Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “May, 2011”

Should police have more tasers? -Tom Rossi

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there is renewed discussion about Tasers. Police departments, including BART police, are contemplating making Tasers standard equipment for officers. Of course, this has re-opened the incident that never really closed – the shooting of Oscar Grant by  BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle.

The following is a re-posting of what I wrote following the sentencing of former officer Mehserle. It once again seems relevant.

Oscar Grant: Overkill

The shooting of Oscar Grant was the result of the de-facto policy of many police officers: the practice of using so-called non-lethal force as a form of punishment. If you believe that officer Mehserle did in fact pull his firearm by mistake, then that is an admission that he intended to taser a suspect that had already been subdued and was clearly complying.

Grant may not have been in compliance all along (although he was certainly not violent), but the minute the other officer put his knee on his neck, Grant put his arms and legs back into a submissive position. His body language said, “OK, you’re really hurting my neck, so I’m going to cooperate.” It was only then that officer Mehserle pulled his weapon. This was all clearly visible in several of the videos taken by bystanders. This can be seen here:

We have seen this repeated, although with lesser consequences, many times, thanks to citizen videos. Many police officers seem to have a nonchalant attitude when it comes to their tasers. But what would have been Mehserle’s sentence if he had actually tasered Grant, who then died of a heart attack? Under the law, this is an outcome that could be foreseen by a reasonable person – tasers cause a strong physiological reaction. Therefore, using a taser is an action that requires strong justification. And in fact, over 250 people have died in the United States from the Taser.

So, the issue would not have been whether or not the gun was used by accident, but WHY did Mehserle decide to use his taser under these conditions?

The job of a police officer is certainly one of the most difficult in modern society. Each day, an officer walks a thin, jagged line between levels of enforcement that are either too lax or overzealous. However, the function of the police is never to punish offenders, but to apprehend them using the least amount of force necessary.

The issue of the inappropriate use of force, whether lethal or non-lethal, has been overshadowed by the accident question and the race issue. But the more important question should be: Under what circumstances should the police use harmful or even potentially lethal force at all?

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Midwest Book Review

Last week, The Accidental Activist, received a review from the reputable Midwest Book Review. My publisher had submitted the novel when it came out last year. Here is the review:

“To push for a better world is not always everyone’s first goal. “The Accidental Activist” is a novel drawing on author Alon Shalev’s own experiences to tell the story of a court case with the world on its shoulders. Focused on the real events of a libel case against McDonalds in the 1990s in London, “The Accidental Activist” uses reality to enrich the fiction and leads to a very entertaining read that pulls no punches or censors no events.”

The Accidental Activist - Alon Shalev

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Memorial Day – Another Perspective

When I first came to the US, I asked a colleague how one behaves on Memorial Day. She looked at me in surprise. “Fire up the barbecue and chill the beer.” Allowing for the disturbing thought of chilling beer (I am a Brit and newly arrived in the US), I was surprised at her response. “What about the memories of soldiers?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, creasing her brow. “There’s some of that on army bases and at cemeteries, I guess.”

Today, I would like to share how Memorial Day is observed in Israel, where everyone serves in the army and so everyone knows someone who lost their life in uniform. This is an excerpt form my next novel, Unwanted Heroes.

At 11am, a siren is sounded and the whole country comes to a stop.

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James sighs. “I served in the marines in Vietnam. Jane knows I was an officer, a decorated officer. There are five medals in a case in my den. My unit was honored by President Johnson and he spent some time visiting us.”

He pauses, staring into a distant past. “Jane knows that while her friends’ families organize barbeques on Memorial Day, her father disappears. She knows that in the days leading up to Memorial Day, he secludes himself in his den when he’s not at the office, and that he doesn’t share jokes or listen very well to his little girl’s stories.

“Maybe she sees him drinking more during this time, though I hope not. Perhaps she sees that her mother is uncharacteristically understanding and supportive, stealing worried glances at her husband, knowing she is powerless to help.”

