Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Letter from California-January 4, 2004

Once you’ve lived in California for a while, you’re supposed to be nonchalant when you see somebody famous. If you see Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life at your neighborhood Macy’s, you’re not supposed to run screaming across the store saying, “Jo snuck out of her room every night and you never knew!” I admit, though, I still find it a thrill to bump into the famous. A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend and stood up to find the restroom only to see Kevin Costner at the table next to me. I managed to resist the urge to point and say, “Hey, you’re Kevin Costner!” but just barely.

So there you have it. I’m not as cool as people think because I like being in a place where the well-known do their thing. It may not be there anymore, but years ago, there was a building in Columbia, South Carolina with a mural showing the giant painted face of George Rogers, the Heisman-Trophy winning Gamecock football player. As a kid, I got the same kind of small thrill just driving by that wall, thinking that the best college football player in the country probably lived there, played there, and maybe sometimes brought a lawn chair out to that parking lot and stared at that wall while drinking a pina colada. I’ve always liked to be around people who’ve done big things.

As big things go, curing polio is way up there. Polio used to be quite a problem, permanently crippling millions all over the world until Jonas Salk came along. He developed the vaccine that wiped the disease off the map. I’d say that beats Rogers’ Heisman and Facts of Life put together. The Salk Institute, founded by the man himself and now doing work on everything from AIDS to cancer to genetic engineering, graces the town of La Jolla, California, just north of San Diego. While bumping into Crash Davis at a pasta joint is cool, being around people like this isn’t too bad either.

Some of my fellows Californians apparently don’t feel the same way. Led by an actor, a group called Last Chance for Animals, wants to see the Salk Institute stripped of as much grant money as possible. They oppose the use of animals for experimentation and want the Salk Institute to pay for its practices right in the pocketbook. Last Chance for Animals wants to stop the Salk’s research as a way to protest its mistreatment of animals.

One small problem: no one knows what any of these acts of mistreatment are supposed to be.

Not letting the facts get in the way of their outrage, the brave souls of Last Chance for Animals, have offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who can provide them with evidence that the Salk Institute has mistreated animals, as long as that information leads to the Salk Institute losing grant money. Apparently, they got an “anonymous tip” that the Salk was abusing animals. Chris De Rose, the leader and founder of the group, feels that research can always be done without animals as test subjects. He and his group feel that organizations like the Salk use animals to develop drugs because they are cruel and not smart enough to know all these “alternative methods” of testing without animals. De Rose, a long-time Hollywood denizen, apparently learned these methods during the making of the three B-movies on his resume whereas the 900 scientists on the Salk’s staff all happened to miss those days in graduate school. Maybe they were having pina coladas with George Rogers or something.

So let’s review: D-list actor starts an organization that tells scientists who cure worldwide diseases that they don’t know how to do research and accuses them of mistreating animals. Then they offer a reward if anyone happens to know if those same scientists mistreat animals. That seems a little backwards to me. It’s more traditional to accuse someone of wrongdoing after you know what it is. Old-fashioned, I know.

Is it possible that the Salk Institute is abusing animals? Sure, it is. Staffed by human beings, the Salk could be committing any number of dark deeds. Instead of curing diseases, they could be developing a horrible virus that turns otherwise normal people into huge Celine Dion fans. What a nightmare for humanity that would be! Seriously, though, if the Salk is doing something wrong, it should stop. No one wants cruelty to animals, but that doesn’t have to come at the price of stopping good research. If the polio research had been stopped, a half a million people a year would be permanently and painfully crippled. Somehow that doesn’t seem to register with De Rose, who compares his strategy to those “employed by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.”

That’s a lot to live up to for anybody. Maybe De Rose ought to start a little lower with his role models. Kevin Costner comes to mind.


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