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 “April, 2012”

Writing About Justice

The following article was taken with permission from Bookmarks, the blog of Southern Celebrations.

Dr. Steve Boyd, a Religion professor at Wake Forest University, fights for justice in his writing as well as inside his classroom. Dr. Boyd’s book Making Justice Our Business: The Wrongful Conviction of Darryl Hunt and the Work of Faith has just been released. His first talk about his book and book signing will be held on Monday, November 28th at Emmanuel Baptist Church. Below is a description (from Wake Forest University’s website) about Dr. Boyd’s course “Religion and Public Life.” A course that has taught him just as much as it has the students who have taken it.

(from WFU website)

…For nearly twenty years, Winston-Salem resident Darryl Hunt spent every day in a dreary prison cell serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. In spite of a trial that was devoid of physical evidence tying Hunt to the scene of the crime, he was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984. Hunt was just nineteen years old at the time.

Facing perhaps the cruelest fate a human being can endure, Hunt maintained his own innocence, and his spirit remained unfettered as he called on God to give him strength and to comfort him. As his days behind bars grew in number from the hundreds to the thousands, Hunt’s faith in God only intensified and served as much more than a means of preserving a glimmer of hope for life outside of prison.

Nine years after being convicted, DNA evidence surfaced indicating that Hunt, an African American, could not have committed the crime, yet the appeal of his conviction was denied. In 2003, his attorney, who served him for eighteen years pro bono, threw one last “hail Mary” pass in the form of a motion to compare the DNA in the 1984 rape kit to a state database of DNA profiles. Miraculously, he got a “hit.” Finally, the real murderer was found and Hunt was freed.  Hunt’s remarkable story gained national recognition and became emblematic of Winston-Salem’s historically tense race relations.

Building upon his experience, Hunt founded the Darryl Hunt Project with community leaders to help prevent the criminal justice system from convicting innocent parties, educating the public about faults in the system, and helping ex-offenders re-enter society and become productive, contributing citizens.

Just one year after Hunt’s exoneration, Wake Forest student Rashad Daker had the opportunity to transcribe Hunt’s daily journal entries that he wrote during his imprisonment, an assignment that Daker chose as part of Professor Stephen Boyd’s “Religion and Public Life” course. Daker and Hunt are both practicing Muslims, and according to Boyd, both individuals found the experience cathartic and spiritually engaging.

In addition to Daker’s work with the Darryl Hunt Project, each student in Boyd’s class worked with a local nonprofit organization that is addressing a significant need in the community. For instance, one student worked with Advocacy for the Poor, researching issues related to poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, and hunger. The in-class portion of the course focuses on issues of religious leadership, social entrepreneurship, the separation of church and state, and the differences among service, advocacy, and community organizing, as well as their roots in three dominant theological paradigms in Christian history.

Boyd also sees great value in simply getting students involved in projects off campus – outside the “Wake Forest bubble.”

“As a student, it is easy to get consumed with life on campus,” said Boyd. “Students sometimes forget there is an exciting world outside the ‘Wake Forest bubble’, one that is full of challenging issues that can be gratifying to work on.”

The students and the organizations were not the only ones touched by the course, however. Boyd described the experience as “the most rewarding course I ever taught” and is offering it for the second time in 2011.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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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I Didn’t Make The Cut

I’m bummed. This week 50 writers saw their manuscripts advance to the Semi-Final stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – YA category. My humble offering – Wycaan Master – was not one of them. It reached the Quarter-Final, ahead of a few thousand others, but…

In an odd sense of timing, I will finish reading the 95,000 word epic fantasy story to my writer’s group. They stuck with me over the past 18 months though none (until the last couple of months) read or are interested in fantasy. Thank you – Berkeley Writers Group.

Either you think epic fantasy is alive and thriving (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore etc.,) or you think the only fantasy that sells is high concept – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games…

It is hard writing in two genres – social justice-themed novels reflect my lifestyle and values. Young-adult fantasy was inspired by a writing project with my preteen son and has been a lot of fun. But they serve two separate target audiences and I maintain a seperate blog and twitter account (both under the elfwriter name).

I have to admit, I’ve arrived at a junction. I have not only sweated over a first YA fantasy manuscript, but completed a second, and am 30,000 words into a third. It is  a series and I must admit: I’m kind of hooked on it.

I want to see how my young heroes (and villains – who I am also quite attached to) grow. Will the races of Odessiya unite? What is the Emperor’s secret power that enables him to keep winning? Will shy Seanchai and his guide, Ilana, ever hook up?

