Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Okay, I have thought myself to be pretty up on current events with respect to atrocities committed upon other people in this world and I act accordingly with respect to those things I purchase, wear, ask for at holiday gift giving time, etcetera...but I did not know about this. And it burns me to no end. Of course, this ran on Valentine’s Day in the LA Times, just as I had finished my third delicious truffle of chocolaty goodness, leaving me guilt ridden and threatening to go purge like I did in high school, but for different reasons.

Taking Child Slavery Out of Valentine's Day
By Tom Harkin and Eliot L. Engel
Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) is a member of the House International

February 14, 2005

On Valentine's Day, there will be no chocolate gifts for young Aly Diabate. "I don't know what chocolate is," said Aly, who was forced into slavery at age 11 to harvest cocoa beans in Ivory Coast. Aly's ignorance of chocolate is forgivable. Like tens of thousands of other child slaves on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, he subsists on a diet of corn paste and bananas.

Less forgivable is the fact that chocolate lovers in the West have been kept in the dark about these harsh realities. Few realize that most of the cocoa beans that go into Nestle, Mars and Hershey candy bars come from Ivory Coast, where thousands of enslaved boys — some as young as 9 — work in the most squalid, brutal conditions imaginable.

According to one report, the child slaves of Ivory Coast "are whipped, beaten and broken like horses to harvest the almond-sized beans that are made into chocolate treats for more fortunate children in Europe and the United States."

We have long been active in efforts to stop exploitive child labor, as well as trafficking in slaves. So when news reports on the abuse of children on cocoa farms first emerged in 2001, we were determined to stop it. We knew that if consumers learned about the brutal realities of cocoa production, their taste for chocolate would sour. Sales — and the Ivorian economy — would plummet. But that was not our goal. We wanted to stop child slavery, not chocolate production.

We viewed a legislative remedy not as a first resort but as a last resort. So, in good faith, we engaged the major chocolate companies in lengthy, intense negotiations. The result was the Harkin-Engel Protocol, signed in 2001.

The companies agreed to join with other stakeholders to produce an agreement for eliminating the worst forms of child and slave labor throughout the chain of chocolate production, and to do so expeditiously. They also agreed to implement an industrywide voluntary certification system to give a public accounting of labor practices in the cocoa-growing countries. This would enable consumers to make better-informed choices.

This kind of certification approach is already being used effectively to combat trafficking in "blood diamonds." In several diamond-rich African countries racked by civil war and human rights abuses, belligerents have funded their activities by mining and selling diamonds. The Clinton administration helped to create a country-of-origin certification system for diamonds. And President Bush signed a law prohibiting importation into the United States of any diamonds not controlled by this system.

There are an estimated 1.5 million small cocoa farms spread across four desperately poor countries in Africa, including Ivory Coast. The protocol established a public-private partnership enlisting government, industry, labor unions, nongovernmental organizations and consumer groups. The U.S. government's role is to ensure that whatever certification plan emerges from this process is credible and effective in eliminating abusive child- and slave-labor practices in the cocoa industry and ensuring the rehabilitation of the victims.

We have done our best to accommodate the chocolate companies. We preferred a two-year deadline for the creation of an industrywide certification regime, but agreed to four years. We all agreed that the regime was to be completed on July 1, followed by rigorous implementation.

Last month, however, the companies informed us that they would not meet the deadline. Instead, they planned to initiate a small pilot program in Ghana and, perhaps, in Ivory Coast. Although this is certainly a positive step, it falls woefully short of the robust action promised in the protocol.

The time for talk has passed. Children are suffering. Will the chocolate companies redouble their efforts and make good on their commitments? Or, as with blood diamonds, will legislation be necessary? Our preference is for the chocolate industry to take charge of its own destiny. But if corporate responsibility is lacking, government will have a responsibility to act.

This Valentine's Day, much of our chocolate will be bittersweet — tainted by the suffering of Aly Diabate and countless other cocoa slaves. Our hope is that, by next Valentine's Day, consumers will be able to purchase chocolate with a clear conscience.”...

Yup. There reads a fine reason to give up yet another vice. So, like the good little addict that I am, I did a little research to find out if there were GOOD chocolate "dealers" out there as opposed to the corporate giant variety that, huge as they are, can't manage to say NO to people using child slave labor after being given FOUR YEARS to make that happen. It turns out there are. There are Fair Trade Farms around the world where one can order things like coffee and chocolate; where slave labor is strictly prohibited and farms are inspected to ensure that Fair Trade standards are being met. Check it out and for information where to order chocolate without guilt – go to: FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED

Thank you.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Mind Soup Sunday

There are places that people in LA will not leave their place in line for, for any reason. Pinks Hot Dogs is one of those places. Even when Brad Pitt staged his own kidnapping there for a prank. People screamed, but remained in line for their chili dogs or foot long spicy dogs with extra kraut. Driving up La Brea Avenue the other day after being pulled over for 2 fire trucks and 1 paramedic vehicle, I continued on my merry way after they had passed ahead of me, only to find as I caught up with them that apparently someone had collapsed, been murdered or simply choked and/or died perhaps, at Pinks Hotdogs. Pinks is a Hollywood tradition and diet staple, like grits in the south or pickled herring in parts of Wisconsin. The line for dogs is always a long one and this particular day was no different, though you’d think the scene would make one lose one’s appetite or at least say “gee, let’s go across the street to The Pig,” but no. The long lunch line and food service was still in motion, despite the drama occurring right there. Perhaps reality teeVee has desensitized even the most weak-of-stomach-type-person. Well, the dogs are really good – in fact, Manpants and I used to have an agreement that no matter what we were on our way to, if we drove by and there was no line, we would have to stop and get a dog. The only time THAT happened was on 9/11 – and we didn’t much feel like stopping that day.

I was seriously contemplating writing the long overdue conclusion of Courtesy Confidential that I started here a bazillion ages ago, but when last I visited my hack noir tale I had just tripped over a severed leg that I mistook for a tree root after finding the dead body of the Jiffy Lube guy in the bathroom at Starbucks while inappropriately flirting with the sissy-man who was the most likely murder suspect. Now that’s not necessarily all that disturbing in that particular context but for the fact that I finally saw the 1999 film TITUS over the weekend which was Julie Taymor’s brilliant take on Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS. There’s a scene in the film that is particularly gruesome - okay, there are several and they keep topping each other, but this particular one is haunting and burned into my memory with no indication that it’s leaving anytime soon. So clumsiness with body parts will have to wait until another day. Meanwhile I’ll have to deal with the rest of the mess that's rattling around in my somewhat addled brain.

For example, I frequently wake up in the morning thinking of “What if I woke up this morning and..." scenarios to break up my routine: “What if I woke up one morning and dressed up in a clown costume for no reason, spending the day frightening perfectly innocent people...” “What if I woke up one morning, let myself into my friends houses while they weren't at home and reorganized their kitchen cupboards so that nothing was where it was supposed to be..." This morning I thought it would be a really great idea to go for an entire day as if I were Star Man. Like Jeff Bridges (a highly under-appreciated actor in my opinion) in the movie. If you are too young to know about the movie Star Man, as I've said before, go out and play, you shouldn't be on the computer. Anyway... if I were to truly do this experiment justice, it would mean I would have to approach everything as if I had never experienced it before. First I realized the supreme flaw of my brilliant idea when I went to get coffee. I, according to my brilliant role playing, didn’t know how to make coffee, let alone know what a coffee maker would even look like or for that matter, what coffee WAS. I can’t start my day without coffee and after much dilemma as to staying true to my Sunday LIFE EXERCISE I had a rather HUGE problem. I figured I could walk to the nearest Starbucks and order a coffee, but again, that would involve knowing intuitively that there was a substance that I could ingest that would wake me up AND get rid of the headache I was starting to develop from not having caffeine, and that I could walk to a building that had people in it who would GIVE me this headache curing elixir if I gave them objects of payment called “currency” in the denomination that they specified. Phew. I knew DRIVING there was completely out of the question. I also realized that there was nothing in my refrigerator that in its present state could be interpreted as being “food” or “drink” because I hadn’t done the grocery shopping yet and I was about to be in a very sorry state. All this took place in the 5 minutes from my waking to my scrapping the idea and making myself a delicious pot of French roast. I have been spending the rest of the day quite happy in my knowledge that I have numerous skills, accomplishments and information that heretofore I have been taking for granted, and that I really DO have a well-rounded collection of coping skills despite what it says on the prescription label.

Thank God the idea to play Star Man originally came to me AFTER I’d already used the toilet this morning.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Feng Weee!

As I went to work on Friday, I followed my usual routine of driving down Martel Avenue, cursing and shaking my fist in disbelief and exasperation at the gentleman of dubious intellect in front of me holding his cell phone up close to his face while he text messaged someone...while driving. I guess he’d run out of talking minutes and was trying to save money, ostensibly to pay for the coffins of the people he was about to kill by sheer idiocy. Guess he didn’t hear about that new roll over plan. Anyway, I made it to work in time to get my ritual Friday cinnamon roll from the bakery of yummy goodness nearby, my extra large cup o Joe and up the elevator I went. A 60ish man wearing sun glasses in the daytime got on the elevator and proceeded to leer at the females. Ew. I automatically pictured him in his underwear as a defense mechanism only to envision the leather thong that people of his ilk are bound to wear, I’m just sure of it. I burst out laughing before safely reaching my floor, solidifying my reputation yet again as the crazy lady that works in suite 808. Crazy, but also easily amused.

Now before I go further in my little day from hell, I should go back a couple of weeks to the day when I decided to “Clear my clutter with Feng Shui.” Now in case you’ve managed to never hear what Feng Shui is, it is a philosophy that creates an environment which is ergonomic; it lets us work efficiently, comfortably and successfully by following the patterns of nature. This huge undertaking began with my home, and extended on to my cubicle pod. Not to my car, that’s just crazy. Since I was on a roll, I took this whole “Wealth and Prosperity corner” business very seriously. So I put a fountain in it. In my cubicle. The same cubicle where Ursula, the Cubicle Witch likes to point her knarled forefinger at decorative infractions, ever reminding us what is regulation, and what is not. If you can even fathom the look on her face when she saw the fountain. Did I mention it has festive red and blue lights? She appeared in my newly clutter-cleared-cubicle (AGAIN with the alliteration. God I love it when I get to do that) and the eyes widened. The knarled hands clutched at her chest as she stammered, “Wha-wha-wha…”

“It’s a Feng Shui fountain,” I said. “It’s for productivity and the acquisition of wealth for the company.”

Ursula was speechless. Finally.

“I figured the place could use a little sprucing up in that department,” I said.

Ursula, still speechless, left my cubicle pod, in search, no doubt for the Human Resource Director. I sat there, wide eyed and bushy tailed, waiting for the guillotine.

So, back to Friday, the day from hell. Two weeks had passed without incident; I turned the fountain on every day and enjoyed the little tinkling sound of water throughout my day. I continued to clear clutter from my home and while doing so managed to drive a wall hanger straight through my thumb while hanging a mirror. Mirrors are important to Feng Shui. Apparently so is blood. Nature and all.

Anyway, it was Friday, after the text messaging future vehicular manslaughter guy and leering sunglasses guy; I was just about to dig into my cinnamon roll at my desk when my boss asked me into his office to inform me that my hours are being significantly cut.

What does Feng Shui mean again? Oh yeah –

“People will believe anything.”