5.27.2008

Tainted Meat

I'm sure that, by now, you've all heard about the AgriProcessors/Rubashkin's meat packing plant scandals. Here is a letter from Uri L'Tzedek. You can sign on to the petition and agree not to patronize any establishments that use Rubashkin's meat by sending an e-mail to uri.ltzedek@gmail.com. Emphasis in the letter below is mine.

Lag b’Omer 5768
May 23, 2008

Mr. Sholom Rubashkin
220 N West St
Postville, IA 52162

Dear Mr. Rubashkin,

We write to you out of a deep sense of ahavat Torah and ahavat Yisrael, with both great respect and great concern.

Your company produces 60 percent of the beef and 40 percent of the chicken provided to the kosher marketplace in America. You employ 968 factory employees and serve as a pillar of the food economy. Your generous philanthropy supports moral and significant causes and is a great source of pride for Israel and Jewish institutions around the world. You are an important and respected leader of the Jewish community.

Therefore it is with great frustration and sadness that we write this letter. We are the kosher meat consumers of America. We are mothers and fathers raising our children in a kosher home. We are rabbis, teachers, and Jewish professionals who use your products in our work. Since you control much of the kosher meat market in America, we rely on you to uphold the halakhic requirements, both ritual and ethical, of the food we eat. We believe you have failed, and we are deeply troubled.

  • We are deeply troubled that you have demonstrated a pattern of knowingly exploiting undocumented workers, to paying them less than market wages and treating them poorly.[1]
  • We are deeply troubled that according to many experts, the wages you pay your workers are the lowest of any slaughterhouse in the nation.
  • We are deeply troubled that, despite years of public inquiry and concern over worker conditions at your plant, AgriProcessors was cited for 39 new health and safety violations in March 2008. It pains us to hear that examinations of Agriprocessor's OSHA logs reveal amputations, broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss that occurred at your plant.[2]
  • We are deeply troubled that animals have been abused against the laws of tzaar baalei chaim, causing needless pain to animals.[3]
  • We are deeply troubled that among the hundreds of workers who were arrested by federal officials on May 12, eighteen were children between ages 13 and 17.[4]
  • We are deeply troubled to read reports of various criminal operations taking place at the Postville plant, the account of a Jewish floor supervisor who severely abused a Guatemalan worker in the most reprehensible conditions, and allegations of sexual assault and verbal abuse.[5]

On your website, you state as your values that “as a producer of kosher meat products, we approach our business in the context of a deep religious tradition.” Undoubtedly you agree that our shared deep religious does not approve of these practices, and we therefore write this letter in the spirit of the mitzvah of hocheiach tochiach et amitecha, to give rebuke where it is needed so that a fellow Jew can make right what is wrong.

We ask the following:

1. Pay all of your workers at least the federal minimum wage.

2. Recommit your company to abide by all federal, state and local laws including those pertaining worker safety, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and the rights of your employees to collective bargaining.

3. Treat those who work for you according to the standards that Torah and halakha places on protecting workers--standards which include the spirit of lifnim meshurat hadin, going beyond the bare minimum requirements of the law.

In order to ensure that you meet these modest requests, we ask that you establish a department and staff with external transparency to a reputable, objective third party to deal exclusively with these three concerns. We ask that you maintain this office on an ongoing basis to ensure the basic ethical standards demanded by Torah, the U.S. government, and the American Jewish community.

Until these changes are made, we feel compelled to refrain from purchasing or consuming meat produced by your company, and will pressure every establishment with which we do business to cease purchase of your meat. Effective June 15, 2008 we will stop patronizing any restaurant that sells your meat.

Mr. Rubashkin, you have been a leader in the kosher meat industry, and we look forward to seeing you lead the way for all American meat processors, not only in the kashrut of your products, but in the kashrut of every aspect of your business.

    אודך בישר לבב בלמדי משפטי צדקך

    I will give thanks to You with upright heart, when I study Your ordinances that are righteous.

    תהלים קיPsalms 119:7

Sincerely,

Uri L’Tzedek uri.ltzedek@gmail.com


1In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher 'Jungle' Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay, The Forward. May 26, 2006

2Agriprocessor's Safety Problems, Des Moines Register, May 14, 2008

3AgriProcessors In. Inhumane Slaughter, Conflict of Interest, Bribery. United States Department of Agriculture, 2005

4Detainees moved from NCC grounds, Waterloo Courier, Thursday, May 15, 2008

5Application and affidavit for search warrant, Case Number: 08-MJ-110, Court of the Northern District of Iowa


In addition to all of this, there was apparently a meth lab on the premises!?