James stops for a moment and takes a long, contemplative drink and a deep breath before continuing with unconcealed venom.

“I hate Memorial Day. I hate that it’s a national excuse to party. You know, I went on a business trip once to Israel and the middle of the trip coincided with their Memorial Day. Every man serves in the army there and many women too. Everyone has lost somebody. I was being driven from Tel Aviv to Haifa on their equivalent of Highway 5. At exactly eleven in the morning the driver pulled over. My host had forewarned me that this would happen, but I was still astonished at what I saw. We all got out of our cars, I mean everyone. The whole highway stopped; six lanes of traffic. People stood in silence by their cars, heads bowed, as sirens wailed from car radios.”

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Now I enjoy a barbecue just like the next non-meat eater, and I have even learned to drink my beer chilled. But can we not find 60 seconds in the day and bring the whole country to a stop: to remember, to reflect, to honor?

Just 60 seconds.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Serious Agenda – Education 2

I thought of adding this to the blog post yesterday but felt it might be conceived as frivolous. Just in case I am accused of getting too serious, I thought to share it as a separate post. How can I quote the New York Times and not The Daily Show?

Enjoy.

The Daily Show – Crisis in Dairyland – Apocalypse Cow

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Serious Economic Agenda – Education

This week I began a series of posts about the need to address what is the foundation needed for a 21st Century economy. While other components can have a relatively quick impact, the effects of a competitive and relevant education system is long-term and yet crucial. We can keep on blindly following any of the other areas in the hope that something else occurs – like ceasing to depend upon oil by the time we have exhausted our supplies – but education is an investment that we will not be able to measure so easily or quickly.

If the US wants to remain the world leader, it needs to boast the best education system in the world. Currently, the US ranks 18th among the 36 industrial nations. There are many aspects of the education system that need overhaul, but I want to focus on something very tangible: the status of teachers.

I am proud of the fact that my sons are in public schools. I know we are lucky to live in an area where education is prioritized and a local politician cannot survive without offering more than lip service. Before we moved to the US, my wife and I considered applying to a private school for scholarships because we had heard a lot of negativity regarding the US public education system.

Then two separate parents told me that their children had endured difficult years in their private schools. It all depends on the teacher, one told me, and this resonated for me. Between them, my children have spent 8 years in the public school system, and there is only one teacher that I feel was less than very good, with the majority being excellent. By this I mean that they inspired our children to love science, maths, reading and art. They have helped to imbue a sense of citizenship in our children, who know how to respect and play with children of all colors and religions, as well as those with physical challenges. I see this every day in the variety of friends they hang out with and bring home for play dates.

An inspirational story that happens every day in our classrooms.

Some thoughts on teachers:

1. The Nine Month Year: Teachers don’t just need to know how to teach, they need to show up every day and be inspiring. They need to show patience and compassion at all times in the face of sensitive young souls, who can learn the wrong lesson in one careless exchange with a teacher. For this reason, I do not resent their summer vacation. Following on from this, I do not consider their salary being a reflection of nine months, as they need to pay rent and other bills for 12 months of the year. Neither do I want them flipping burgers during the summer, as one insensitive critic suggested, but recharging their batteries for the next year.

One teacher asked me to add that some of this summer ‘vacation’ is spent learning new methods or updating their curriculum.

2. Salaries: If we are serious about respect for the profession, we need to measure it in terms of financial rewards. Teachers seem to earn between $28K – $70K, the higher end going to those with Masters and Doctoral degrees, or extensive experience. Are we surprised that people would rather screw up in the financial world and receive six or seven-figure bonuses than need to succeed in a classroom? I can’t find an article I was reading that says professional retention among teachers under 35-year-old is now less than five years, but I read it very recently. In other words, even the most idealistic gets burnt out before they acquire much experience in the field.

How are we to finance a serious salary increase across the board without raising taxes? I’m not sure that we can in the short-term. Sure fixing that everyone (including corporations) pays taxes (to be dealt with in the next few posts), whether we can afford three wars simultaneously, and other such ideas would help.

