Public Space, Public Health

Governor Schwarzenegger (after five years, it still gives me the jibblies to write that) has proposed a 9% tax on veterinary services. Here’s some info from the fact sheet I received when we took Petey in for an eye infection:

In this weak economy, animal owners are already making tough choices. Adding sales tax to veterinary services will force owners to make difficult choices about the health and welfare of their pets.

• Pets are members of the family and an important source of companionship. This proposed tax could add approximately 9% to the cost of veterinary care. The result will be that many animals won’t get the medical care they need and they will be abandoned or euthanized.

• Shelter populations are increasing beyond capacity as many Californians lose their homes to foreclosure. If people can’t afford to take care of their pets, they may be forced to abandon them to shelters, adding to the overcrowding and financial strain.

• More than 800,000 cats and dogs enter California shelters every year at a cost to taxpayers of $275 million. As shelters become filled beyond capacity, more healthy animals will be euthanized adding to the emotional strain of shelter workers.

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Eco-Kashrut and Quentin Tarantino

From the New York Times Magazine (thanks to Tomemos for the tip):

The allegations against Agriprocessors galvanized a small but thriving Jewish environmental movement and took its concerns to a much wider audience. In some American Jewish households, the raid on Agriprocessors started a deep conversation about the very meaning of kosher: is it simply about cutting an animal’s neck and butchering it in a specific way?

No.

Or is the ritual also meant to minimize an animal’s pain or to bring sanctity to its death?

Yes.

Does it matter how the animal was treated when it was alive? How about the workers who processed it? Is reverence for life possible in a factory-farming setting?

Yes, yes, and no.

Part of [the debate over whether eco-kashrut should be adopted] has to do with denominational infighting. Some Orthodox Jews don’t like the idea of Conservative Jews or even liberal Modern Orthodox Jews horning in on an area of Jewish life that has traditionally been the domain of the Orthodox alone. But some of the debate harks back to longstanding Jewish questions about the purpose of religious observance: Does God require adherence to his laws because they are just, or is following God’s laws a good unto itself whether or not the laws serve a moral purpose? Should Jews keep kosher because it is an ethical practice, or should they keep kosher because it is what God wants? Last month, Agudath Israel, a lobbying organization that represents haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, released a statement opposing Allen’s proposals for a “justice certification.” Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel, told me that if kashrut is framed as simply an ethical practice, or as a practice with any specific function other than obeying God’s law, it could set the stage for the practice to ultimately be discarded.

I’m no Torah scholar, but I find it very hard to believe that God would give us commandments just because. Empty observance of laws – paying more attention to technicalities than to judgment, operating through loopholes and contortions of logic – isn’t really observance.

The good news is that the eco-kashrut movement is thriving. See pages 2 and 3 of the article for examples of Jews taking their food into their own hands.

And hey, speaking of reconnecting with your food source, everyone who thinks gardening is just a hobby should immediately read The Urban Homestead. (Try to ignore the numerous typos.) I’m currently drafting a longer essay on this, so I’m going to remain tight-lipped for now, but I will say that I squealed when my spinach seedlings sprouted their first true leaves.

Then my cat knocked over my pot of scallion seedlings and the new scallions aren’t growing because the soil is infested with fungus gnats. But these delays will make the scallions that I eventually manage to harvest all the more delectable. Also the dill, which… Cripes, I don’t even know what the fuck’s happening with those.

In other news, Quentin Tarantino is working on a Holocaust movie, in which Uma Thurman is hunting down the Nazis who put a bullet in her head before they find out she’s the cop. No, kidding. It looks… well, here, take a look:

BERLIN – For weeks, Germany’s tabloids and culture pages have been preoccupied with Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglorious Bastards,” slated to start filming next week in Germany.

While the tabloids are drooling over the movie’s star, Brad Pitt, who is moving with his wife Angelina Jolie and their children to a villa close to Berlin (“The most beautiful couple in Wannsee,” one headline declared), the serious media is focusing on another angle: Is Germany ready for a Tarantino-style treatment of World War II?

