Monkey Love

The blarney-lovin' buzzard's craw is full o' scuttlebutt from Covance's monkeyshines, trigger-happy Tasers, and Jello Biafra's Stinkweeds wig-out

Ever since drug-testing colossus Covance announced its Chandler invasion, this selfish sandpiper's generally sided with the biotech behemoth, which does federal-mandated animal testing of drug compounds headed to market. Sure, this feathered fiend cares for the animal kingdom's other species. But if it comes down to a choice between a drug that might salve this pecker's prostate, say, and a primate that has to be tested on and perhaps even offed in the process, well, then, nighty-night Curious George.

Initially, Covance plunked down $8 million for a 38-acre property on Chandler's Price Road Corridor, and filed an application in July to rezone it, an application that was facing months of scrutiny and a final vote before the Chandler City Council. PETA and a local organization called Citizens Against Covance vowed a fight. If the rezoning was approved, they promised to force a referendum.

To push their cause, anti-Covancers mass-e-mailed links to horrific-looking video clips taken undercover at Covance's Vienna, Virginia, compound. They said the video proved Covance abuses its primates, and truly, the footage is rough to eyeball. But so would footage of cows and pigs being slaughtered, and only hard-core veg-heads out there are suggesting that we all start, uh, eating bird seed.

Another interpretation of that same PETA video is that the restraints used are necessary so the primates aren't harmed while experimental doses are applied. Plus, it doesn't look like it's the easiest thing in the world to stick a tube down banana boy's throat and fill him full of pink goo. Covance was investigated by the USDA following the release of the footage, which PETA obtained by infiltrating the facility. The result was a number of citations, and an $8,720 fine, a slap on the monkey paw for a company that makes more than one billion smackers a year.

The video wasn't the only propaganda bullet in CAC's ethical AK-47. There's Covance's own gruesome history, which involves a 1989 outbreak of an Ebola virus strain in a Reston, Virginia, compound owned by a company called Hazelton Laboratories that eventually became Covance. The scare's the subject of Richard Preston's 1994 best seller The Hot Zone.

Just saying the word "Ebola" frightens the crap out of this cowardly cockatoo, but Ebola-Reston, as this version is called, is essentially monkey Ebola. Workers at the Reston facility developed antibodies to Ebola-Reston, but no symptoms. Covance's PR flack Camilla Strongin of the Symington Group (that's Symington as in ex-guv Fife Symington, baby) points out that the Reston lab was a quarantine facility, from which primates would be shipped out after receiving a clean bill of health.

"The Chandler facility will not be a quarantine facility," Strongin explained to this avian. "We have a quarantine facility that's in a very remote location, not in Arizona."

Revelations of tuberculosis outbreaks at other Covance sites have brought rebuttals from Covance that transmission from monkey to human is a rarity. But the fun doesn't stop at TB! There've been recent allegations by PETA and CAC that Covance performed post-mortems on primates while still alive. And there are concerns about Covance's plans to build an incinerator, and what effect the Covance facility will have on Chandler's wastewater.

From jump, ya gotta wonder how smart it was of Covance to hire on a partner of a PR firm bearing the name of an ex-felon (yeah, we all know Slick Willy pardoned Symington's sorry ass, yadda, yadda, yadda). Strongin herself is known for repping such classy outfits as the Arizona Department of Corrections and pro-tobacco-industry propositions. Charm-school grad, she's not.

In spite of Strongin's assistance, Covance finally decided to forgo the Price Road Corridor spot and buy a larger, 50-acre parcel that's already zoned industrial at the Chandler Airpark, essentially outmaneuvering the animal-rights activists in the process, leaving them no forum with the city, no chance for a referendum.

"Everything Covance submits from this point on to the city will be for staff-level review," Chandler mouthpiece Dave Bigos told The Bird. "There's no decision-making on the part of the planning and zoning commission or the city council."

Bigos related that Covance has yet to submit building plans. But if the company wants an incinerator to dispose of juiced-up primate and rat bodies, as is expected, it'll have to acquire a permit from Maricopa County, which'll regularly inspect it. Bigos said the city's looking into the issue of drugged-up wastewater, though he claims it's no big deal.

"We're talking about parts per trillion," he stated. "It's pretty minute; we're not too worried about it."

According to Bigos, angry e-mails from anti-Covancers have tapered off somewhat, yet CAC's crowd continues to show up at city council meetings and voice its concerns during open mic time.

On Saturday afternoon, this terrible tweeter flew down to Chandler Fashion Center, where anti-Covancers convene every other week or so, in front of the P.F. Chang's at the intersection of Metro and Chandler boulevards. Maybe it was the chill in the air, or the fact that no one really wants to stand outside holding placards for two and a half hours, but there were only about a dozen activists present.

Protesters carried signs reading "Covance Blood Money for Chandler," "Honk If You Say 'No Covance,'" and The Bird's fave, "Imagine Your Body Being Used for Science While You're Still In It." Save for one or two moon-howlers, these were not the wackos you might expect. Some opposed all animal testing, but they were all united in their hatred of Covance.

"If they didn't have the violations they did, it might be more acceptable," asserted Ken Edwards, a well-spoken thirtysomething who regularly fires off anti-Covance e-grams from his home in north Phoenix. "It's just an unethical company. It would be like inviting Enron here, or Halliburton."

Fellow CACer Amy Green of Queen Creek concurred. "Chandler's such a nice place that I don't think anyone would want this type of facility there," opined the tall, brown-haired gal.

