Fear Food Nation 

Buffet terrorists and restaurant biocops; Chron thinks Norr doth protest too much; Longtime Berkeley Pub Crawl flops -- the answer's as simple as ABC.

Combine the words "food" and "bioterror" in these parts, and most people will think you're talking about a Big Mac. Yet in this safety-sealed, post-9/11, post-anthrax-scare world of ours, public health officials are focusing hard to make sure the only salmonella we eat is the stuff spread by sloppy minimum-wage food-peddlers -- not terrorists.

Contra Costa County has become ground zero in the fight against food terrorism in the Bay Area. The county's environmental health division, which inspects restaurants and grocery stores, now has its very own $80,000-a-year bioterror field inspector, thanks to new federal counter-terrorism dough.

Environmental health honcho Ken Stuart says his division is the first in the Bay Area to hire a full-time biodetective focused on food safety. In fact, county food inspectors are working on a pilot project with the food and drug branch of the state Department of Health Services. The goal: to develop a bioterror-safety checklist for restaurants and grocery stores.

Stuart has a list of twenty potential food outlets he plans to ask for input about the checklist's usefulness. Neither state nor county officials would send Bottom Feeder a copy because, well, they don't want those pesky terrorists to get any ideas. Stuart, however, did offer that a lot of it will deal with things such as surveillance -- is there an employee guarding the buffet or produce section? -- and checking the credentials of food delivery drivers. (Since, in the wrong hands, that Safeway.com van might become a deadly weapon.)

Stuart acknowledges it all sounds a wee bit paranoid. Food-tampering, after all, isn't a particularly efficient way of conducting a terrorist attack. The only confirmed case anyone can seem to remember was when cult followers of Oregon's Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh sprayed salmonella on a town's salad bars to make nonbelievers too sick or scared to vote. The culprits in that case had hoped to ensure victory for a slate of cult members running for local office.

Nevertheless, Jeff Lineberry of the state's food and drug branch says more vigilance in the food bioterrorism area has other benefits: "Increased security can overlap into better food safety," he says.

So go ahead and eat that Big Mac. It won't kill you. Not for awhile, at least.

Regarding Henry

More than six months after the San Francisco Chronicle canned tech columnist Henry Norr for taking a sick day to protest the war in Iraq, Norr is still protesting the war and his firing.

Well, the United States is still in Iraq and Norr still doesn't have a job. The 57-year-old Berkeley scribe laid pretty low for a few months after sparking a national debate over whether journalists can be politically active without losing their ability to be fair and balanced -- like the crew at Fox News. Then last week Norr's name resurfaced as a contact on a press release with the even-handed headline, "Antiwar Demonstrators Win One Over Merchant of Death."

The media-seeking missive reported that Lockheed-Martin (aka the merchant of death) had given up on making 52 protesters, including Norr, pay more than $41,000 in restitution for blocking Lockheed executives' view of the sidewalk earlier this year during a war protest. A Santa Clara County judge, however, still sentenced Norr and dozens of his comrades to two years' probation and fined them each $612.50 or the equivalent in public service.

Norr's fight to be reinstated in his old job hasn't been nearly so eventful. For months, he's been awaiting the outcome of his union grievance. The sides recently agreed on an arbitrator, but the case won't be heard for another two months. In the meantime, the columnist has freelance gigs with Macworld and lefty Web site Progressive Portal.

He now wonders if it wasn't his opposition to the war that precipitated his demise -- other Chronics have visibly opposed the war -- so much as his views regarding the Middle East. The columnist recalls hosting a slide show last year for some of his colleagues showing pictures of his trip to the region, in which he joined up with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement. That didn't go over well with everybody. Norr says he later heard that a sensitive someone felt he'd uttered anti-Semitic shibboleths. He points out that he himself is a Jew, albeit a lapsed one.

Several weeks later, he wrote a column about an Intel plant located in disputed territory in Israel. A Chronicle newsie tells Bottom Feeder that the column "caused a stir internally." Norr says his editors later warned him that the Israeli-Intel story was an "inappropriate topic."

"In hindsight," he says, "it may be that I was a marked man from that point on."

Even if the arbitrator reinstates Norr, the paper isn't obligated to give him his old technology column back. But considering his political passions, it might be a wiser assignment than, say, covering the US occupation. "I'm not going to try and stick subtle antiwar messages into my review of a new laptop," Norr promises.

Pub Flop

Berkeley's eighth annual Pub Crawl, slated for October 11, was abruptly cut off by panicked campus-area pub owners just days before the planned event. The trouble began October 6 when the watering holes got an unexpected letter from state Alcohol Beverage Control buzz-killer Everest Robillard. "The Berkeley Pub Crawl has become popular with collage [sic] students, many of whom are under legal drinking age," Robillard wrote. "In addition, the annual event has gained the reputation for being an opportunity to consume large quantities of alcoholic beverages, which results in participants becoming very intoxicated." He went on to warn that if any of the seven bars involved got caught screwing up, they could get in trouble.

That was a risk Blakes co-owner Pat Romani and his fellow barkeeps didn't want to take with The Man watching. Romani was left wondering how the event -- for which the Express was one of four cosponsors -- came to ABC's attention, because he doesn't believe there have been any complaints in the past.

The ABC man says his office got three or so calls from people worried about potential debauchery, but adds that he actually advised Romani and the others to go ahead with the crawl. "The whole intention was to tell your employees to be careful," he says.

Romani says he's not sure whether the Pub Crawl will happen next year, though he's contemplating a new moniker for event: "The Responsible Drinking Tour."

Sounds like a blast.

Take Out

Talking Points

Earlier this month, one of our reporters appeared on CNN to discuss a freelance story he'd written for Maxim. Here are a few pre-interview pointers he received from the magazine's media consultant:

Your answers should be no longer than eight seconds: You must cut to the chase. This is known as "talking in sound bites."

Be enthusiastic: Producers love this, and it shows on camera. Use your interviewer's first name occasionally.

Smile: You are happy to be there. It also makes the audience like you, and if they like you, they'll believe you.

Use your hands ... in moderation: Hands are another way of showing enthusiasm. But don't flail them wildly. Use them naturally when trying to make a point, from chest to chin levels.

Throw in that pithy quote: Do you have a little catchphrase, metaphor, or comparison that fits in with your interview? Use it!

Mention the magazine's name: Don't be afraid to say "Well, at _____ magazine, we chose these because..." when appropriate. Don't do it more than twice.

If you are asked something you can't answer: Use a transitional phrase to bring it back to something you do want to say. Try "You know what's more important?" or "Let's consider this..."

Write a brief thank-you note to the producer you work with: It's amazing how few are sent out to producers, and they really do appreciate them. They will think positively about you in the future.


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