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 “June, 2011”

When Leaders Become Human

On Friday I wrote about the decision by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government to rescind a recent decision to develop their nuclear power policy and instead to wean their country from such a dangerous source of energy. This U-turn was made in the wake of Japan’s crippling nuclear crises following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

My blog post soon went on to talk about the issue of nuclear power, but lost in there was the recognition of a leader who, upon seeing factors that would change her decision, decided to come out and admit that her previous decision was wrong.

I want to applaud such action and suggest that, far from suggesting that this illustrates weakness, such a leader shows credibility and a clear desire to put the welfare of her country above all.

My wife tells of how she hardly knew anything of President Clinton prior to his election victory (she was living overseas). She watched a press conference on his first day. When asked about a specific issue of foreign policy, he turned to the reporter and admitted that he didn’t know enough on the issue to discuss it. He promised to prep and have an answer ready.

You don't need to know everything if you can play the sax!

The right-wing press enjoyed using this to suggest that he wasn’t prepared to be President. My wife, on the other hand, tells how she was impressed by his honesty.

A leader doesn’t have to get it right all the time. S/he should be able to assess  new factors and change direction just as a ship’s captain changes his route when the weather conditions dictate. Most impressive is that extra ounce of courage needed to admit it to the public and expose yourself to the media sharks.

A tip of the hat to you, Chancellor Merkel.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

What a Father Really Wants

Not a tie (even a Jerry Garcia collectors item), or cufflinks (anyone still wear them?). Not a bottle of wine, or aftershave (really? really!)…

Here are my Top 10 What A Father Really Wants. It’s based on my absolutely not unique qualification of being a father who, with each year, is fighting with an ever more competative field for his children’s attention. It’s written by a father who has an average standard-of-living: food on the table, clothes on his back, and a gym membership. Everything on my Top 10 list have one thing in common – see if you can work it out before the end:

1.  To watch Star Wars and Lord of the Rings with his kids, all sitting scrunched together on a big chair.

2. To go fishing with his kids in a beautiful natural place.

3. To play basketball/soccer with his kids and the winner being s/he who laughs the most.

4. To hear his kids looking forward to that family camping trip.

5. To hear his kids speak out on issues of social justice.

6. To listen to Eminen together and discuss his lyrics.

7. To receive that unsolicited hug when times are tough.

8. To have your kids want to play you at the card game Magic The Gathering (even when you are really bad at the game).

9. To educate another generation of Arsenal soccer fans (it doesn’t work with any other soccer team, trust me, I’m objective).

10. To have your culinary talents appreciated even when you overcook the scrambled eggs.

Who cares if the big one gets away? Artist: Mark Tomalty

And the answer is… No not a vivid imagination. It is all about time. No breakfast in bed or one-off treat can compare. When we have the time for our kids, then they have the time for us. And Father’s Day is no longer just a once-a-year event.

The unsolicited ones are always the best

Happy Father’s Day, Dads.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

RhondaJo Performing

Just a quick note to let you know that RhondaJo will be performing her comedy act on Monday in Berkeley. Insider rumors suggest that her act is “Church Night – Southern Style .v. Bay Area Lesbian Style”.I Kind of speaks for itself!

RhondaJo performing Monday

In the words of Marga: “Rhonda Jo Boomington AKA The Sappy Southerner returns to Marga’s Funny Mondays with more wild stories told in her winning drawl.”

RhondaJo will be one of five  comics performing with all kinds of topics. It will be a great night!

Monday June 20 – 8pm  (doors open at 7:30)
2120 Allston Way (between Shattuck and Oxford, 1 block from Berkeley BART), Berkeley

I will be in SF for a board meeting at Hillel, the non profit that I run. Sorry to miss it, RhondaJo. Break a leg!

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Living Without a Car in Berkeley – RhondaJo Boomington

Since moving to the Bay Area, for the first time in my life, I am living car-free. I love riding BART though I don’t particularly love AC transit and MUNI. I feel deeply grateful to live in an area that makes car free living relatively painless much of the time.

Car free (from vancitybuzz.com)

And bless the hearts of my friends, with cars, who help out occasionally with some of the heavy things I can’t negotiate without a vehicle.

In Berkeley, however, I have become accustomed to a certain degree of discrimination when people learn that I don’t have a car. Often there’s a certain look that comes across their face. A judgment.