As a reader becomes hooked on a series and feels compelled to read through to the end, I have discovered that so can an author become ensnared. It might well be an issue of not writing an outline and having faith in the story evolving, but I need to discover what happens in the world I’ve created.

Even if I didn’t make the cut.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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).

Gun Control: Lisa and Trayvon Get Shot – Roger Ingalls

What do Trayvon Martin and Lisa Simmons have in common? The title gives it away but they were both shot. The circumstances behind the shootings are very different with one almost in the running for the annual Darwin Awards and the other probably marked by bad timing coupled with mutual adrenaline and fear.

Lisa was shot by her boyfriend, Steven Egan, in what appears to be a hunting accident. Ms. Simmons did not die from her wounds but she was seriously injured and had to be airlifted to a hospital where she is still recovering. The story behind the shooting would be funny if Lisa did not get hurt but I suspect some will find it hilarious. She was shot because her boyfriend thought she was a wild pig. I won’t go into the details but you can read about it here (link). Incidentally, Lisa doesn’t qualify for the Darwin Awards because she survived.

Tragically, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman on February 26th. The shooting and issues surrounding the case have been widely covered so I will also not go into the details but if you’re not familiar with it, just Google “Trayvon”. Some will get upset that I’ve linked these two shootings and will probably become even more incensed when they now learn that I’m leading this into my view of gun control.

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Most friends and some associates know that my political views lean to the left and they assume I’m against the ownership of guns but this is not true. I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment – commonly referred to as “the right to bear arms”. However, I also believe the interpretation of the amendment is grossly misunderstood.

Here is the actual Second Amendment text: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. In review of history, the amendment was provided for the following purposes: deterring tyrannical government, repelling invasion, suppressing insurrection, facilitating a natural right of self-defense and enabling the people to organize a militia system.

As defined in The Bill of Rights and in the context of the time in which it was written, I do not believe the Second Amendment guarantees the public the right to the ownership or bearing of hand guns. How does a hand gun satisfy any of the purposes that the amendment was addressing? It doesn’t. Can you deter a tyrannical government or organize a militia outfitted with hand guns? No, that would be suicide. I DO believe the public has the right to bear rifles, assault weapons, shot guns and any equipment used by the military and government. This may be controversial but it is the true intent of the amendment. Let’s face it, assault weapons make big headline when used for murder but they kill a fraction of  the people in the U.S. when compared to hand guns.

Hand guns serve no good purpose. They are only used in cruel execution of people. They are not practical for hunting, fighting wars or home defense (a shot gun is a better choice against an intruder). Hand guns are designed for convenience, concealment and close proximity killing.

Let’s examine our everyday environment in a setting where hand guns are eliminated and only long guns can be permitted and carried. If you see someone walking down the street or into a store with a non-concealable rifle you can take appropriate action if uncomfortable. You are not afforded this opportunity if the person is concealing a hand gun. An officer, seeing a rifle carrier can request confirmation of a carry permit and ask why they’re carrying at this time – again, not possible if the arms are small and hidden. Also, an undesirable may be less inclined to commit a crime if they see big guns in the hands of legal carriers around them. It’s important to realize that people are already carrying around us so wouldn’t it be nice to know who is?

George Zimmerman had a carry permit and was obviously concealing a hand gun the night he killed Trayvon Martin. Although he was legal in the eyes of the law, his neighborhood watch group did not allow the carrying of weapons. If Zimmerman’s only choice was a long gun, his neighborhood group could have seen the gun, told him no or reported it and Trayvon would still be alive.

As far as the hunting accident involving Mr. Egan and Ms. Simmons, no law or regulation can fix stupid.

Change The World

I love change.org. It is a website to help people with their political advocacy by providing a framework to build a petition. This is from a recent eNewsletter that they sent out to subscribers.
In the past three weeks, Apple revamped its policy to protect workers in China, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp stood up to high school bullies, President Obama took action to protect Syrians living in America from potential torture and death, and a woman named Hope saved her husband from deportation.
Here’s the crazy thing — it’s possible none of this would have happened if people hadn’t started petitions on Change.org. But they did. Today we want to share stories with you of nine people who took a chance to try and change something, earned the support of thousands of signatures, got attention from major media outlets from the New York Times to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and who ultimately won their campaigns.
These victories are amazing on their own. But we’re even more excited about the potential they represent: we’re living in a time where anyone, anywhere, can use the internet to change the world. (Seriously, you can start a petition right here.)
Keep reading — we hope you find these stories as inspiring as we do.
– Patrick and the Change.org team
 
