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”

The Yelp Conspiracy

Yesterday, I posted a positive message about Yelp. While searching for images I came across the following image:

I couldn’t resist a little digging and here is the story. My source is a Boston Food Blog. I do not know the blogger, one William McAdoo.He is a self-confessed foodie, whose mission is to help people have inspiring gastronomical experiences. He found himself quoted in the Boston Globe saying:

“Some restaurateurs and staff who do not have a favorable view of these sites spoke to me under condition of anonymity. “There’s sometimes a faceless nastiness on the sites,’’ says one. “People will sometimes attack chefs personally in a way that’s baseless and cruel.’’ A well-known restaurateur who refused to put a Google sticker on his door says, “They collect personal information and sell it. Why should I help? They can manufacture popularity with these sites, but it can go the other way.’’

This quote stimulated an underground movement of alternative review sites such as Chowhound and eGullet which are national forums. For all my readers in Boston (are there any?), or people planning to visit that fair city, there are North Shore Dish, Eat Boutique, and the well-named: Fork It Over, Boston.

But what fascinates me is whether in the fiercely competitive world of gourmet restaurants, are owners sending people to post negative reviews? The mind boggles with possibilities. How about training rats to cook exquisite meals. Oh wait, that has already happened.

The question remains, however: in this on-line world where we are all increasingly checking reviews before buying a product or service, who is watching the watchers? And who gives reviews on them!

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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).


The 1981 Epoch: Ronald Reagan’s Genocide of the Middleclass

Staring at the extinction of their middleclass way of life, you’d think Americans would be ‘mad as hell and not going to take this anymore’.

It is mind boggling that so many Americans have a god-like fascination with Ronald Reagan. This is the man who set in motion the financial gang-raping of the middleclass. Unbelievably, a significant portion of Middle America still loves the man. Why? Is it some sort of Battered Wife Syndrome, the ongoing reality-clouding propaganda by Citizens United or is the conservative middleclass too embarrassed to admit that they were duped by Reaganomics?

But, here we are, repeating stupidity. Instead of trying to reverse Reaganomics, we are now trying to enhance it; more tax cuts for the rich and for corporations, more union busting, deregulation and privatization of government programs.

To increase our understanding, let’s review history: today, many Americans believe that middleclass society magically appeared with the birth of our nation and grew over time. This is not true. With the market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, the country fell into economic chaos and floundered under Republican President Herbert Hoover. Prior to that, there were a few rich people, a lot of poorfolk and a handful of in-betweeners. Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in March of 1933, quickly launched new legislation and executive orders that would become known as the New Deal.

The New Deal increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans, increased corporate taxes, regulated banks and Wall Street, created government programs (social security, unemployment insurance and minimum wage), and created pro-union alliances. FDR’s policies pulled our Nation out of the depression and gave rise to Middle America. In less than a decade, the Leave It To Beaver and Ozzy And Harriet society would grow to become the largest demographic in the country and the envy of the world—The Great American Middleclass.

From the late 30s through the late 70s America prospered and the Middleclass would live comfortably. In steps the B-movie cowboy with his traveling show of Reaganomics and the 1981 epoch begins. Middle America starts to save less to maintain living standards, eventually leading to the necessity of financing their way of life. Wealth transfers from the Middleclass to banks, corporations and the rich get richer. Wealth disparity now sit at the largest level since the robber-baron days of the late 1800s through the 1920s.

We need a call to action. We need leaders with intellect and integrity but most importantly we need leaders with the political will of FDR. We need a champion of the Middleclass.

Americans need to act, educating ourselves on what policies actually work based on historic proof. We must not listen to money-influenced mainstream media. We must not let ourselves polarize against each other with agenda promoted by today’s corporate-financed politicians—it’s their tactic to divide and conquer.

Social media can be the great equalizer; we’ve seen its power in the Middle East. We can use it to educate, organize, create an agenda and protest. Once we have an alliance with critical mass, change will come. Here’s an example: use social media to organize home owners to not pay their mortgages for a few months. Even if a portion of home owners participated, the financial institutions would be chewing on the politicians’ asses to find a resolution before the markets tank.

