Thursday, June 26, 2008

Injustice in Action: the Exxon Valdez judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled on Exxon's appeal.  I'm unhappy, to say the least.  Everything I understand about justice and tikkun olam is completely violated.  

This case has been long and drawn-out, and unpleasant at all turns.  The oil spill happened in 1989.  In 1994, Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, as well as some $500 million for compensatory damages, to cover the cleanup costs.  They appealed, and the punitive award was reduced by half.  I know that the State of Alaska appealed, at some point, on a matter of law, and I don't remember how that fits in.  I do know that Exxon appealed to the Supreme Court, and if I remember correctly, the State was not allowed to be a party to the suit.  In the end, Exxon was ordered to pay $507.5 million dollars in punitive damages, setting a new precedent for limiting punitive damages in maritime cases.

I read that CNN is reporting that the 32,000 claimants will each receive $15,000 I don't know where CNN got that figure.  That's not what Alaskan news is reporting.  They're saying that the average claimant is going to get about $3,000, and many will get nothing at all.  The damages aren't being divided equally; there's a formula, based on a points system, I believe.  Each claimant got a certain number of points based on how much their income was dependent upon Prince William Sound and its fisheries, and how much impact the oil spill had on their bottom lines.

It is completely unacceptable that they will pay only 10% of what their original punitive damages judgement was in 1994.  For all the people whose livelihoods were affected, it just doesn't seem enough.  It is not ethical to argue that giving people what they are due is too much.  I can guarantee that most lost far more than $3,000, especially over the course of the years it has taken, and will continue to take, to renew the destroyed ecosystem.

It amazes me that, even with the interest accrued in the nearly two decades since, Exxon will mail the checks to everybody within about three months.  About one billion dollars' worth of the mail, no problem.  That's wealth for you.  I also feel like it completely undermines their argument that the $2.5 billion bill was excessive.  It doesn't seem like an undue hardship to me.

A few tiny little good things came out of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  I remember that day, about as well as someone who was 8 years old at the time can remember.  I was very angry, and the incident inspired me to make my first protest poster.  It had a broken boat on it, a big black splotch, and a bird with X's for eyes.  It said FIRE EXXON, because I thought that meant they'd go out of business.  I was a tiny tree hugger, even then.  I also remember thinking that their negligence was unethical, even though I didn't know those words at the time, it was part of the reason I thought they needed to lose their job.
Another was that my dad made a great deal of money repairing equipment being used for the cleanup effort that summer.  My family was very grateful for that.  The only other good thing I can think of is that my dad was stationed in Seward, which is a beautiful town my family still returns to with great frequency.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Service 6-21-2008

My first Bar Mitzvah ritual.  It was really very beautiful.  I loved how it emphasized and continually reinforced his new role as a member of Jewish society.  The Aliyot started with his peers, and went to various family members, gradually getting closer to the Bar Mitzvah boy, until eventually his parents were called to the bimah on the sixth aliyah, and the Bar Mitzvah took the seventh and final.
It was amazing to watch how proud of him his parents were.  I loved that he made a couple of mistakes, but corrected himself pretty confidently.  That takes guts and maturity, which are qualities adults definitely need.  It was clear that he did a lot of studying and preparation, which are absolutely vital to adult life.  He did very well.  I'd be terrified to do what he did, even though I think that I want to.

I was also struck by the speeches his parents gave about him.  His father talked about how he's always been a very determined person, and reminded him that it will take him far in life.  His mother talked about the idea of tikkun olam and always keeping the goal of making the world a better place, reminding him that it was not only a Jewish value, but a family value as well.

These things reminded me of well, firstly, that I don't know how my parents would react at my Bat Mitzvah (if I have one).  But that's mostly because of the Jewish label.  If they just talked about who I was, and who I am, they would be likely to talk about how I've always been pretty driven, but I've always held the same values that I find in Judaism.
In fact, I've recently realized that my years as a Girl Scout have very much shaped how I live as an adult, and I don't just mean my love for hiking and cookies.  The Girl Scout Law that my mother taught me as a little girl is still pretty paramount.  It's also a good way to ensure tikkun olam, I think:
  • -to be honest
  • -to be fair
  • -to help where I am needed
  • -to be cheerful
  • -to be friendly and considerate
  • -to be a sister to every Girl Scout
  • -to respect authority
  • -to use resources wisely
  • -to protect and improve the world around me
  • -to show respect for myself and others through my words and actions
That's really all I want out of life.  Well, that and a religion I can put my faith in, and that gives me the framework to base my choices on.  A girl can't live by "be prepared" alone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Carbon Footprint

Based on a calculator I found at Brighter Planet, I expel 14.7 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  I hope to reduce this as much as possible, even though I'm apparently below the average already.