But ignorance is just as expensive. “It has been projected that over the next five years, the state’s budget for locking up people will rise by 9 percent annually, compared with its spending on higher education, which will rise only by 5 percent. By the 2012-2013 fiscal year, $15.4 billion will be spent on incarcerating Californians, as compared with $15.3 billion spent on educating them.” – source.

3. Respect – finally there is the issue of respect. It is inconceivable that politicians and pundits denigrate and insult our teachers as we have seen over the past few months in regard to the labor struggle in Wisconsin. It is not just about lowering their own self-esteem, but what message are we giving the children who are sitting in their classroom? Please take a moment to watch the Daily Show skit below and feel free to swear along

The Daily Show – Recap – Week of 02/28/11

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Elwin Cotman – Performing in Oakland and SF

Elwin Cotman is a member of the Berkeley Writer’s Circle and I want to promote two performances this weekend. Elwin describes himself as “a writer of fantasy fiction. I am the author of “The Jack Daniels Sessions EP.” I am as old as the movie “Purple Rain.”

Elwin Cotman

That description sums up Elwin’s style. You are listening to something flowing and literary, then suddenly laughing out loud. He is more than just an author giving a reading, he is a performer. For more on Elwin, check out his blog (gotta love the blog title).

The Jack Daniels Sessions

His two shows this weekend are:

5/27, 9pm – Cafe International Open Mic, 508 Haight Street, San Francisco
5/29, 7pm -Musick Box Co-op, 3404 Market Street,Oakland.
For those of you not living in the Bay Area, here are more tour dates:
+ Sat, 5/28, 4pm: Santa Clara, CA – Baycon Science Fiction Convention
+ Sat, 5/28, 7:00pm: Santa Cruz, CA – SubRosa community space
+ Tue, 5/31, 9:00pm: Redding, CA – House Reading/Show! at Gary Piazza’s – 1336 Tehama St
+ Thur, 6/2, 7:00pm: Portland, OR – 1,000 Words Reading at The Waypost
+ Fri, 6/3, 7:00pm: Vancouver, OR – The Space Art Collective
+ Sat, 6/4, 7:00pm: Portland, OR – Red and Black Cafe
+ Tue, 6/7, 7:30pm: Boise, ID – Hyde Park Books
+ Thur, 6/9, 7:00pm: Seattle, WA – University Bookstore
+ Fri, 6/10, 3:00pm: Olympia, WA – Last Word Books
Good luck, Elwin.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).


Concord Hymn Revisited: Story Telling for Social Change

…here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world…

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Concord Hymn” in 1836 for a dedication in Concord, Massachusetts to honor the men who gave their lives at the Battle of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775), the first battle of the American Revolution.

Travel left 3,000 miles to a spot just outside the glamour of San Francisco Bay. Here sits Concord CA, a small working class city at the weathered heels of Mt Diablo and flanked to the north by the bay’s brackish waters that glow in the dull flames of oil refining. At its southern flank rests the plastic town of Walnut Creek packed with brand-o-phile stores doing their part to fuel the debtor-nation.

Photo by Ted Hamiter  http://www.flickr.com/photos/trhamiter/2890931015/

Step forward to the year 2065, an author is honoring a movement and the date of December 21, 2012 with a poem. Much like the village of Concord MA on the outskirts of Boston, the non-descript city of Concord CA, would eventually become known as the marker of Economic Revolution.

The year 2011 was rough on the middleclass and the future didn’t look bright. In early 2012 the economy was still stagnant, China and India were consuming more energy and US gas prices hovered around $6 per gallon. Thirty years after Reagan devastated energy policies the country still had no cohesive plan. Because 2012 was an election year, Republicans were continuing the transfer of wealth to the upper-class and Big Business. The outlook for the common man was bleak.

A small group of frustrated citizens gathered and outlined a socially-just plan that would improve the living standards for all Concordians; the plan was published on the Mayan Time of Transition, December 21, 2012. The plan had a one-two punch with the first hitting immediately and the second coming about ten years later. For the initial phase, the group endorsed the Transition Town movement that focused on local economies and sustainability.