And, incredibly, it’s often the most vocal environmentalists who seem to have this reaction.

Last year, I was at a well attended meeting at a church that I had attended regularly.  A very middle class, “oh so environmentally friendly,” progressive church who “welcomes diversity.”  A drenching rainstorm began.

I had injured my ankle that afternoon, and for the first time ever,  I asked if there was anyone who may be able to give me a ride home. I lived about a mile away.

There was absolute dead silence.

I was very wet by the time I limped home in the torrential rain.

Drenching wet (from cbsnews.com)

Maybe their disdain was simply because of my Southern accent, the fact that I’m not slim, not hip and am happily frumpy?

But now, I have witnessed similar reactions in various places – to others who live a car free life.

And, right before it went out of business , I was in the beloved Elephant Pharmacy, and my worst fears were confirmed.

While buying my monthly AC transit pass, the guy working behind the counter asked if I had a car. I said “no.” He went on a pained, quiet tirade about the discrimination he experienced in Berkeley because he didn’t own a car. And the most blatant slights seemed to be from the most fervent environmentalists.

Hmm. And – he had no accent, was quite young and slim and hip and styled perfectly for Berkeley.

I wonder why (from info.gtilite.com)

—————————————————————————————

RhondaJo Boomington is a Southern transplant from North Carolina. She landed in the haven of Berkeley six years ago and never plans to leave. Formerly a fundamentalist who voted for Jesse Helms many times, she now relishes her liberal lesbian life in the Bay Area. She has earned a J.D. and a Masters of Divinity, and  enjoys performing in the Bay Area as a stand up comedian and solo performance artist.

Germany Going Nuclear Free

Last month, the German government announced that it will close all the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022. While the rest of the world seems to have just accepted Japan’s nuclear disaster, Germany has declared that it will become the first major industrialized nation to go nuclear-free. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and is the second of the G8 (behind Italy) to take this step.

Are we entering the last chapter of nuclear power?

What i find impressive is that only late last year, the government had declared their intention to extend the lifespan of the country’s seventeen reactors until 2036. It completes a remarkable about-face for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right government.

I want to congratulate the Chancellor for making the u-turn. There are not many politicians who are willing to stand up and say they now feel a need to change given new facts or, in this case, witnessing what has transpired in Japan. Ms. Merkel admits that the helplessness of such a technologically advanced nation in the face of the Fukushima disaster was responsible for her rethinking her nuclear policy.

“We want the electricity of the future to be safe, reliable and economically viable,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Monday after overnight negotiations among the governing parties. “We have to follow a new path.”

About 25% of Germany’s electricity was produced by nuclear power at the beginning of the year (the same proportion as the US incidentally) with energy from solar, hydroelectric, and wind producing roughly 17% of the country’s electricity. To wean themselves from nuclear power, the German government aims to boost its share of renewable energy to around 50%.

A solar energy tower in Spain

Germany boosts a significant grassroot organization of activists opposed to nuclear power since the Chernobyl disaster sent radioactivity over the country. After Fukushima, there has been a swell of people (quoted at tens of thousands of protesters  repeatedly taking to the streets  to urge the government to shut all reactors quickly.

Last week, Switzerland which relies on nuclear power for 40% of its electricity, announced that it will take its last plant off the grid in 2034.

Europe is making changes while America, ravaged by natural disasters, remains silent. Will our visionary leaders please stand up?

——————————————————————————————————

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).

From Killing Weeds to Killer Weed—A Mighty Brave Step (Roger Ingalls)

Sniff-sniff-sniff, is that the pungent kushie smell of progress? This cannot be true, my eyes and ears must be deceiving me.

afghani-kush cannabis

“I want to target the pot market, there’s no good reason we haven’t.” Do you have any idea who said this? It was Jim Hagedorn, the CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.  He made this statement a few days ago during an interview with The Wall Street Journal. SMG (NYSE) is a $3 Billion publicly traded lawn care company that generates 60 to 70% of its revenue from sales to Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Lowes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of suburban lawns and the chemicals that are put on them. I believe all lawns — not used for physical activities — should be converted to edible gardens. However, I must applaud Mr. Hagedorn for his boldness in making this statement. Nutrient providers and grow equipment manufacturers do not explicitly say that their products are used for medical cannabis out of fear of drawing attention from the Feds. The federal government regulates interstate commerce, and business activity related to marijuana is federally illegal no matter what an individual state’s laws may be. So, Mr. Hagedorn deserves some kudos for his remarks.