It makes me feel good that I'm doing some of my part.  I think it's a mitzvah.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Weekend: Hide and Seek

I stayed in a campground near a lake, with a really nice trail that goes around the lake.  There was also a trail that went about a quarter mile to a nearby Veterans' Memorial.
The first time I took that trail, it was on a whim.  I was walking the dog, and I figured it would be as good a place as any to spend some energy.  When I got there, I found that there had been significant improvements to the area.  The parks system had built a scenic outlook toward Denali. And not only that, but the mountain was visible, and it was stunning.  There were clouds on either side of the two peaks, and another nestled below, at about the level of the surrounding mountains.  It made Denali look all the more impressive and mysterious.  One of the other people at the outlook said it looked like a ghost, and I wouldn't disagree.  Another person gestured to the mountains flanking Denali and pointed out that, at more than 17,000 feet, they would be imposing anywhere else in the world, except next to that particular peak.  And it's true.  I found myself drawn to that outlook; the dog and I walked there several more times, each time hoping to see the mountain again.  We didn't get the chance; it was always hidden by clouds.

It made me think about how wonderful Shabbat time is, that I was able to just drop everything and go for a hike.  I realized that I had spent the bulk of my weekend seeking, whether I was seeking a view that few people are blessed to see, seeking a nice rock to rest on, or seeking G-d.

I also started reading a really great book called Ecology and the Jewish Spirit by Ellen Bernstein.  So far, I'm through the first section, which is a series of essays about Sacred Place.  One of them talks about how Shabbat is similar to being in the wilderness, because of the way you're freed from clock-based time, instead depending on the sun and stars to tell you when to light your candles.  The big difference is that Shabbat ends with havdallah, but that there is no ritual to end your time in the wilderness.  The author of that essay (whose name escapes me now) said that's why s/he often feels sad when returning to normal life, which is pretty true.

I also realized that I've always had a ritual for ending my outdoor time.  A shower.  But not just any shower.  One that delights in the luxury of warm, running water and the feel of it on my skin.  One with a soap that's different from the one I used at camp, one that smells fresh and clean.  When I thought about it in my post-camping shower this time, I realized how similar it is to the havdallah ritual in its use of my senses, especially the smelling and the warmth.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Havdallah Hooray!

I ordered a really cool Havdallah set online a while back.  It seems like forever ago.  I finally got it today, and I'm so very excited.  It's really beautiful.  It's made of wood, painted blue with pomegranates and grapes.  The pieces stack to make something that resembles a vase.  The bottom part is the Havdallah candle holder, the kiddush cup fits in an opening on the top, and then there's a piece that goes on top of that which is a spice jar on one side and if you flip it over, it holds your Shabbat candles.  I think it's really cleverly designed.

I'm going to use it this weekend.  I won't be able to attend services, which is a bummer, but I'm also going to be celebrating a pretty proper Shabbat.  I'll probably end up breaking the carrying rule, and I might have to start a fire, but I won't be doing anything that I consider work.  I know that I don't set halacha, but that's good enough for me right now.  After work on Friday, I'm driving out to my parents' house, picking up their dog and some camping supplies, and then I'll go up near Denali for the weekend.  It's going to be nice, I think.  I hope.  I'll have a couple books to read, a dog that likes to go hiking, and some fairly unspoiled wilderness to enjoy it in.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blog Link: Shavuot (and my weekend)

This weekend was really disappointing for me.  I didn't get to keep Shabbat at all, and for the first time, I wasn't even able to harbor the delusion that I was going to try and it really bothered me.

You see, my bathroom wall decided to give out this past week, and Saturday was the only day my dad would be able to help me demo the old shower surround, because it was going to need a day or so to dry out before we put up new sheetrock.  And, of course, the only day we could do that was Sunday, which is also the day the Temple was planning a Shavuot gathering.  Granted, we finished putting up the drywall in time that I could have gone to the service, parents were planning to go to a wedding and needed me to watch their dog.  Plus, I haven't had a shower since Friday, so I'm not fit for being seen in public.

Ugh.  I was really looking forward to talking about the Torah portion at services this week.  And the Shavuot all-nighter.  Grrr.  But at least my bathroom will look good.

I did find this really neat article about Shavuot on Explore the Hebrew Holiday of Shavuot that talks about how Jewish holidays tend to have a strong connection to nature and food, and then talks about how that's true for this particular holiday.  I loved that it was on a secular blog about nature and living with a connection to the earth.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Blog Link: Shalom

This one starts out with a little bit about this week's parsha.  My favorite part comes at the end, when he breaks down the word "shalom".

Reb Shlomo taught that the very lettes of the word Shalom teach us important lessons about peace.  'Shalom' has three letters, Shin, Lamed, and Mem.

Shin - The first way to bring peace is to bring two sides together, like the middle of the 'shin'.  (The letter 'shin' consists of three 'vavs' which are joined at the bottom).

