Art and commentary by Kimberly Harris

Archive for January, 2011

Yes, Virginia, There is a Frankenfish  

A little girl accepts a lollipop from a strange fishlike man

Ginny accepts a lollipop from a Frankenfish

Oblivious to his unusual appearance and his disagreeable body odor, little Ginny eagerly accepted a big lollipop from the eccentric stranger who lives across the street next door to the AquaWhopper genetic engineering labs.

In recent months there, has been much controversy surrounding the FDA’s proposed approval of the sale of genetically engineered fish for general public consumption. The technology is being promoted on the grounds that the modified fish are nutritionally indistinguishable from wild species or conventionally farmed fish. Industry officials further assert that the fish are completely safe to eat and do not pose any threat to the environment, as almost all engineered fish are female and reproductively sterile. Even in the event that a few might escape from the farms, these captive populations are said to be incapable of interbreeding with other fish in the wild and therefore do not pose a threat to the natural biodiversity of indigenous populations. The industry also suggests that an ample supply of high quality farmed fish will reduce pressure on native species caused by overfishing.

Critics disagree with these positions.  For one, escaped fast-growing transgenic fish with voracious appetites might compete for food and habitat with native populations, to the detriment of the latter. Furthermore, environmental concerns aside, detractors are concerned that the FDA’s proposed approval does not presently contain any provision for labeling genetically modified fish as such. Therefore, a consumer would have no way to distinguish genetically modified fish from wild caught fish in the supermarket. The growth hormones used to produce hybridized fish, although ostensibly natural, could have unforeseen consequences with human immune systems that could be triggered by alteration of intestinal flora caused by ingesting bacteria associated with the modified fish. A study conducted in the UK in 2004 explored the possibility of the horizontal transfer of transgenes from modified foods to human intestinal microflora. While the study found evidence of the survival of some genetically modified DNA through the upper GI tract, it failed to demonstrate that the complete transgene had been transferred to host bacteria. Nevertheless, the study recommended that this phenomenon be considered at the time when the safety of genetically modified foods is evaluated for wholesale human consumption.

In a move that would appear to stifle transparency, the FDA is proposing to regulate genetically modified fish as “animal drugs” in order to protect the producers’ proprietary processes and trade secrets. The approval process relies extensively on the producer’s own testing and data, which suggests a conflict of interest whereby data could have been skewed and negative findings suppressed.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) recently announced that he was making it a legislative priority for 2011 to defeat the FDA’s proposed approval of genetically modified salmon, or at least to force disclosure on the packaging. This is considered by many to be a fundamental requirement that would protect persons who may allergic to the modified fish. Furthermore, it has been disclosed that modified fish are relatively low in omega-3 content when compared to wild salmon and have also been found to contain considerably larger concentrations of IGF1, which is a hormone associated with various human cancers. Information regarding these risks needs to be made available to the public so that they can make informed purchasing decisions.

Punxsutawney Phil Goes to a Birthday Party

A groundhog is wearing a party hat and holding an acorn

Phil is bringing acorns to the party

After it appeared that PETA’s mechanical groundhog experienced technical difficulties and proved incapable of discriminating between shadows on the ground and damp patches of soil, Punxsutawney Phil was given his weather-predicting job back, at least for this year.

I invited Phil to come over after he finished work to help celebrate my birthday on February 2nd. I will be making margaritas and he’s bringing the healthy snacks.

Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Weather for Seeds and Nuts

A groundhog sits outside his burrows holding a sign

Poor Punxsutawney Phil is out of work

Virtually everyone knows the story of Punxsutawney Phil, the celebrated groundhog who lives on a hill called Gobbler’s Knob in a small town in rural west central Pennsylvania. Every year on Groundhog Day, amidst much merrymaking and circumstance, Phil emerges from his burrows to check his shadow and address the assembled multitude for the purpose of announcing his weather prediction to the formally attired members of his inner circle, all of whom are proficient in Groundhogese and can translate on his behalf.

If on February 2nd Phil fails see his shadow it can mean that spring is not far away. On the other hand, in the event he does see it, the prediction is that six more weeks of winter are in store. For the last three years, Phil has predicted a long cold winter. We hope that this year will be different. That is, if Phil is allowed to perform his duties, as he faithfully has for the last 120 years.