Change is easier than we realize.

Genocide of the Middleclass, begun by Ronald Reagan, must stop.

-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.

The Power of Yelp

I was vaguely aware of Yelp for some time, but only joined last month when I had a strong (positive) experience with a car mechanic (any Saab drivers looking for a good mechanic?). A week ago, I had a similar experience at a Credit Union … and when I got home, I went straight to Yelp.

In this past month, I have gone to Yelp on several occasions before going to a particular store or service (or not  going). In this age of Internet, Yelp empowers the consumer to make informed decisions through interaction with other people.

Does Anyone Know The Story Behind This?

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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).

Tax Mysteries Uncovered – Part 3

This is the continuation of the discussion started in part 1 and continued in part 2 of how people benefit from the services paid for by taxes and the simple principle that the people who benefit the most should pay the most. I have called this a corollary to the well known saying: “You get what you pay for,” and turned that around to: “Pay for what you get.”

Let’s look at some very basic government services (paid for by taxes) that benefit individuals or individual families as well as businesses – police and fire protection.

Of these, fire protection is the simpler example. People with more money generally have bigger, nicer homes and personal property (furniture and so forth). In addition, some people own more than one piece of real property – a second home, a business, etc. These all need to be protected from fire and, therefore, they add to the tax burden.

Owning more or better things also means more that the police are called upon to protect from theft, vandalism, and other types of property crime. What’s more, you can be sure that the police will put a lot more effort into investigating a stolen Lamborghini than a stolen skateboard.

People with more and better property obviously have more at risk and more that needs protection. But in addition, protecting this property actually costs more per person, and therefore more per taxpayer. So if you have more to protect, shouldn’t you pay more for the protection?

The government has also, with tax dollars, subsidized power-generation projects such as hydroelectric dams. I, for one, wish they hadn’t done this, but again – the people who have benefited the most from these projects are the ones who have used the most power. Large homes and businesses use a lot more power than a middle-class, three-bedroom tract house.

Also, remember that what you buy, you buy from businesses that depend on all these services and infrastructures as well. Their use of public services lowers their costs and, ostensibly, lowers the price you pay them for whatever you buy. And the more you buy, the more you benefit.

Anyone who has enjoyed success in this country has done so on the framework of its infrastructures, its resources, its people, and all the myriad of pieces that have been put together (many on the back of government) in the past. The idea that someone has “made it” all on his or her own, is an idiotic, narcissistically romantic hallucination.

So stop whining, and pay for what you get.

-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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Community Supported Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a marketing model that has been around for a few years now. In Israel, my kibbutz was the first to introduce this approach of buying produce and supporting the local farmer.

The traditional model means that an astonishing two years can pass between the farmer buying the seeds and receiving money for the sold produce. Imagine the cash flow issues for even a large company and then imagine how the family farm has to manage.

The CSA system alleviates this issue because the consumer commits to buying the produce straight from the farmer. Usually the farmer drops a box of produce for each customer at a local collecting point (ours is at the local elementary school).

The farmer can now grow a wider variety of crops over a longer growing season and the money is coming in usually monthly. The consumer receives a box of extremely fresh produce, probably picked that day and not at the inflated prices often found at farmers markets.

Often, the family can visit the farm, receive updates of what is happening and cultivate a genuine relationship with the farming family.

To learn where there is a CSA in your area, check this link. Some of the successful CSA’a mentioned to me in the Berkeley area include: Full Belly Farm was one of the first farms to offer a CSA in Berkeley. Another farmers’ market regular, Riverdog Farm, also offers a subscription veggie box program. Capay Organic Farm, Eatwell Farm, and Terra Firma Farm are also popular CSA programs offering weekly pick-up at central locations.

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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).

She Hates Mother’s Day

I am a big admirer of local author, Anne Lamott. Along with a number of novels, Anne has also written what many writers consider one of the top How-to books on the market, Bird-By-Bird.


She seems a stable, level-headed woman at first glance, until you discover that she hates Mothers Day.

“…Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path.”

“I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s.”