My reactions:
  1. To those who don't understand why hiring illegal workers is problematic because, like me, you think that immigration to this country should be liberalized: I don't think it's unethical to hire illegal immigrants. However, it is unethical to underpay them because they're illegal and can't complain, and to fail to protect their safety ("examinations of AgriProcessor's OSHA logs reveal amputations, broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss that occurred at your plant") because they're illegal and can't do anything about it. It is also unethical to hire children to do the work of adults.
  2. I am 100% comfortable refraining from purchasing any meat that comes from Rubashkin's, whether at the local supermarket or at a restaurant. I don't eat red meat that often, and it's easy enough to get chicken from Empire (which I am told uses unionized labor) or Vineland at least here, so that's not difficult.
  3. I am not sure I am willing to refrain from eating anything at any restaurant that uses Rubashkin's. Instead, I think I might ask where the meat comes from before ordering, and if they say either Rubashkin's or that they don't know/won't tell me (I've heard of many places saying this recently), then, instead, ordering fish or pasta or some other meat-less dish. The reason I have a problem with not eating anything at any restaurant that uses Rubashkin's is that (1) it unfairly punishes the struggling kosher restaurants and (2) I am currently avoiding dairy and soy in deference to my digestive system's preferences, so meat restaurants are sort of the only "safe" place for me right now. If (2) weren't true, I would just go exclusively to dairy restaurants which is pretty much how I used to operate.
What do you think?

5.21.2008

A pain no man will ever know

Two words: "discontinued bra."

Fellow women, I accept your empathy. I know you've been there.

5.16.2008

MySpace faker indicted

As a follow-up to this post from last November, read this.

The short story is:
A Missouri mom was indicted Thursday for her alleged role in the death of a teen who killed herself over a failed Internet romance that turned out to be a hoax.
This 49-year-old woman set up a fake MySpace page, pretending to be a teenage boy, so she could make a thirteen-year-old girl feel loved, with the intention of then turning really mean and hurting the thirteen-year-old emotionally. It wasn't just this woman, but more than one adult and some kids who came up with this. A group of people conspired to make this thirteen-year-old girl miserable, and some of this group were grown adults--parents, with teenagers of their own.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people? I don't usually curse on this blog, but I think that this bit is extremely curse-worthy:
The indictment does not allege that Drew sent the final message telling Meier the world would be a better place without her. Instead, it blames her unnamed co-conspirators, who authorities have previously said include a teenage girl.
Emphasis mine.

How to find your misplaced cell phone

I am just a font of useful information these days!

Check this out.

(I saw this while reading this other Lifehacker post, also interesting but less useful on a daily basis, at least for me.)

5.12.2008

REFUSENIK

If you aren't going to read this whole post, the take-home message is: You should see this film. It's playing at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan this week and elsewhere soon.

* * * * *

My earliest political memory is of the 1984 election season. I remember being driven home from school by another mom (remember carpooling?), and asking her why there were signs in everyone's lawns. She explained about the upcoming presidential election.

My second earliest political memory is of the Geneva Summit between Gorbachev and Reagan in November 1985. I remember reading about it in the Weekly Reader. I was in the first grade.

The truth is, though, that at around this same time, I was partaking in politics much more directly by sending drawings to refusenik Ida Nudel when she was in exile in Siberia for requesting an exit visa to leave the Soviet Union.1

I think the only reason that I remember sending drawings to Ida Nudel2 is because my father once commented admiringly on the perspective in my drawing. In a Purim letter to her in 1985, I drew a picture of a clown in shul, with the benches that were further away smaller than the ones that were closer to my point of view as the artist.3 I must have written to her or others more than once, but that's the only time I remember writing. When I was a little bit older, I remember not going to the big Soviet Jewry rally in Washington, DC (although I knew it was taking place), and going to a much smaller rally on behalf of Soviet Jewry in front of the Massachusetts State House. I also remember going on the Walk for Soviet Jewry, right before going to the birthday party of a classmate, during which we all put on makeup, I think under the direction of a Mary Kay woman. I missed the beginning of the party because of the walk, and I remember thinking, even then, that makeup was kind of stupid. I wonder if it's because I was coming from the Walk for Soviet Jewry. I think that both the Boston rally and walk took place in the fall of 1988.