 
Apple customer Mark sparks promised improvements for workers in China
“Like most Apple customers, I had no idea how appalling the working conditions were at Foxconn, where most iPhones and iPads are assembled. After hearing employees worked excessive hours, in some cases seven days a week, and stood so long their legs swelled until they couldn’t walk, I wanted to write a letter to Apple, but then I thought, why not start a petition instead? 250,000 signatures later, Foxconn has promised major changes, including making sure all employees work no more than 49 hours per week without having their salaries cut. I know great organizations continue to press for additional improvements, but I’m so grateful to have played a part in this amazing first step.-Mark Shields
 
 
Maha and Darakshan save countless Syrians from terror and violence
“Since Syria’s democratic uprising in 2011, the government there has killed thousands of people. Syrian nationals living in America were terrified of being deported and tortured or killed for supporting democracy. We started a petition asking President Obama to grant those Syrians “Temporary Protected Status” so they could stop living in fear, and after 12,000 people and several members of Congress supported our campaign, President Obama came through.-Maha Hilal & Darakshan Raja
 
 
Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Ellen DeGeneres support Katy’s fight against bullies
“I used to be bullied so badly that I was afraid to go to school. When I saw that a new documentary made to stop bullying was rated R, I started a petition asking the Motion Picture Association of America to change the rating to PG-13 so that the kids who most needed to see the film would be able to. A few weeks and almost half a million signatures later, I got to be on The Ellen Show. Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and 35 members of Congress threw their support behind my campaign. Now the movie’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, is releasing the film as ‘unrated’ so that all kids can see the movie.” -Katy Butler
 
 
Mom and food blogger Bettina keeps “pink slime” out of school cafeterias
“I’m a parent who writes about children and food, especially school food reform. So I was upset to learn that USDA was arranging to offer school districts ground beef containing 7 million pounds of ‘lean, finely textured beef,’ more commonly known as ‘pink slime.’ LFTB is made from slaughterhouse scraps previously used only for pet food and cooking oil, and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens. In just 9 days, nearly 250,000 signed people my petition, leading the USDA to change its policy and offer districts, for the first time ever, ground beef without this cheap filler.-Bettina Elias Siegel
 
 
Jason takes on an insurance company to help save his dad
“My dad, Henry, had a terrible heart attack last fall that left him with severely impaired cognitive and motor skills. His doctors said that rehab would help him get better, but his insurance provider — Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts — refused to pay. I started a petition on Change.org and almost 200,000 people signed it. Now Blue Cross has agreed to pay for my dad’s care.” -Jason Warren
 
 
Craig — a straight Republican Marine — defends his gay brother’s right to marry
“I served in Iraq to defend freedom and liberty, but the legislature in my home state of New Hampshire wanted to take away my brother Calvin’s freedom to marry the person he loves just because he’s gay. I started a petition asking New Hampshire’s Republican legislature to do the conservative thing: stay out of people’s private lives. More than 125,000 people signed my petition, and the legislature voted to uphold marriage equality. I hope one day I get to be the best man in Calvin’s wedding.” -Craig Stowell
 
 
Cancer survivor mom Jane convinces Mattel to manufacture bald Barbies
I lost my hair when I went through chemo, and I know so many little girls go through the same thing — it can be sad and scary. I started a petition asking Mattel to manufacture a bald Barbie so that little cancer warriors will see that they are beautiful princesses, too. Almost 35,000 people signed my petition, and now Mattel says it will make bald dolls and donate them to children’s cancer wards around America.-Jane Bingham
 
 
Hope Mustakim uses petition to save her husband Naz from deportation
“With the outpouring of support from our community, numerous organizations, churches, Change.org, our incredible legal team, friends and family, and our loving God, my husband Nazry is back home in Waco. Thank you Change.org for believing in our cause and providing a way to gather the support that played a monumental part in winning Naz’s freedom back. We are so grateful.” -Hope Mustakim
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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 Should We Declare War on Next? – Tom Rossi

America seems to love wars. Not just the war wars, but the wars on this and that, as well. We have the war on terrorism and the war on drugs, these are official, government propaganda. And we also have the Fox “News” variety, like the war on Christmas.

Most of these conceptual wars are either colossal wastes of money that hide their real purpose or they’re just made up baloney.

A lot has been said about what “wars” might be more useful than drugs or terrorism… a war on homelessness, for example. In 2001, 42,196 people died in traffic accidents – over ten times the number of fatalities from our biggest loss to terrorism ever. Why not a war on accidents?

Naaaaah. That’d never fly. Too practical and sensible. In other words, boring.

Let’s have some wars that we can all relate to – wars against the things that really annoy us.