No doubt, it is in SMG’s best financial interest to get into this business. The overall marijuana market is currently two to three times larger than the $8 Billion lawn and garden industry. In addition, the lawn industry will fade in the coming decades due to water shortages and climate concerns related to global warming — lawns are environmentally damaging and expensive. SMG is a smart company and the writing is clearly on the wall.

Could endorsement by a respected public company be the tipping point for widespread acceptance of medical cannabis and perhaps recreational use? If so, think of the benefits to society:

-Ending the 40 year failed War on Drugs would save tax payers $54B a year (Fed and combined States expenses).

-Legalization would eliminate criminal activity associated with prohibition.

-Generate sales tax revenues in the billions of dollars.

-Create thousands of new jobs.

-Reduce non-violent incarcerations by 25% making room for violent criminals.

-Increase availability of affordable medicine with less side-effects.

Mr. Hagedorn didn’t make his remarks about pot because he wants to improve society, his motivations are purely profit driven (based on additional comments). However, it was risky considering the Fed’s current position on cannabis. If SMG does make that first bold move toward supporting the medical marijuana industry and it accelerates federal legalization, it would put them in the drivers seat and create a lot of customer loyalty. It’s a mighty brave step but a prudent business decision.

————————————————————–

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.

Grassroots Activism – How?

Last month, one of our readers asked in her comments how we can create an involved grassroots sense of participation? I wanted to find a good answer and it has been troubling me ever since. While the Arab Spring was stimulated by Facebook and Twitter, it was not only spontaneous but quick. For those of us who are not living in extreme conditions where revolution is the answer, we need a more sustainable model.

I think the Obama Presidential campaign 2008 was a good example. It created a sense of a mass movement of empowered everyday folk. When I received the emails asking me to organize for the 2012 run-in, I couldn’t help looking at their strategy to mobilize within the framework of the question that our reader posed. Here are two videos.

The first is a typical call from other supporters:


The second is interesting. On the face of it, Campaign Director Jim Messina could be leading us in a presentation for our work or to sell a product. It is a no-nonsense, Power-Point briefing.


But after watching it and googling Mr. Messina, I realize that this is a serious and deep-lying concept. Glossy TV ads will come and we all realize that they are the ad-man’s expertise. Usually these are condescending – Look what I’ve done for you/This is what I am going to do for you – as if we don’t know what we want, or haven’t been paying attention to what these candidates have been doing while on the taxperson’s payroll.

In this You Tube briefing, Mr. Messina treats us as partners. He declares that “grassroots will run this campaign” and focuses on what we can individually do to make it happen. His no-frills approach is actually a recognition of us as true partners. It shows respect and credibility. This is what makes it sustainable.

I don’t want to belittle in any way the power of Facebook and Twitter as grassroots mobilization during the Arab Spring, but what the Messina approach offers that excites me is creating a sustainable and empowering model to not only get people involved, but to stay involved.

Most successful businesses have embraced a conscientious customer service because they know that it is always easier to sell another product to a satisfied customer than sell to someone new. When you campaign and persuade people to vote in a political candidate, you are responsible to these people to keep that politician true to his/her campaign promises.

This is the way that a grassroots campaign can become not only sustainable but credible.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

On Flag Day – The Best Things About the Good-Ol’ U.S.A.

On Flag Day, and especially after I sort of bad-mouthed the flag wavers last week, I think it might be a good idea to list some of the things I do love, so much, about my country – the United States of America.

I love the mountains,

the rivers,

the fields,

the deserts,

the beach,

the wildlife,

the pets,

the people,

the ideas,

the scholarly thinking,

the enginuity,

the literature,

the art,

the music,

and, of course…


the flag.

I came up with this list in about 3 minutes. I’m sure I left some great stuff out.

What don’t I love? War, intolerance, senseless killing, police brutality, greed, materialism, and so on and so forth. The United States is certainly not the only place to find these things, and probably not even the worst in most of these categories. But we should strive for more of the good stuff and less of the bad. That seems like a sensible idea, doesn’t it?

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

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

___________________________________________________________________________

An Iraqi Veteran Against the War

I had a conversation with an ex-soldier who served in Iraq at my local coffee shop last week. I saw a sticker on his laptop, which said “Iraq Veterans Against The War” and struck up a conversation.