An early draft of the script leaked onto the Internet three months ago suggested the film would contain scenes of bloody vengeance exacted by Jews against Nazis. One campaign would be carried out by Jews in the U.S. Army intent on scalping Nazi soldiers on occupied French soil; another would be a Jewish refugee’s revenge against the Nazi officer who murdered her parents. Pitt is to play Jewish-American Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a revenge squad known as “The Bastards,” who launch a killing spree in which they hang, torture, disembowel and scalp German soldiers and engrave Swastikas on their foreheads, according to the leaked draft.

I’m going to tread very carefully here, because I know that a project like this will stir up a lot of bad feelings in a lot of people, and I don’t want to make light of that. There are many good arguments against making this film – the main one, in my mind, being that it’s gallingly disrespectful to make a so-over-the-top-it’s-funny gorefest about the Holocaust, especially if neither you nor your leads are Jewish.

However.

I saw Death Proof a few months ago and loved it. It was, in some ways, a similar situation: women have been violently oppressed for thousands of years, and it’s not funny. It shouldn’t be used for cheap entertainment. And what could a cisgendered straight man know about being targeted for horrific violence because of your gender?

Except he got it. He got how it works, and he got how we feel. It was, in many ways, one of the most cathartic feminist films I’ve ever seen. Take, for instance, Abernathy’s feet. The first half of the movie is meant to function as a straight-up grindhouse flick; women (perennial victims of serial killers, hypnotists, and evil magicians) exist only to show off their bodies and then have those bodies ripped apart. It’s the whole cycle of gender-based violence: man claims female body, man partakes of female body, man destroys female body. (Think of Butterfly’s lapdance – Stuntman Mike demands her, gets her, and kills her.) It’s the ultimate ownership. Jungle Julia is a particularly exploitative character – notice that whenever the four of them are in a car, she rides with her legs outstretched and her feet sticking out of the window, an unrealistic position obviously concocted for the male gaze. Shortly after that juicy exotic WOC gam flies out of the car and bounces on the pavement, we see Abernathy – another WOC – asleep in her car in the same position. After Mike traces his hand along her foot and speeds off, though, she does something interesting: she puts on cowboy boots. The previous group of women only wore flip flops; now, though, as she pulls the boots on, the film goes from black and white to color and we find ourselves in a very different movie. These women are badasses. They’re reckless, cocky, and confident; they pass the Bechtel Test countless times over. And, as it so happens, Abernathy uses the very boots she used to distinguish herself from Jungle Julia to smash Mike’s face in.

Also, driving through the rowboat? Totally vaginal. Although I don’t agree with the message that femininity must be destroyed in order for women to be empowered.

I know that’s a simplistic reading of the film; I know not every element fits into it. But I cheered out loud when Kim shot Mike and sent him fleeing and crying. That feeling of revenge was so potent. I didn’t really care about deep reflection or analysis; it felt good to see my people getting even. So, might Tarantino do as good a job with violence against Jews as he did with violence against women? Or is he going too far?

I really don’t know. My only thought right now is this: we should wait and see.

Although I do think he could have scrounged up a Jewish actor to play the lead. Death Proof didn’t star men in wigs, after all.

Great Postville Essay at Zeek

Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center says:

Even in the dark, there is usually some prophetic voice warning of oncoming damage. In this case, prophetic calls to apply “eco-kosher” and “ethical kosher” standards not only to food but also to such consumables as coal, oil, plastics went back to the work of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in the mid-’70s and my own book Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex and the Rest of Life in the mid-’90s. Calls for Jewish support for unionization and workers’ rights went back to 1911 and the 1930s, and the continuing work of the Jewish Labor Committee. Calls for a compassionate Jewish approach to immigration law went back to the work of HIAS, the Jewish Funds for Justice, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (in Chicago) in two different Jewish coalitions on immigration policy (one moderately liberal, one more progressive) in the mid-’00s.

All these warnings called out the necessity of action; few of the Jewish public got the point.

And then came Postville – not just one lightning flash but a thunderstorm, flash after flash lighting up broader and broader aspects of oppression.

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