Thursday, July 18, 2002

The Glassy-winged Sharpshooter is a What?

I am a great admirer of Mary McCrory, a long-time national columnist for the Washington Post. But the following story reveals that even the best of writers are not beyond making an occasional technical error. In her column in today's Washington Post on the security monster, McCrory wryly notes that "The new department [of homeland security] will not include the CIA and the FBI, which are principally responsible for our safety, but it will include the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture, which licenses pet shops [among other things]." Yours truly commented on the absurdity of transferring APHIS to a new department of homeland security in this article posted on June 9th.

McCrory then goes on to document a few of the complaints that have been offered by David Obey, a House member from Wisconsin and one of the chief critics of the homeland security proposal. She concludes with this paragraph:

"Obey's complaint is that the program was thrown together 'by four White House hotshots' who don't know much about agencies . . . . Some of the inclusions would indeed make you think the standard was not 'why?' but 'why not?' An Obey example: The Agriculture Department division charged with 'protecting our wine producers from the glassy winged sharp shooter,' a bird [emphasis added] apparently as predatory as al Qaeda."

In truth, the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter is an insect, not a bird. From the way McCrory's sentence is structured, it is difficult to tell if the mistake is attributable to Obey, McCrory, or both.

So why is the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter--quite a menacing name for a member of the relatively innocuous leafhopper family--even in the news? Because, since the about 1990 it has invaded the wine country of southern California. If it were just the sharpshooter, that probably wouldn't be a big deal, but the sharpshooter is host to a bacteria that causes Pierce's Disease in grapes. Pierce's Disease almost always kills the host plant, hence the fear that the sharpshooter is a significant threat to the multi-million dollar California wine industry. The University of California has assembled an online media kit that includes just about everything you might ever want to know about the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter and Pierce's Disease.


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