But before you think that she is picking on Mums, don’t worry. She hates Valentines Day as well. This is a must read article, especially if you know a woman who isn’t a mother, or who is estranged from her children.  Or maybe someone who’s mother is dead. She also needs a hug and would happily share a drink with a non-judging friend, who wants to be with them for who they are and not the title they hold.

Oh, and if you’re reading – Happy Mother’s Day, Mum!

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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).

Bridge to Peace

After writing a somewhat negative post about the Israel/Palestinian conflict a few days ago and yesterday’s post about bin Laden, I feel a need to come back with something positive, something that can give us hope that the extremists won’t win.

Save A Child’s Heart is an amazing organization that enables children from countries without facilities for heart disease treatment. Many of these children are Palestinian. Money is raised around the world, particularly from Jewish donors, that help pay for everything including travel, medical procedures, and rehabilitation. There are volunteers that help prepare the paperwork and deal with the bureaucracy and the logistics.

Doctors evidently do not distinguish between children of different races, religions, or economic capacity.  A child in need is a child in need is a child in need.

Maybe the political leaders should step  aside and let the doctors lead the way to a peaceful and sustainable reconciliation.

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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).

bin Laden Thoughts

I wanted to wait until the dust settled, at least somewhat. Like most people I felt a wave of euphoria when the news came through. I immediately googled the President’s announcement and waited with anticipation to watch The Daily Show live.

I dismissed the ethics of targeted assassinations, of whether we should have tried to capture him, and what the implications would be for world peace. I just wanted to bathe in the relief that the bad guy had been taken out and that the good guys had finally won. Most of all as I watched the reactions of people on TV, I felt that just maybe, those who have lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and other attacks perpetrated from this man and his terrorist organization, could find some quality of closure and be able to move on in their lives.

But now, less than a week later, I want to share five concerns.

1. It’s not over. Al Qaeda seems far too extensively organized to suddenly disappear because their ailing and sick spiritual leader of several years is dead. The money, fear and ideology is probably still there, and  the top-tier of management might not be anticipating a career change.

2. Targeted Assassinations – this is sticky. It is generally condemned by many who hold the political views of our readership. Where do you draw the line? In Judaism when someone approaches with the intention of killing us, we are commanded to strike him down first. Still, it is easy when clear-cut, but how often is that the case?

3. The media are going to milk this news-byte and as they do, the American people will become more divisive and our enemies will exploit this to revive extremism.

4. The end of terrorism depends on the outright rejection of extremism in whatever political and religious guise. As long as we turn a blind eye to poverty, exploitation and the materials being taught to millions of children in schools, we are allowing the next generation of terrorism to be bred.

5. The most effective players to counter religious extremism are the moderates of that religion. The moderate majority of Muslims, Christians, and all religions where there are extremists (probably most), must become more active and empowered in setting the limits of what is acceptable in the name of their religion.

I appreciate your skepticism when most of my political commentary is gleaned from The Daily Show and the wisdom of car bumper stickers. So I shall turn to another philosophical well of wisdom: Star Trek.

In one of the Next Generation movies, the Enterprise goes back in time to about 20 years in our future (it  seemed much further in the future when the movie came out a few decades ago!). Earth is reeling from nuclear war and environmental devastation. Commander Riker describes to a disenchanted man  how a few centuries later the people of earth all enjoy peace, freedom, have clean water and nutritious food, good education and health care, and a world free of NFL and NBA labor disputes (my artistic license, but you get the point).

The disenchanted man, staring at the devastation around him,  asks how they achieved this and Riker replies that everyone was made to see that this was the right way. This scene has always made me think – how did they do that? Sure, many saw the light, whatever that light is, but what about those who couldn’t be nicely persuaded? 

I believe in self-defense. I have justified serving in an army as the way to protect my family, my people, and my beliefs in freedom and democracy. I cannot tell you specifically where the line should be drawn wherein it is justified to use violence, but there are too-often occasions where I am sure the line has been crossed.

bin Laden crossed that line and we ended his life on Sunday. This is one such occasion where the line was clearly crossed. Let’s leave it there and focus on the future – offering positive options to those who choose peace and a clear, firm message to those who don’t.