Within ten short years the city was completely transformed:

1)      There was an excess in local organic vegetable and protein food production.

2)      Unemployment was at a negative 15%.

3)      90% of suburban polluting lawns were converted to edible gardens.

4)      Water consumption dropped by 70%.

5)      Rooftops were retrofitted for algae production and then harvested for liquid energy conversion. The city became a green oil producer.

6)      There were no food deserts in any part of the city, fresh food was available within a five minute walk, children and adults enjoyed real food and obesity was below 15%.

7)      The environment was being regenerated and the city was carbon negative.

But the citizens weren’t satisfied. They knew their Garden of Eden was in danger. Sustainability and a happy healthy society are the enemy of Big Business and financial institutions that need an ever-expanding debtor economy to survive. The evil empires and their crony politicians would be coming.

By now the Transition Movement was sweeping the nation. It was time to release the final punch; the knockout punch that would put Big Business on the canvas where it belongs, supporting citizens and not controlling them. On January 1, 2023 most Concord citizens stopped paying loan obligations for homes and cars. They used social media to encourage the nation to do the same. Banks, Wall Street and insurance were crippled—the robber barons were forced to act responsible for the first time since the early1980s. The redistribution of wealth–back to the middleclass–had begun.

…here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world…

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Changing Car Production

On Monday, I said we would begin to tackle the serious issues we are facing. I’m not going to write here about the benefits of hybrid cars. I’m going to take it as given that most of the Left Coast Voices readership believe in the threat of global warming and understand the environmental benefits of hybrid cars. If you disagree with me, feel free to state your case in the comments section. I plan to write about alternative energy at a later date.

What I want to ask is: if we already have the technology to create the hybrid car, then why are we still producing non-hybrid cars? While every other car in the Bay Area is a Prius, did you know that Porsche are producing a hybrid sports car? Also Jaguar are busy producing their own hybrid line, and both cars should be ready to coincide with my fiftieth birthday (to help this come true, please contact your local top fiction publisher or blockbuster movie company!).

I only want one so that I can commute to work in the car pool lane!

The Chinese, I believe, use the same word to mean disaster and opportunity. With the collapse of the American car industry, there was an opportunity that was only partially grasped. The American public seemed willing to bail out the US car industry but insisted that it become relevant in today’s economy. I had the opportunity to hold this discussion with about a dozen patriotic, forward-thinking Americans, almost all of whom are loyal Toyota, Honda and Lexus drivers.

Ford Escape Hybrid - the top choice for my next family car.

In restructuring the American car industry, why didn’t we insist that only cars with a minimum mpg be produced? Why not decide now that no car with a fuel consumption of less than 35 mpg will be made on American soil by 2013 – the technology is there, so why wait for a few more icebergs to melt?

Can we go further and not import cars that fail to adhere to such standards? Instead of fearing repercussions from our fellow business partners abroad, why not build consensus by bringing them on board to adopt the same standards? The country that manufactures Toyota, Honda and Lexus, fully understands what happens when the natural world goes out of sync.

What’s holding us back from taking this simple, but bold step? We’ll discuss that on Friday.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

iReligion 3.12

What I’ve suspected for years is now official – Apple is now…

a religion.

A group of neuroscientists has scanned the brains of Apple maniacs and found that their brains react to the sight of an ipod or an ipad the same way the brains of devout Christians react to images of Jesus on the cross. I call it “iReligion 3.12” because it’s been around for quite a while, though until now undiscovered by science.

This has been pretty obvious for a long time. Ever try to tell an Apple person that an Apple product is not so easy to use or is flawed in any tiny way, whatsoever? Better bring your boxing gloves.