Covance's new property purchase'll likely make the activities of anti-Covancers like Edwards and Green moot, unless the company does itself in with the help of its rep and its less-than-stellar PR flack. So what The Bird's saying is, the CACers still have hope of playing David to Covance's dumb-ass Goliath. Covance is its own worst enemy.

Tasered Talons

This clumsy cormorant's scratching Tasers off its Xmas list after hearing that the infernal contraptions might go off on their own and impale this toucan's dainty talons.

That's right, the "electronic control device" made by Scottsdale company Taser International and used by the po-po to pacify violent yahoos has a quirk few know about: A small burst of static electricity can make it blast like an undercover NY cop at a Queens strip club.

The problem? The hair-trigger needle cartridges that attach to the front of the device like a silencer on a gun barrel. The cartridges are found on the X-26 model, the most current Taser product sold.

Normally, someone has to pull the Taser's trigger to make the two steel, barbed needles inside the cartridge fly out, propelled by compressed nitrogen. When the needles hit the target, the attached wires deliver 50,000 volts to the Tasee and prompt the "Holy-shit-I-think-I'm-dying" response desired by Five-O.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officers began noticing the glitch after spare cartridges kept going off in their pockets. (Taser admits in a training bulletin that static shock from a fingertip can also trigger the device.) That's a little too close to the naughty bits, if you ask this pain-averse parakeet.

This spring, DPS Detective Charles Galarneau learned the hard way about this shocking flaw, impaling his digits by picking up a cartridge while he was teaching a class on Tasers.

Galarneau says he forgot the cardinal rule of guns, Tasers and Taser cartridges — never point them at anything you're not willing to put holes in. Fortunately, the needles didn't go in very far, and they weren't charged with electricity, not being attached to the gun.

"I was looking at my fingers going . . . 'That's pretty cool,'" Galarneau told this feathered beast. He hoped The Bird would not use his comments about the incident.

"I got enough ribbing over it," he said.

Touchy, are we, Detective? Betcha weren't giving anyone the finger after that misfire. Of course, you got to point out the problem to your superiors. You're always the type to lend a hand, when the department needs you, Detective. Even if the accident killed your appetite for finger food.

After the incident, DPS put a warning about Tasers and static electricity in its agency newsletter. Officer Jason Yeager, DPS's Use of Force Coordinator, thinks it's possible the barbs could be discharged even while the cartridge is attached to the Taser unit, and that officers should be careful.

Good call, Yeager. With those powers of analysis, you may make detective like Galarneau one day. Just learn from his error, and don't let your fingers do the walkin', okay?

Jello Baby Man

There's nothing this rumor-mongering mallard relishes more than a bit of grapevine prattle, so it flapped on downtown to the most recent First Friday to scout the latest scuttlebutt with the assorted loose-lipped artist types on hand.

One such gossipy gabber was Kimber Lanning, the pintsize alt-culcha queen who owns boho gallery/performance space Modified Arts and indie record outlet Stinkweeds. Lanning told this rancorous rooster about a recent kafuffle she had with former Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra when the legendary punk provocateur stopped by Stinkweeds last month for a meet-and-greet session.

Lanning bellyached that Biafra — who was in town for a spoken-word gig at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe on November 14 — acted like a punker prima donna during the Stinkweeds event earlier that same day, doling out bitchy tongue-lashings about how the shop sold used records.

When one female fan approached Biafra to autograph a sealed used copy of the Dead Kennedys' Plastic Surgery Disasters LP she purchased at Stinkweeds, Lanning claims the spoken-word artist got his punk panties in a twist.

"He started to freak out about how he'd never buy a sealed copy of a used record, and said there was probably a warped Anne Murray record inside," kvetched Lanning. "He said he'd never buy a used record from me. I was floored; I couldn't believe this was happening."

According to Lanning, Biafra took umbrage at how she mixed new and used records together in her bins, and began dictating how her record store should be run.

The pair also butted heads when Biafra accused Lanning of pilfering from a wad of tee shirts he brought along in a garbage bag to sell. The Stinkweeds owner chalks this up to a misunderstanding, as she was attempting to help Biafra sell his merch while he interacted with fans. She even allowed him to peer behind her front counter and paw through some promotional tees until he was satisfied she wasn't a closet klepto.

Biafra reportedly turned uppity when Lanning interrupted a confab with fans to inform him he was late for his Marquee gig. She says she was just trying to be helpful by making a map to the concert venue and informing him it would take him at least 30 to 45 minutes to get across town during rush hour.

The bilious Biafra departed in a huff. Lanning's still stunned as to why the legendary punker, who's championed the cause of D.I.Y. business owners for years, would treat her this way.

"I'm not used to having anyone question my integrity about things like stealing tee shirts," Lanning sniffed. "To have him do it was bizarre and outrageous."

When reached through his record label Alternative Tentacles, Biafra was more apologetic than Michael "Kramer" Richards with Jesse Jackson behind him, foot-in-ass.

"Basically, I'm really sorry that she misinterpreted some of my jokes in the way that she did," explained the contrite punk god. "I was kidding around, and if she misunderstood that, I'm really sorry."

Biafra went on to praise Lanning and Stinkweeds, practically singing "Kimber Über Alles" in the process. He said he didn't recall any accusations about stealing shirts, but that if there was miscommunication, he begged forgiveness.

"If I seemed at all hyper or angry, again, I'm sorry, I got to the in-store late," Biafra said. "If I was mad at anyone, it was at myself. I knew I was cutting it close to get to the sound check on time."

Sounds like Biafra was a bit frazzled, and desperately in need of some R 'n' R. Indeed, to borrow a line from the great man himself, "What you need, my son . . . is a holiday in Cambodia/Where people dress in black . . ."

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