* * * * *

I knew, when I was a kid, that I was doing these things on behalf of Soviet Jews who were being persecuted. Until I saw REFUSENIK at the Quad Cinema last night, though, I didn't really understand what that meant. It's interesting, when you know something as a child, and then don't think about it for twenty years, and then return to it as an adult. It's a bit eery, actually, but also very cool. What I knew as a kid, I now know entirely differently as an adult, and this film deserves 100% of the credit for that.

For example, I had no idea--I'm not sure how I missed this--that Soviet Jews were refused entrance to universities and were denied jobs. I think I had a vague idea, when I was a kid, that Jews who asked to leave the Soviet Union to go to Israel were fired from the jobs they already had. However, as a kid, I had no notion of what that meant.4 I also did not understand, as a kid, about the Cold War5 and the interplay between that Geneva Summit, the earlier Helsinki Accords, and the plight of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews. Watching this movie was like one big "Oh....!" It was very informative in that way. I understood how a coalition of Jews and others were able to put pressure on the American government to tie incipient trade agreements with the USSR to the signing of human rights accords, which were then used to hold the USSR accountable for human rights violations.

I also understood how none of this would have been possible without letter-writing campaigns organized by college students and housewives, as well as some others, all across America. It was incredibly inspiring. All of these people putting pressure on their congresspeople, as well as pressure on the Soviet government by sending letters to refuseniks, along with "ordinary" women and men smuggling bits of film and pieces of cameras into and out of the USSR, is what did this. It directly saved lives. That's crazy! In a good way!

What was most inspiring, of course, were the interviews with the refuseniks themselves, both contemporary and original footage from the 1970s and 1980s. The resilience of the human spirit in incredible, and it shines through this film.

The film also showed a great exchange with Mikhail Gorbachev, which, alone, is worth the price of admission. I don't want to give away what he says, but, well, just go see it. I guess it's not surprising, but with skillful editing, it packs quite a punch.

My only critiques are that, at two full hours, it was a bit long and I thought it could have been edited down by about 20 minutes, albeit with some loss of content. Isn't that what the DVD is for? Secondly, there are a lot of subtitles of both Russian and Hebrew interviews. That's not really a critique as much as a warning. So if you're short, or even if you aren't, get there early and get an aisle or otherwise-guaranteed-to-be-unobstructed seat. I got there late and was sitting behind a tall man who was wearing a hat! Tall dudes, take your hat off in the theater!

* * * * *

One of the best parts of the screening that I attended yesterday was that Laura Gialis, the director, and Natan Sharansky, one of the most famous refuseniks, were also in attendance and took questions afterwards. (I read his book a long time ago--when I was in high school--and it's possible that if I had a better memory, the film would have been less revelatory to me. All I remember from the book is the chess.) It took Laura five years to make this film.

I asked MK Sharansky (does he still get that title now that's retired from the Israeli government?) two questions. The first was about whether he got the letters that I and other sent him when we were kids. His response was great and quite moving. It was that it didn't matter whether he got letters--the KGB always got them, and that saved his life. He could tell, based on how they were treating him, whether letters were flooding in or not. They would not kill him as long as the eyes of the world were upon him, and the letters were direct proof of those eyes. After his longest hunger strike of 110 days, they gave in to all of his demands and he attributes that to the letters. Without the letters, he would have died. Others who were incarcerated with him, but who were Ukrainian or Armenian dissidents, did not have letters sent to him and one of them, a friend, went on a hunger strike and was allowed to just die, rather than the KGB ceding to his demands.

The second question I asked was about whether we could learn anything from the ultimately successful struggle for Soviet Jewry in terms of what's now going on in Darfur, Tibet, China, etc. First, Sharansky disparaged those "so-called liberals" (his words) who talk about Darfur because it makes them feel good about himself. Then he said that he feels very lucky that he was a Jew in the Soviet Union and not a Ukrainian or Armenian, because similar atrocities were perpetrated against Ukrainians and Armenians, and there is a significant Armenian diaspora, but they didn't organize protests and put pressure on various governments the way the Jewish diaspora did. He mentioned that his wife, Avital, tried to get the Armenian community in Israel involved on behalf of the Armenians stuck in jail in the USSR, but she was unsuccessful. Then he said that the talk was silly--the only way to prevent these human rights abuses it to put pressure on all of the governments that deal with and help them. In the case of Darfur, he said that it was the Arab countries in the Middle East that support them. He said that the only way to solve this is for the US should not have dealings with any country that supports what's going on in Darfur, but that everyone (including "so-called liberals") is in favor of appeasement these days, not the absolutes that ended up working in the struggle for Soviet Jewry. If we would refuse to trade with China, they were clean up their human rights act.

