serenaded by the bittersweet melodies of bagpipes, the police and firefighters in dress blues walked from the Sacramento River to the west steps of the capitol building, where Gov. Davis and a roster of other speakers, including family members of victims of the attacks, addressed the crowd.

"The line [of marchers] was literally a mile long," Owen Miller, assistant chief of Central Fire, told Nu-z. "It was a moving experience, to say the least."

Watsonville Battalion Chief Mark Bisbee said the public ritual of remembrance was, by turns, emotional and disturbing, but it did provide some sense of closure.

"There are so many efforts, so many grassroots efforts and billions of little fundraisers--but this was something that brought us all together," he said. Fire prevention secretary for Central Fire Debbie DiMaggio (and yes, she is related to Joltin' Joe; he was her grandmother's first cousin), said the Sacramento gathering "was a really stirring experience."

"I didn't feel any closure," she added, "but I did feel that we're taking the right paths for taking care of ourselves and ensuring people that we're here for them and that they're here for us."

Deal Breaker

City attorney John Barisone and Camp Paradise lawyer Paul Sanford have both been busy acting like lawyers--and getting their egos bruised in the process. According to City Councilmember Mark Primack, problems began Oct. 9 when the council met in closed session and decided to try settling the camping tickets issued to CP residents in August. The plan? Drop the tickets in return for community service--a deal designed to save the city time and legal effort, while giving campers a chance to do cleanup work, thereby publicly launching themselves as a conservation-corps-style camp.

Barisone relayed this message to assistant city attorney Jennifer Pousho in the 10 minutes between closed and open session and instructed her to call Sanford with the news. Pousho did--and outlined a deal with Sanford, a deal Primack says Pousho wasn't authorized to make. But Sanford says Pousho checked details of the deal several times during the ensuing negotiations.

"First, Jennifer told me the city was willing to settle if the campers performed 20 to 30 hours of community service," a figure Sanford queried, since camping tickets are $54. When Pousho called back with a revised figure of eight hours, Sanford asked whether camp founder Larry Templeton also qualified, given that he has two Fish & Game violations on top of his camping ticket.

When Pousho confirmed that the deal also applied to triple whammy Templeton, Sanford, who represents 10 people at the camp and "therefore can't pit one person against the other," asked if all the tickets would be linked. On hearing clients could negotiate individually, Sanford visited Templeton--who promptly accepted the deal. Sanford then called Pousho, who reportedly said, "Great! We have a resolution on Mr. Templeton. That makes one down and nine to go."

But 20 minutes later, Pousho called to say Barisone insisted all 10 agree, or there'd be no deal. Says Sanford, "But I'd already made a deal with Templeton, and therefore can't unring the bell. I'm sorry if she made an error, but I can't renege on a client."

Sanford adds that by trying to renege on the deal, Barisone has forced him into an untenable conflict of interest, thereby denying his other Camp Paradise clients the right to legal representation.

"I have an ethical responsibility to withdraw as attorney for all the defendants except Larry for the purpose of the litigation of the tickets," says Sanford, "because I'll no longer be able to give objective feedback to other clients."

When Nu-z tried to called Pousho, Barisone returned our call instead. "The council said if all 10 are willing to do community service, then we'd have a deal, their objective being to save attorney fees involved in going to court," Barisone said. But what about Pousho and Sanford's conversation?

"A miscommunication," Barisone replied. "She had a conversation with him, but it was erroneous. Obviously we don't have the ability to change what council instructs us to do."

Sanford calls Barisone's claim "outrageous."

"We had a firm and clear deal, and when you cut a deal you stand behind it: this isn't a murder case," said Sanford.

Nu-z finally spoke to Pousho, who, while not contradicting Sanford's account, said, "I think there was some misunderstanding. I believe it has to be all 10 for economic reasons: if we have to litigate, to gear up against one of them, then it might as well be all 10."

Meanwhile, Primack is still trying to find a graceful way to resolve the matter, perhaps by using discretionary funds to pay the campers' tickets--a cheaper solution than taking the matter to court.

"The council's offer to settle the tickets was a good-faith gesture," says Primack. "And we still hope to drop the charges in return for a small amount of community service, which will lead the way to a self-governed conservation-corps-style camp."

Meanwhile campers say if the city reaffirms its offer to Templeton, , the other campers will accept community service as a blanket deal. Trial date is Nov. 19.

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From the October 17-24, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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