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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).

Ganja Grannies Get the Pokey

Say it isn’t so grandma! Did you get thrown in the pokey for growing marijuana?

Last Friday, two senior grandmothers—one 72 years old and the other 65—were busted for growing cannabis in their home. With bail set at $100,000, they are still behind bars. Are women of this age going to jump bail and high-tail it across the border? I don’t think so. Set bail at a reasonable level and let these ladies go home.

At what point do we just make this stuff legal again? Twenty-six million Americans smoke marijuana frequently and a whopping 100 million Americans admit to smoking pot at some point in their life—that’s one third of the US population. More people use cannabis on a regular basis than drink green tea.

Cannabis has been part of humanity as far back as man has been documenting history. How long has it been used, 10,000 years, 50,000 years? No one really knows but man and cannabis have probably evolved together for quite some time.

Why, after thousands of years of use, was cannabis made illegal 80 years ago? Two reasons: Big Business and racism. Dupont introduced synthetic material which had to compete with the sturdy hemp fabrics. To eliminate his competition, Mr. Dupont pushed his political friends in Washington to make the cannabis plant illegal. In addition, Hearst Paper Manufacturing produced paper goods based on timber that came from Hearst’s vast land holdings—Hearst wanted to eliminate paper made from hemp. Hearst Publishing used their media to promote horror stories about marijuana, “The Crazy Mexican Weed”. During the Great Depression, Mexicans were racially targeted for taking jobs from whites and the marijuana law was a key tool for deportation. Corporate greed and racism were the driving forces behind criminalization.

Isn’t it time to stop criminalizing benign human behavior? Clearly, a significant portion of the population does not believe that the use of cannabis is a crime. Adults of all ages smoke pot and now we even have grandmothers grow it. It’s safer than alcohol, safer than cigarettes and has medicinal value; what else does this plant need to do…back flips?

It’s time to stop the madness. Do we really need a multi-billion dollar prison industry to lock-up people for doing something that’s been legal for eons? Let people be people.

-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.

Coffee – I Couldn’t Resist

I couldn’t resist. I went into Dictionary.com to check a spelling and this was on the banner (who said people don’t read those banner ads).

ARE LATTES ESPRESSO OR CAPPUCCINO? 

This is my kind of question, especially on a chilly San Francisco morning as I sit hugging my espresso drink, or it a cappuccino? And definitely as I sit in this charming little coffee shop near the Embarcadero trying desperately hard not to listen to two young ladies who are analyzing whether one was right to tell her relatively new boyfriend that he couldn’t drop by to just talk as she was in bed.

So you see there was no way this had any chance of being a serious post. Oh, and for those of you who are not clear on their caffaine-related definitions:

1. cafe au lait

(n.) hot coffee served with an equal amount of hot or scalded milk.

2. cafe brulot

(n.) black coffee flavored with sugar, lemon and orange rinds, cloves, cinnamon, and brandy, ignited and allowed to flame briefly.

3. cafe con leche

(n.) strong, black coffee mixed with hot milk.

4. cafe creme

(n.) coffee with cream.

5. cafe filtre

(n.) coffee made by pouring hot water through ground coffee placed in a filtering device.

6. cafe noir

(n.) black coffee.

7. caffe latte

(n.) hot espresso with steamed milk, usually topped with foamed milk.

8. cappuccino

(n.) a hot beverage consisting of espresso coffee and steamed milk, often served with powdered cinnamon and topped with whipped cream.

9. espresso

(n.,) a strong coffee prepared by forcing live steam under pressure, or boiling water, through ground dark-roast coffee beans.

10. irish coffee

(n.) a mixture of hot coffee and Irish whiskey, sweetened and topped with whipped cream.
11. latte
(n.) hot espresso with steamed milk, usually topped with foamed milk.

12. mocha

(n.) a flavoring obtained from a coffee infusion or a combined infusion of chocolate and coffee.

13. turkish coffee

(n.) a strong, usually sweetened coffee, made by boiling the pulverized coffee beans.
Now excuse me. I need to order my cup of green tea.

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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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