Mr. Sharansky was also quite funny. Someone in the audience asked, in a sort of accusatory tone, what he was doing for the State of Israel, now that he was free. (Was this person living under a rock for the past ten years?) He made a few jokes about how his ten years working in the Israeli government were worse than his nine years in prison. When someone asked him how he managed to survive for so long, he said, "Where--prison or the Knesset?" When someone said something about how amazing his wife was in her tireless efforts to get him freed, he acknowledged that the smartest thing you can do before going to prison for nine years is to marry someone who will work tirelessly on your behalf.

So, go see this movie. And then go work tirelessly on behalf of someone else who is stuck where they shouldn't be.

____________________________________
1. For that, I thank my parents, especially my father. I don't think that most kids grow up in such a strong culture of "You can help me save lives" as I did. I don't think you have to do it that often for it to make a strong impression on kids or create in them a sense of "can do" and global responsibility. I am only afraid that I have totally failed to live up to these childhood sentiments in my adult life.
2. who was freed in October 1987, when I was eight years old
3. I remember thinking that it was funny that my father was surprised--duh! Of course things that were further away looked smaller. Wasn't that just how it was when you looked around a room? Why should a drawing be any different? Only I didn't know the word "duh!" then because it hadn't been invented.
<--- This is it! A small reproduction of the actual drawing from Purim 1985 that I sent to Ida Nudel! It's a GIF made from a PDF of a scan of a photocopy, but there she is. I have not seen this since 1985. Weird.


4
. I learned, from this film, that many Jewish scientists and engineers who were fired from their jobs got new jobs as elevator operators in hospitals. Every elevator operator had at least one PhD at once point!
5. I remember the day the Soviet Union collapsed, but I also remember not understanding, really, what the big deal was and why my grandmother was basically crying with joy. Part of the problem was that it happened in August, when I wasn't in school. I felt similarly about the collapse of the Berlin Wall almost two years earlier, but at least with that, we spoke about it during the Current Events part of our school day. I remember when it happened, and by then, I had a slightly better understanding of why it was a big deal, but I didn't really understand until much later. And, heck, I probably still don't really understand any of this stuff.

5.07.2008

How to safely clean up broken, mercury-containing CFLs

I saw this on a comment from Laura K. on Linda of "Indigo Girl" fame's blog, and thought it was worthwhile enough to share:

I just saw a newscast about the CFLs on the news here the other week. They were saying how miniscule the amount of mercury is in it compared to the amount in the old-fashioned thermometers. I can't remember what they said, but it was a low, low amt.

They suggested (you've already cleaned up, obviously) using gloves and tape to pick up all the pieces that you can, and then a damp cloth, and then cleaning the area. They said it is NOT a good idea to vacuum it up because that disperses the particles into the air (I assume sweeping might, to some extent). So there you go, some info. for next time. I think I need to write that somewhere in my house so a well-meaning mother or mother-in-law doesn't incorrectly clean up a broken light bulb.

Hey, I think I went typo-free this time! Must be because I'm still at my school desk. :)

CFL = compact fluorescent light (for those of you who've been living under a rock as the world slowly melts into oblivion)

5.01.2008

Bus reviews: DC2NY and Bolt Bus

I took DC2NY from Manhattan to Washington, DC and I took Bolt Bus from Washington, DC to Manhattan for the first days of chag. Here is my review of the experience.

Qualifications: I am a veteran bus-taker. That's what happens when you have no car and no money and friends up and down the Northeast corridor! I have previous experience (since 2003-ish) taking Vamoose ("More Bang for Your Buck - No Bull" tee hee!), Washington Deluxe, and Greyhound on this route, and experience taking Greyhound, Peter Pan, and Fung Wah between Boston and Manhattan (since 1996).

General Observations about the DC-NY bus options:
  • Greyhound has the most travel times and a convenient departure location from New York.
  • Greyhound is currently comparable in price to these other companies, at $38 for a round-trip ticket or $22 for a one-way ticket.1
  • DC2NY only makes trip twice a day, I think--once at 9-something am and once at 4:30 pm. Bolt Bus seemed to have departures every two hours or so during the day. Greyhound has buses every hour or half hour.
DC2NY was, overall, a more pleasant ride (nicer driver, free water, less nauseated). The only downsides to DC2NY, besides the paucity of daily trips, is the leg room, and the fact that I might not get two seats on future DC2NY bus trips.