You see, last year PETA successfully argued that Groundhog Day ceremonies were exploitative and that the event should be officiated by a more humane robotic surrogate. Suddenly, and without warning, Punxsutawney Phil found himself out of work and facing foreclosure. Insolvent and with few prospects for gainful employment in a declining economy, Phil has no alternative than to appeal to the charity of his followers and raise money in whatever way he can.

Illustration by Kim Harris
Story by Don Rudisuhle

Romanian Witches Save the US Economy

Three Romanian witches stand in front of the US Capitol

The Romanian Witches arrive in Washington

President Obama recently gave his second State of the Union address and announced a number of measures he proposes to take to help bring the federal deficit under control. However, given the structure of entitlements and the growing cost of servicing the national debt, it will be a daunting task to reign in spending to a level where a balanced budget can be envisioned for the future. To help achieve this objective, the President called on both parties to work together for the purpose of stabilizing our country’s finances and returning the nation to prosperity.

The deficit has been accelerating for some years, and although leaders from both parties have repeatedly called for spending cuts, government expenditures have continued unchecked and the national debt now stands at more than 14 trillion dollars and is rapidly approaching 100% of Gross Domestic Product. Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf recently cautioned that unless federal spending is cut soon, the country could tumble into a serious fiscal crisis. Heeding the Budget Director’s admonition and realizing that a tax increase in the middle of a recession would not play well with their constituents, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and fellow committee member Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) both called for a bipartisan plan to trim federal spending without delay.

Recognizing the extreme urgency of moving to stop the financial hemorrhage, the two legislators concurred that nothing short of a radical solution would suffice. They had both read a recent BBC news story regarding the considerable political influence wielded by the Romanian Witch Guild in its successful attempt to persuade that country’s legislators to abandon a controversial income tax that had been proposed for the purpose of boosting revenues by taxing several new categories of independent contractors, including witches, magicians, fortune-tellers and tarot readers.

The senators were cognizant of the fact that some years back there had been rumors that Nancy Reagan’s trusted psychic Joan Quigly had cautioned the first lady that spendthrift malevolent spirits were slowly possessing key government office buildings in Washington, including the halls of Congress. Although their presence was characterized primarily by harmless pranks, it eventually became evident that they were using supernatural suggestion techniques to render legislators powerless to vote against new spending bills and unfunded mandates to the states.

Acting upon the two senators’ recommendations and exhibiting extraordinary bipartisan agreement and collaboration, both houses of Congress overwhelmingly voted to provide supplementary funding to the United States Agency for International Development’s Regional Contracting Office in Budapest to travel to Bucharest to recruit the Romanian witches and issue them each a Personal Services Contract to come to Washington for the purposes of exorcising the Deficit Demons from the halls of Congress.

As soon as they arrived in the nation’s Capitol, the Romanian witches immediately went to work. Dressed in their purple ceremonial garbs that shield them from evil, the three set up their cauldron in the middle of the Capitol rotunda and proceeded to boil up a powerful brew consisting of swamp water from Foggy Bottom, dried Russian moles, soiled congressional laundry and old bones from long-forgotten skeletons secreted away in legislators’closets. They pronounced the requisite incantations as they circled the cauldron stoking the fire and stirring the thick toxic gruel. In a final gesture to seal the spell and command the spirits to depart the Capitol, the witches cast a mandrake root into the Potomac River. Within very few minutes, the effect of the witches’ spell was evident to all of Washington’s residents. In a scene reminiscent of the movies Poltergeist or Ghostbusters, the spirits were seen to depart en masse in all directions of the compass. The President and his Cabinet were in awe, and members of the normally restrained judiciary broke out into applause as the last spirits disappeared over the horizon. Within minutes, liberal and conservative legislators alike immediately saw the virtue inherent in fiscal restraint and responsible spending. Thanks to the Romanian witches, the United States was set on a course back to solvency and budgetary bliss.

Validating the long held principle that once government consultants are hired, they never go away, prominent members of Congress suggested since the Romanian witches had been so successful in bringing about a balanced budget, they will immediately consider Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s request that their contracts be extended indefinitely so that they can continue to produce spells that will keep inflation in check for the foreseeable future.

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