Lamed - The tallest letter.  It goes from the highest to the lowest.  If you want to bring peace, you have to stick out.

Mem - The 'mem' is closed, with no openings.  Shalom has to be complete, like a little wall.  The wall of peace has to be complete.  You can't say, "I am peaceful, but I have a little opening for getting mad in an emergency."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Meeting with the Rabbi

I met with the Rabbi today, for my consultation in lieu of classes.  We talked about the progress I was making with the Hebrew.  I think he thinks I'm learning quickly.  He gave me a chance to ask any questions that I had, and I didn't have too many yet.  There were some words in the book that I was working with that I didn't think I was reading correctly, so he helped me out.  The words didn't sound like Hebrew in my mouth.  One of my mistakes was that I had confused two letters.  You're never going to say the word correctly if you have the wrong letters.  So that was an easy fix, really.  I didn't know how to pronounce a particular vowel combination, so he helped me with that.  He also showed me an ending that was going to mess me up pretty good, because it involved a silent letter that wouldn't usually be silent.

Then we talked about why I'm interested in Judaism and its relationship to ecology.  I think he was scared that I was going too new age with it.  Its not that at all, really.  I think that some of the people who write about that area are doing it with a new agey perspective, but those ideas aren't intriguing in a satisfying way.  I mean, it's great to consider the patience of a rock, but ultimately, the imagery fails because patience requires free will or at least some kind of choice.  The Rabbi suggested that I try looking at a few scholars he was aware of, and I promised that I would.

For me, the nexus of G-d and nature is valuable.  I think that nature forces you to be in the moment.  When you appreciate the beauty of the mountains around you, your mind is drawn to the Creator of those mountains; in that moment that takes your breath away, you find G-d.  You need to have that same sense of awe when you light the shabbat candles.  When you're hiking, you're looking out for bears that might eat you and roots you might trip on.  You're not thinking about your laundry or your bills.  This is the same mindset you should have when you pray or study Torah.

Since I know a lot more about nature than I do about G-d, it seems like a good way in.  A way to teach my mind to focus on G-d and push the distractions to the side.  Surely there have been writers, in the past 5000 or so years who have written things that can help me with that.  I just wish that I had been better able to explain all of this to the Rabbi.  I got about halfway there.  When I leave his office, I always think of that genius thing I should have said, because I walk away thinking about the questions he asked and why I was unsatisfied with my own answers.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Kabbalah on Green: Consciousness and the environment

I picked up this book on a whim at Borders.  I'm exploring how Judaism interacts with nature, so the title piqued my interest.  And then I saw who wrote and published it, and, knowing how controversial the Kabbalah Centre is among the Jewish community, I thought it would make for an interesting read.   It is interesting, but it's also raising a lot of questions, a number of them with Berg's logic.  This book report is different than my others.  I'm writing this one as I read the book, so it is more of a dialectical than a report or a review.

The first chapter talks about Al Gore and how his Presidential campaign losses were destiny, and if he had not lost, he would not have gone on to do the projects he did.  Berg implies that Gore would not have been as green if he had been President.  I don't know about that.  It can never be disproven, of course, but the fact is that Gore has been a proponent of environmental concerns for a long time now.  I remember reading about things he was doing back when I was a kid and really into 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth.  I would argue that Al Gore's green-ness has nothing to do with what happened in 2000 or 2004.

Berg does make a good point about how people tend to think in terms of "cleaning up", rather than preventing a mess.  Especially when it comes to the environment.  It would be better if we could change our focus and prevent the types of crises we get ourselves into, but, alas.  We are who we are.  Berg loses me when he moves on to say that our negative thoughts contribute to global warming, because they somehow rearrange or change atoms into pollution and that if we gave off only positive energy, atoms would become beautiful things like roses.  As I understand it, atoms are atoms.  They are basic and can't be changed from one thing to another.  I have a really hard time with that concept.  People would need to have the power of G-d for that to work.

He uses a lot of observations of word similarities to bolster his arguments.  I don't know enough Hebrew to know if these hold any water.  Adam...atom.  Wholeness...holiness.  They're useful pneumonic devices, but pretty weak evidence.

Lest it sound like I disagree with everything Berg says, or that I read the entire book cynically, I do agree with some of what's written in chapter 3.  I agree that G-d manifests himself in nature, and that we needn't look to the Heavens to find G-d; we can look to the mountains and the trees.  Berg also talks about how everything is interconnected, which makes sense when you're talking about pollution from the United States having an effect on Southeast Asia.  I'm not as willing to believe that lies and disrespect can cause an earthquake.  I think Sharon Stone tried to say something like that recently, and it didn't go over too well.

In the end, I did not finish the book.  I got to chapter 4 and realized that it doesn't apply to what I'm interested in studying, so it's on the shelf.  I'll finish it someday, maybe.