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'Tis the season for Cosmic Justice for Japanese whale eaters, and many, many S.F. politicos

Wednesday, Dec 20 2000
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The last few days at SF Weekly Enterprises have been bustling with holiday preparations. We've placed horned wreaths over the New Times Corp. hearth, hung tiny swords on our traditional 7-foot tannenbaum, and placed five lumps of freshly mined Wyoming coal on every third desktop.

We're celebrating, of course, the season of Cosmic Justice. It's that delightful time of year when we reflect on comeuppance past -- suffered by regally smug mayors,(1) say, or their old-lady-evicting City Hall water-carriers(2) -- and contemplate karma to come, in this case, to illegitimate presidents and whoring federal Supreme Court justices.

As the traditional African Ovambo proverb says, "God is not hornless; He is horned: He exacts punishment for every deed." And indeed, this year's Cosmic Justice season has been replete with both horny goads for the wicked, and wicked deeds warranting goady horns.

Shameless toady supervisorial candidate Chris Dittenhafer, the most subservient of this fall's anointed mayoral water-carriers, was fittingly the most humiliatingly defeated of last week's runoff supervisorial candidates.(3) Michael Yaki, who suffers the mortal sin of expounding tirelessly on subjects he knows little about, went down in a near-tie heartbreaker, and everyone knows that in politics, heartbreak is worse than humiliation.(4) In fact, this fall San Francisco voters became political oenophiles, sniffing out Willie Brown lickspittles to the number, as if they were $2.99 cabernets, then spitting, without swallowing.

Across town from City Hall, Bigstep.com, which had pushed out a warren of nonprofit organizations when it moved into the Bay View Bank building a couple of months ago, celebrated Cosmic Justice season by firing a fifth of its work force, thus spurring unconfirmed rumors of imminent demise.

Bigstep.com's travails were part of a plague of financial troubles smiting the Palm Pilot crowd this fall. The arrogance and foolishness of their venture capitalist pharaohs had caused the skies over Multimedia Gulch to darken, as if filled with locusts. This plague threatened to consume every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees, such that there would remain not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Silicon.(5) Yet strangely, the victims of both the City Hall rout and the dot-com plague seemed unmoved; their hearts stayed hard.

Yaki campaign manager Ellie Schafer, for one, didn't seem to be taking time to ponder the Yoruban proverb, "Ashes fly back in the face of him who throws them." "You tend to sit there and rehash everything, and it doesn't really do any good," Schafer said. "The outcome is not going to change."

And Bigstep.com spokeswoman Anna O'Neil aggressively denied any connection between her company's present situation and a Greater Moral Order. "We believe these things are two completely separate themes, or circumstances," O'Neil said, insisting that her company's current travails are unrelated to the 15 protesters who were arrested and carted away from her building this September. "Having activists with opinions and beliefs about the rental market, and our adjusting to market changes and restructuring our company, those are two separate situations."

Could O'Neil be correct? Could divine retribution be a myth? Could day-to-day events be governed by physical constants unrelated to the Moral Fabric of the Universe? Troubled by the notion of a karmaless universe, we contacted San Mateo Rev. Maggie Beretz, M. Div., who specializes in "highly personalized ceremonies with a spiritual grounding," according to Beretz's "Minister Maggie" Web site, which offers spiritual counseling at $60 per hour and weddings/ commitment ceremonies for $475.

SF Weekly: "Hello. I was calling to ask about how you believe modern theology views the idea of Cosmic Justice."

Minister Maggie: "I guess I don't understand what that is."

SF Weekly: "Well, the sacred texts of all the world's religions, in one way or another, address the idea of Cosmic Justice, as do the Old and New Testaments. I wanted to ask about your own theological views on this idea."

Minister Maggie: "This is not something I feel qualified to comment on, so I don't think I will."(6)


Just as dissatisfaction with princely living drove Siddhartha Gautama to six years of material deprivation, so, too, Minister Maggie drove me to undertake a spiritual quest. I was smitten by doubts: Have the events of the last few weeks no meaning? Are notions of universal spiritual symmetry, and karma, and Cosmic Justice, worthless shams, crafted to promote social order?

We sought out Dr. Frank Cipriano, director of the Conservation Genetics Lab at San Francisco State University, and Cosmic Justice expert.

Cipriano spent last year setting up clandestine DNA labs in Japanese hotel rooms, dispatching undercover shoppers to Japanese fish markets and otherwise proving out Verses 69 through 71 of the Buddhist Dhammapada.(7)

"Japan is on a consumptive binge of endangered species," says Cipriano when I arrive half an hour late to his offices, thanks to an appallingly slow bus ride.(8) "Whether it's whale meat, ivory, tortoise shell -- wherever there's a huge global controversy regarding the killing of endangered species, we find Japan is the end point." Worst among Japan's sins is its status as the world's No. 1 whale-poaching nation, Cipriano says.

But, as Lao Tsu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, "The net of Heaven is cast wide. The mesh is not fine, yet nothing slips through."

By conducting DNA and other tests on hundreds of bits of what was being sold as whale flesh, Cipriano showed that some of it was actually porpoise, or dolphin. Other whale meat sold as coming from the relatively common minke whale was actually from illegally killed endangered species, Cipriano's tests showed. Further, toxicology tests showed much of the mislabeled meat to be poisonous.

One such piece of "whale meat" was actually dolphin flesh containing 500 times more mercury than Japan's health advisory limit. Dolphins, like other marine mammals who feed high in the food chain, tend to be saturated with pollutants. Some 70 percent of product labeled as whale meat may contain toxins, Cipriano says.

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Matt Smith

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