Friday, February 03, 2006


Gimme That Old-Time Police State!

Just to get a wee bit absurd here, I’m posting this, a column from the Seattle Times, about the current security-state mania. Like On-Star and the telephone-locating services, this is another step toward an authoritarian fantasy that George Orwell couldn’t have dreamed of.

Aren’t we lucky? Even our animals will be locatable. And all the documentation—how does any of this make the government smaller? Well, to be able to do it, it means we’ll have to eliminate all domestics programs except surveillance. Simple.

Friday, February 3, 2006 - 12:00 AM

Danny Westneat
What next: animal mug shots?

Because of 9/11, our national government has decided to issue electronically readable, standardized ID cards to every human being within our borders.

By 2008, you'll need the card, embedded with a radio-frequency chip, to board planes, open a bank account or use government services. The goal is to make it tougher for terrorists to move freely among us.

When Pat Showalter heard of the cards, the 71-year-old great-grandmother who lives in the woods near Snohomish shook her head and wondered what the U.S. was coming to.

She soon found out. They want to radio-tag all the animals, too.

"I tell people about this, and they think I've gone nuts."

She's talking about an extraordinary plan under way to register, and track, every livestock animal in the U.S. That's all the cows, horses, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs, even llamas.

It's called the National Animal Identification System. It seeks to assign each animal a 15-digit ID number and physical tag such as a radio-frequency device. So far it's voluntary, but it's slated to be mandatory in 2009 for any animal that moves from one property to another (i.e. if they're sold, borrowed, displayed at a fair, or just wander around a lot.)

It's well-meaning. If we know where all the animals are at all times, then we can quickly quell outbreaks of disease, such as mad-cow or avian flu.

But there are more than 10 billion such animals in the U.S. We kill 9 billion chickens a year. Keeping track of them all, even if some are registered in groups, will require massive government record keeping.

Another problem: It's insane. Especially for people who own just a handful of animals.

Take Showalter. She keeps 30 goats, 50 Muscovy ducks and "several dozen chickens, some of them feral," on her five-acre Zederkamm Farm near the Snohomish River.

She says radio-tagging them is doable, though pricey. But she'll have to file reports whenever they leave her land — such as when children borrow a goat to pull a cart, or she sells some ducks, or a coyote runs off with a chicken. She figures she won't have time for much else.

It's one thing to track animals at big feedlots. But goats in the woods in Snohomish?

This program will no doubt be softened. It's too burdensome and creepy to survive as advertised.

It has already radicalized at least one great-grandmother.

Showalter says she's never been an activist. She's a conservative, a Christian, a seller of goat-milk soap.

"But I absolutely will not go along with this," she said. "I refuse. I guess I'm just going to hold out up here until the government comes to get me."

This is about more than this one program. It's about who we're becoming. That we're considering radio-tagging all our people and animals, even if it's to fight terrorism and disease, is a mark of a country gone round the bend with fear.

As Showalter puts it:

"We're looking over our shoulders so much, afraid of something terrible happening, that we can't see that this is no way to live."

Danny Westneat's column

appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?