The first thing that hit me was his suspicion about why I was asking. It took a while to establish that I am a caffeine-addicted blogger and not an undercover MP or a reporter, despite wearing a necktie (I did score points for it being a Jerry Garcia tie). A number of times throughout the conversation I needed to confirm that I would not reveal his name or anything that might identify who he is. At first I felt he was being a trifle paranoid, but by the end, I found I have checked this article a number of times to see if I possibly left a trail.

I do not know this person, his views, experiences or anything else about him. He told me that, like so many of his peers, he saw the army as a porthole to learning a profession or getting a degree, an alternative more attractive than flipping burgers. But there was more that attracted him – a sense of belonging and pride and the opportunity to make a close group of friends. ‘I felt it would make me a better person as well – more confident, more perspective, more worldly.’

I asked him why he had the sticker and he shared two points. The first is that he felt America is dabbling in a region and culture that we have no connection to or understanding of. The people there generally don’t want us there and feel that our presence is just an obstruction to their country standing up on its own feet. I asked him if all Iraqis that he met felt this way and he replied no. There are many who see the US army as the only things standing against religious extremism.

But it is the second reason that he mentioned that has stayed with me: the feeling that the reason the US was so involved in Iraq had to do with oil. He mentioned other countries that are suffering from violence and oppressive regimes to whom we are giving little more than lip service. Guarding the interests of those who make fortunes from an energy source that is destroying the world is no reason to employ the US army, he told me.

War Vets focus their protest on the petrochemical industry's connection to the war.

While these are his thoughts and beliefs written in my words, he spoke calmly and intelligently. I felt considerable respect for this young man.

Where are the boundaries of war? Having read Khaled Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ I feel justified ‘freeing’ the Afghan people from Taliban oppression. I want a world where people have the freedom to choose their government, their religion, and to express their political beliefs without fear. I believe in freedom and desire to eradicate its antonym: oppression. I believe our perfect world cannot evolve without the use of force when oppressive powers refuse to listen to the needs of their people. But this is a far cry from justifying military actions to protect energy sources.

One more thing that this young war vet wanted me to make clear: He is a patriotic and proud American and would have no hesitation donning his uniform again to defend our freedom.

I believe him. He is just another Accidental Activist.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Forgot my Birthday?

Last year, my birthday fell during the once-every-four-years World Cup (soccer). I thought I could slow the aging process down by deciding that, like the World Cup, I would have a birthday once-every-four-years.

A great tribute to the peaceful South African revolution

So what do I want for my birthday? Something between my own house, world peace, and one of my books becoming a New York Times Bestseller. If you can arrange any of those three, please do. If you feel you have to prioritize (really, how long have we been friends?) then I suppose world peace comes first,

Otherwise, I am going to list 10 organizations that I have highlighted over the past year. Instead of buying me a fine bottle of wine or a box of chocolates that will have me working out for hours at the gym (after thoroughly enjoying them), why not consider donating the exorbitant amount of money you were going to splash on me to one of these great organizations. Please click on the link to the organization that catches your fancy.

1. The Lower Ninth Ward Village – a community center that will provide the only way to keep children in a safe environment over the summer.

2. Save A Child’s Heart – a hospital in Israel that gives free medical heart procedures to children from any country or religion in the Middle East and beyond.

3. One Voice – helping Israeli and Palestinian youth demand a non violent and just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

4. Jewish Funds for Justice – sending students to work in disaster-struck areas of the world and teaching the value of social justice.

5. World Reader – providing sustainable e-book solutions to children in Africa and other poor regions, allowing them to grow through reading and education.

6. Habitat for Humanity – a community helping to provide people with homes.

7. Jewish Heart for Africa – leveraging sustainable Israeli environmental technology to help the poorest rural African communities.

8. Darfur & The Berkeley Stove – providing stoves for women in Darfur, thereby avoiding the need to put themselves in violent situations.

9. Project Homeless Connect – offering bi-monthly services to the homeless of San Francisco.

10. Kiva Loans – a micro-loan organization that helps people create businesses to lift themselves out of poverty.

They are all good causes and I know there are many more. But it is amazing how just a small gift can save or change a person’s life. What a way to celebrate your birthday!

Thank you. Wanna slice of birthday cake?

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: