Letters for the week of December 15-21, 2004 

Taking us to task for perpetuating the biodiesel lie, and writing in support of the poultry rescue movement.

Page 2 of 2

Go veg
Kudos to the East Bay Animal Advocates for exposing the miseries endured by billions of birds raised for food each year. As a former animal control officer in our nation's capital, I handled countless cases of heartbreaking cruelty and abuse -- but none as violent or horrific as the routine mistreatment and slaughter of factory-farmed chickens and turkeys. Although these gentle birds experience pain and fear just like cats and dogs, there are virtually no laws to protect them. Consequently, they are crammed inside filthy sheds or tiny wire cages, mutilated without pain relief, and deprived of everything natural to them -- most will never even set foot outside or breathe fresh air. At slaughter, many are scalded alive in feather-removal tanks.

Luckily, for those of us opposed to cruelty to animals, a vegetarian diet is perhaps the most effective way to express our compassion. For a free vegetarian starter kit packed with great recipes, call 1-888-VEG-FOOD or visit GoVeg.com.
Erica Meier, staff writer, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Norfolk, Virginia

"Building a Better Elephant," Feature, 11/17

It's enough to give one a genuinely bad attitude
As a former employee of Elephant Pharmacy, I appreciated your article on the company and its founder Stuart Skorman. Not only was it interesting to read about a company I had been affiliated with, but it also resonated with me and echoed the experiences I had as an employee of Elephant.

I joined the company a few weeks after they opened the store in Berkeley. In addition to needing a job, it was an exciting and interesting opportunity to work with such an idealistic and ambitious company in the entrepreneurial stages. I quickly made fast friends with many of the employees, and your article reminded me of the atmosphere of enthusiasm and empowerment that was prevalent in the early days.

As time progressed, however, it became more and more apparent that the company management was in over their heads. I have a deep background in business management, expertise in inventory management, and experience in the pharmacy business, and so I freely offered my advice and expertise. I was made responsible for the inventory management for the store, and despite making half to one-fourth of the pay that this responsibility would normally get, I viewed it as a long-term relationship and did my part to make Elephant the best it could be.

I was one of a handful of employees selected to serve on a committee with the company's pharmacists, herbalists, and executives to continuously develop Elephant's direction in the marketplace. On many occasions I expressed my concerns about the inventory process, several times in writing, to the store's GM, CEO, and COO. It soon became obvious that every statement, and every promise, that came from management was merely lip-service. They would acknowledge issues, and were always positive about suggestions, but continuously fought any change in business practices. Over several months, my frustration grew as management ambled ever forward blindly.

In my duties I worked closely with VP Sandy Sickley, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning, and in this close working relationship I was starting to build a friendship. One day over coffee I shared with Sandy my fears and frustration over the state of operations at Elephant and what I thought would happen if immediate and acute changes were not made. She suggested I take this up with store manager Al Briscoe, my immediate supervisor. I voiced concern about my job, noting that several dissenters had already been dismissed. She told me explicitly, "This is not the kind of workplace where people are fired for speaking their mind."

Emboldened, I pulled the GM aside later that day and shared with him the critical need I saw to upgrade the store's inventory processes and POS systems. He nodded and seemed to understand, but it was clear to me that this was more of the same, and no material changes would happen.

Later that week, I was unceremoniously terminated for having a "bad attitude." I was shocked, angry, and saddened. Despite the fact that I felt I did nothing wrong, it reflected badly upon me. In order to console myself I fell back on the fact that in twelve years of work experience this was the only job I was ever fired from.

It has been over a year and a half since I was employed at Elephant, and I no longer bear any resentment. I hope that the management at Elephant has learned from their early mistakes, and your article makes me think that this may be the case. I wish the best of luck to everyone at Elephant because, after all, it is a great idea and has the potential to be a great business.
Kurt di Sessa, San Francisco

Shop Rite Aid first
Your story contained the surprising assertion that CVS stores are "nonunion, like the rest of the chain drugstore industry." That overlooks a huge exception. Rite Aid stores were union shops last time I checked -- at least here in California, where Rite Aid assumed the Thrifty chain's union contracts when it bought out that chain.

If you want to shop at a big-box drugstore but shop ethically, head for Rite Aid first. They may not have the industry's spiffiest or most welcoming stores, but they do respect their employees' collective-bargaining rights. That means their folks can earn a bit more, stress out less about arbitrary firings, and waste less of their wages buying jive "wellness" potions from the boss.
Michael Katz, Berkeley

A modern-day robber baron
The article seems to portray the founder of Elephant Pharmacy, Stuart Skorman, as a flawed startup savant with good intentions that can take wrong turns. Well-documented evidence ignored by the author suggests otherwise. The $17 million profit Skorman made in selling Reel.com is presented as an honorable part of his startup résumé. However, Reel.com was a dot-com business fiasco as notorious as they come even in that era of excessive business hubris. Reel.com had a fatally flawed business model, and the startup owner cashed out with a handsome profit based on hype while leaving others to go down with a sinking ship that ultimately burned up several hundred million dollars. No doubt many investors and workers were financially ruined in this process while Mr. Skorman made out like a robber baron.

How can this be neglected when casting his methods as successful? Or do we define success merely by personal profit at the expense of others? I, for one, do not. An honorable businessman should feel some responsibility to those who worked effectively for him. The past actions of Mr. Skorman suggest that he takes care of himself but not his workers. How can he now be believed when he suggests that he will pay significant stock options and health benefits that were never concretely defined? Is he suddenly going to become charitable with financial assets in his pocket? It seems to me that Mr. Skorman has found a new business model: Taking advantage of idealistic Berkeley youth in pursuit of personal profit. Shame on the Express for not exposing this more clearly and becoming an apologist for Mr. Skorman.
Steven M. Lund, Berkeley

"Jello's Silver Lining," Down in Front, 11/10

Not really insane
In response to Rob Harvilla's review of the Slim's AT show: I agree that Comets on Fire, the Fleshies, and Jello and the Melvins were entertaining. Comets, in my opinion, were far more interesting than the Fleshies, but the elves were fun; I'm sure they fit some people's tastes more than mine. Jello was fun but by no means INSANE.

It's painfully apparent that Rob is making the genre comparisons of one only familiar with music from skimming the sections at Amoeba. Handsome Family is nothing like Cessna; the comparison is so weak it barely passes the laugh test. Slim and crew, true to form, fully engaged the audience. Case in point, Munly (who Rob compares to Stipe's skeleton -- a weak pop reference that underlines his sensibilities) pierced through the crowd and at least three adjacent buildings with his wicked gaze in his trance-like diatribe about the fish hook dangling from his neck.

On the other hand, the Bellrays were, as Borat would say, "Boring." It was an ideal time to swig down a couple more drinks. A line actually formed at both restrooms as bored members of the audience tried to find something to distract them from the nonevent onstage.
Clay Newton, Richmond


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