I think that you can extend this definition of a religion much more broadly that just to Apple-maniacs. I think the same reasoning (or lack thereof) excretes a species I will call “brand-o-philes” into the world. Brand-o-philes are people who worship a brand name, like Nike or Adidas, or even a team, like the Cowboys or the Lakers. As I have said in a previous post, these are the elements of fake individuality.

People love to put stickers on their cars – actually PAYING to advertise some corporation’s wares. How many times have I seen a giant Nike “swoosh” sticker in the back window of a pickup truck? How many times have I seen a plain-old t-shirt made to look “cool” by the word, “Abercrombie” or “Hollister?”

But many people go way beyond trying to look cool. They believe so thoroughly in this fake individuality that they convince themselves that this is a form of expression, when it’s not expressing anything but the almost random choice of who or what to follow like a sheep.

But they will defend their brands furiously – sometimes even willing to get into fist-fights over which team is “better”, even if neither team has won a game in the past month.

People feel like winners when their team wins. It’s a sort of vindication for “sticking with the team” through bad seasons in previous years. They feel like winners when they wear the latest styles, attracting the admiring gazes of other fashion-victims. They feel like winners when they drive a new, shiny car down the street. They feel like winners when they outwardly imitate or show allegiance to winners.

And of course I am not innocent in all this. I have proudly worn my Boston Bruins, pro-weight hockey jersey to many a hockey game, emblazoned with the name of one of my all-time favorite players, Ray Bourque, #77. But I draw the line at advertising. I’ve even gone as far as to blacken out logos on clothes or hats because I refuse to advertise for free. Hell, some companies I wouldn’t advertise if they paid me!

Here is a list of our country’s top religions:

1. materialism

2. winner-worship

3. brand-worship

4. celebrity-worship

5. worship of shiny things

What it all adds up to is that we worship coolness and we worship image. We want to look and seem cool, but we also want to FEEL cool. We want to become the “Third Person Singular” as Don DeLillo coined in his novel, Americana. What Delillo meant was not the pronoun we were taught in English class (he, she, it) but the “sublime other” – whose image we long to inhabit. “To consume in America is not to buy; it is to dream.”

And there we are – lost sheep, dreaming and pretending that we are or will be the eagles soaring overhead.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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A Serious Economic Agenda

I think I was exposed this weekend to the so-called Weekend Chat Shows. I won’t do it again (though I’m most perturbed that the soccer season is over and the NBA is coming to a close). I’m fed up with the way that we, the so-called informed population, allow our politicians and pundits to play out whatever fictional version they advocate to promote their own agendas.

Blaming President Obama for the economic meltdown a month or so after he took office is obnoxious – that many of the public bought it is truly stunning. Even today, when the President is still basking in the public’s praise regarding the assassination of bin Laden, a Republican politician, when asked if this gives Obama the Presidency in 2012, said Obama still has to account for the state of the economy.  As if these Republicans weren’t around for the previous eight years, or for that matter, in power.

I do not believe that the recession is about everyone having a hard time. Houses in Berkeley are selling quickly and financial coaches all agree that there is money to made in a recession. A recession is more about a sharpened distribution of wealth than wealth disappearing from the economy.

Neither do I think it is about Republicans or Democrats. There is a structural problem in our economy that needs and can be addressed quickly. Over the next couple of weeks, I want to focus on some of the following aspects.

1. Education  – a 21st century economy requires a 22nd century education system. It begins with creating a work force that is competitive and highly esteemed. The average teacher in California earns just under $69,000. I don’t believe they work more or less than the rest of us. Their challenges and pressures are simply different.

2. Taxes – Everybody pays their taxes and they are proportional to how much each person earns. There can be some flexibility for differing circumstances, but to allow the rich to pay less taxes proportionately than the poor is absurd. The fact that so many of the working and middle class accept this is unfathomable.

3. Energy – Moving away for an oil-based economy, or at least cutting it drastically has repercussions not only on energy, but also foreign policy. As the head of the multinational oil company said in The Accidental Activist – true change will only come when the public are challenged at the pumps.

We might not hold all the answers, but our worst enemy is apathy. Let the discussion begin…

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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