What's Come Around

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

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. [page]

Had an ostentatious Japanese hostess fed this ill-begotten luxury to guests, they would have fallen immediately ill. Over the years, consumption of this most thoughtless of delicacies could damage the central nervous system and reduce intelligence.

As the Uttaradhyayana Sutra wisely notes, “Men who acquire wealth by evil deeds, by adhering to principles which are wrong, fall into the trap of their own passions and fettered with karma they sink further down.”(9)

So, with his parable of the whale, Dr. Cipriano shows us, “unrighteousness, practiced in this world, does not at once produce its fruit; but, like a cow, advancing slowly, it cuts off the roots of him who committed it.”(10)

This is important to note in this post-electoral season, when unrighteous Republicans gloat over the spoils of a bloodless coup, and the city's wild-eyed, no-growth NIMBYs plot to exploit gains made during this month's supervisorial runoff rout.

While many of us saw the supervisorial runoff as a simple rejection of Mayor Willie Brown's arrogance, the socialists, anarchists, Maoists, and Zapatistas in our midst perceived a sign that the Magi had finally come to Judea.(11)

They're just murmurs now, spoken mostly at bong parties, in dank coffee shops, at Mission anarchist covens, and in the boardrooms of nonprofit groups none of us has ever heard of, but if you hug the ground, you'll hear voices: “Here's what we'll do: We'll convert the entire private housing stock to limited equity co-ops. We'll seize the assets of PG&E. We'll ban market-rate housing construction, and scale back growth limits, so there's never another new office building in San Francisco again,” they say.

So I pray that our Ammianos, our Gonzalezes, our Daleys, open their first Board of Supervisors meeting with a moment's meditation, and somehow find it in their hearts to heed the Buddha's warning: “Not in the sky, nor in mid-ocean, nor in a mountain cave, is found that place on earth where one may escape from the consequences of one's evil deed.”(12)

And profligacy, even in the name of progressive activism, can quickly take on the contours of evil.

Buying up the city's housing stock would cost $70 billion. Made public, PG&E's assets would be managed by the people who brought you Muni. Further limiting new market housing would drive sprawl, and new office curbs would take rents heavenward.

Before launching a wild-eyed anarchist revolution, let us recall that every stone thrown in the pond of life causes thousands of tiny ripples.

And I beseech you, oh newly minted NIMBY supervisors, oh smug Republican usurpers, oh wealthy dot-com pharaohs, oh bong-sucking anarchist dreamers, please remember the fate of the Japanese Whale Connoisseur. Practice a little holiday restraint.

For the prophet sayeth: “He sees you when you're sleeping/ He knows when you're awake/ He knows if you've been bad or good/ So be good, for goodness' sake!”(13)

(1) Willie L. Brown Jr., Mayor
City Hall, Room 200
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl.
San Francisco, CA 94102

(2) SAN FRANCISCO — (SF Weekly) The Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown, senior pastor of Third Baptist Church, this spring evicted an elderly renter, her disabled son, and her grandson so he could carpetbag his way into District 11 as a Board of Supervisors candidate. Brown subsequently lost a presumed gimme runoff by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

Promotional material for Third Baptist Church Sunday school classes says, “If you have any questions, the teacher(s) will help you find the answer in the WORD OF GOD, “THE BIBLE”.

SFW Enterprises humbly recommends Hosea 8.7: “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

(3) Dittenhafer lost by a margin of worse than 4-to-1. His eerie brand of aggressive toadiness led him to give an hourlong, badgering, SF Weekly Enterprises interview without uttering a single specific opinion, apparently worried he might inadvertently contradict His Willieness.

(4) Committed to practicing what we preach, SF Weekly Enterprises does not recommend actually speaking with Michael Yaki, and has thus relied on hearsay for the above description of his conversational style.

(5) Exodus 10:15 (paraphrase).

(6) As readers are probably imagining, Minister Maggie, who lists her experience as being “often asked to participate in Sunday celebrations at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco where she is a member,” wasn't exactly our first choice as theological adviser. But we had already called Michael Mendiola, associate professor of Christian ethics at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, who wasn't in. We left messages with three of his PSR colleagues. We left messages with the Very Rev. Alan Jones at Grace Cathedral, El Reverendo Roberto Cordoba at La Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispanoamericana on Folsom Street, and at a half-dozen other S.F. Protestant churches, along with a few Catholic ones. We even tried Gary W. McCoy, director of the Bill and Pat Dixon School of Church Music in Mill Valley, to no avail.

Which raises the troubling question: If all the theologians, ministers, rabbis, Buddhist scholars, Wicca priestesses, televangelists, and other spiritual sentries mankind has posted throughout the land were to all take a simultaneous coffee break, would the earth open up and unleash a torment of evil? Thankfully, the Rev. Karen Oliveto of Bethany United Methodist Church in Noe Valley called back the next day and assured us it wouldn't.

“I think God would take care of things just fine,” she said, in just 10 words granting her profession limitless sick leave.

(7) “Verily, an evil deed committed does not immediately bear fruit, just as milk does not curdle at once; but like a smoldering fire covered with ashes, it remains with the fool until the moment it ignites and burns him.”

(8) Oh, that Muni directors' children might be sold into slavery, their crops burned, their tribal burial grounds trampled, and their chattel set free. [page]

(9) The Uttaradhyayana Sutra is one of the four fundamental scriptures of Janaism, a system of Indian philosophy.

(10) Laws of Manu, the first great legal code of the Hindus, Chapter 4, Verse 172, as translated by George Bühler.

(11) According to Christian Scripture, 2,000 years ago a star rose above Bethlehem, the Magi came to Judea, and the messianic age began.

(12) Buddhist Dhammapada, Verse 127.

(13) “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
Composer: J. Fred Coots
Lyricist: Haven Gillespie

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