I really didn't like the nausea-inducing decals on the windows of the Bolt Bus, but on the plus side, the bus was emptier, which was nice, and the WiFi worked on my Palm, which means that I can be online even without dragging out my computer. However, if those decals make me nauseous, I can't be online anyway. (It's as bad as, or worse than, trying to read on the bus.)

The upshot is that I think, in the future, I would decide between Bolt Bus and DC2NY on a per-trip basis, based on the price and timing options of individual trips and on whether I want to be online (and how thirsty I think I'll be). Greyhound only as a last resort!

The full scoop is below.


Greyhound DC2NY Bolt Bus
location in NYC Port Authority Bus terminal (42nd St. and 8th Ave.) 34th between 8th and 7th Ave.s (across the street from K-Mart) 34th and 7th Ave. (across the street from Sbarro)
location in DC Greyhound bus station (annoying walk to the nearest Metro station at Union Station) Dupont Circle 11th and G, right near the Metro Center Metro stop
price range between NY and DC
always $22 one way or $38 round trip using their e-fares2
I think you can pay $5 extra and get "priority boarding," which means that you get to pick a window seat or a seat near the front of the bus if you want to.
always $22 one way or $40 round trip
varies from $10 to $20 per one-way ticket; no discount for round-trip purchase
travel time probably comparable; I don't remember; I think it can take up to 6 hours if it's a weekend or especially a holiday weekend
4.5 hours (middle of the day, weekday, not holiday weekend)
4.5 hours (middle of the day, weekday, not holiday weekend)
amenities none free bottle of water upon boarding the bus! what luxury!
none
trash one at the front if you're lucky one near each seat one at the back of the bus
electric outlets none didn't see them, but think they have them conveniently located on the back of each seat, but I noticed that the seats vibrated when the bus was in motion and I'm guessing that those of you with those boxy Apple power sources might need to bring your extra cord along, since it would probably fall right out
Wi-Fi none yes, password-protected, didn't try it yes, not password-protected so it worked on my Wifi-enabled Palm TX! woo hoo!
number of seats I've gotten
usually one
two! and got a window seat near the front! however, some people definitely only had one seat, so this may not be true on future rides
two! and got a window seat in the first half of the bus! tons of empty seats throughout the bus; I think there were even entirely free two-seat units.
movies
sometimes
passengers vote if they want a movie, and which of two movies they want, during the second half of the trip only -- this felt very nice and democratic even though the movie I didn't want to see ended up winning by one vote
none
nausea considerations
sometimes they smell funny, which makes me feel sick; also, with fewer seats to choose from, you can end up stuck near the back (bathroom stink, gross) or in an otherwise nausea-inducing seat
smooth ride, was even able to read a little (with the help of Dramamine) and got a great nap!
smelled like a new bus (bad for motion sickness) and the windows near the front of the bus had those decals that made it hard to look out and definitely made me feel sicker
leg room
varies
the seat that I got (because I wanted one near the front of the bus) felt very cramped
the seats were spacious and I had plenty of leg room (I'm 5'8" with a lot of that height in my legs)
cup holders
none
on the back of every seat! you can put your water bottle right there and have it handy! also, there was a hook on the back of every seat, which was also handy
none
foot rests
sometimes? I don't remember. I think usually not.
yes - makes bus travel more comfortable!
yes - makes bus travel more comfortable!
driver
often seem surly and rude
very sweet, pleasant, had mediocre English skills for which he apologized (how novel!), asked people not to speak on cell phones
didn't say much, a little surly when he did say something, didn't ask people to avoid cell phone calls so there were people yapping the whole time


-----------------------------------------
1. As an aside, in 1996 and 1997, after Greyhound bought out Peter Pan, or at least bought out their Boston-NYC routes, their prices went way up. I think at one point they were charging as much as $40 for a Boston to NYC bus ride! One way! The cheapest I ever remember Greyhound or Peter Pan being was $25 one way. The cheapest I ever remember Fung Wah being was $10 one way. I think it was on one of those $10 Fung Wah bus rides that the side view mirror of the bus fell off. We had to stop (it's illegal for a bus to drive without one) and wait by the side of the highway until the next Fung Wah bus came by an hour later, which all of the passengers from my bus fit onto, luckily. Those were the days!
2. If you don't know to click through there, you can pay up to $62 for a one-way ticket! You'll be at least paying $29 for a one way ride without the e-fare, whereas with it, it's $38 round trip.