How about a war on awful cell-phone ring tones? I once knew someone with, “I’m a Barbi Girl, ” or whatever that crappy song by Aqua is called. I’d like never to hear that again… ever.

A war on Velcro. When you pull it apart, it sounds like a combination of sizzling bacon and unzipping a zipper – without the satisfaction that inevitably follows either of those things.

A war on noisy neighbors. My upstairs neighbor at my last apartment was evidently a furniture wrestler. That’s what it sounded like! Three falls with a chest of drawers. That’s the only explanation that would fit what I heard almost every day.

Speaking of noise, let’s have a war on ridiculous, thumpin’ and bumpin’ car stereos. How many times have I been listening to the radio or trying to have a conversation when one of these guys pulls up next to me at a stoplight? Sometimes I can actually hear his car falling apart from the vibration. Who are you impressing, buddy? Grow up and get a life.

A war on stupid machines that take away jobs and screw up all the time anyway. I NEVER go to the automated checkout machine at the grocery store. I want them all torn out and burned.

A war on the use of the word “custom” for something you buy off the shelf. Helllllo! It’s not custom if it’s not made specifically for you! The same goes for words like “fresh” or “homemade” on a freakin’ can or frozen dinner. It burned George Carlin up and it burns me up too.

How about a war on that disgusting green hair they always put in salads these days? It’s not lettuce. It’s not spinach. It’s some stringy crap that makes me choke. Again, who are you impressing? Not me.

A war on so-called “reality” TV shows where they pick the biggest pricks they can possibly find to make it interesting and only eliminate contestants who aren’t big enough drama-queens. Yes, I’m picking on Trump again, but there are many more.

I want a war on celery in soup. Almost every damn soup has celery and it’s gross. It makes every soup taste like, well, celery. For those who like it, let’s have a celery soup, and leave it out of everything else.

A war on those stupid, “tribute” shows where they hype up someone like Burt Bacharach as God’s gift to music and humanity. He composed elevator music. The world would look exactly the same if he hadn’t.

A war on the NRA apparently bribing every TV show and even a lot of news broadcasts to show cool women shooting guns for fun. I guess they feel like the male market is pretty much tapped out. I’m more offended by this as a writer than anything else. If you’re a writer on a TV show and someone tells you to work women and guns into a show like “Modern Family,” just say no. Heck, why not use the phrase, “We’ll head ’em off at the pass!” Hacky writing ticks me off – especially when it seems there are political motives.

A war on car alarms. They go off constantly, especially because of the douchebags that think they’re impressing someone with their loud exhausts (another war!) that drive by creating their own annoyance. They go off so damn often that nobody pays any attention. I’ll tell you what though… If I see someone stealing a car with the alarm going off, I’ll give him directions to the nearest freeway onramp because he is preventing the crime of disturbing the peace by taking the noisemaker away.

Finally, I’d like a war on political advertising. I suppose advertising is a perverse form of free speech, but allowing people and organizations to just lie through their teeth with no consequences is contrary to any kind of democratic value system I can imagine.

These just came off the top of my head. I like wars. I’m going to go declare war on a certain bottlecap right now. It’s been imprisoning a very important beer for too long.

-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.

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Juggling Time

Wade Mayer, who manages an excellent blog called Inviting Conversations: Intelligent Dialog Connecting Thoughtful People, posted a question on our LinkedIn Writer’s group. He asked whether we put our family events on our business calenders. In sharing my response, I realized how strongly I feel about the challenges facing achieving excellence in my work, my writing and my parenting.

My response:
Always! The challenge of maintaining a work:life balance is the most difficult juggling act I face. I am inspired by my job and my writing life, both hopefully impact others to create a better world.

Raising two young boys that they might become a positive force for change in the world, and sharing quality time with a life-partner who makes me a better person, demands just as much attention.

I am learning to live with the fact that I cannot promote my novels that are already published, edit the current completed manuscript, and write the next novel, while holding down a full-time (and inspiring) job, and being there for my family.

But it’s hard. I struggled with the usual winter coughs and colds for too long, and I am putting on weight. There are aches and pains that should be attended to. No time to slow down and let the body recuperate.

In the words of Jack Kerouac: The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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 Third Choice – Roger Ingalls

We may have a legitimate third choice for President come November 2012. There’s an interesting movement underway giving all registered voters delegate power to select a candidate that will be placed on the presidential ticket. We’ll all have a chance to vote our choice during an online convention.

Before explaining further, I want to point something out about our traditional caucus/primary system that selects who goes on to the presidential ticket. California is the largest economy in the United States and if it were a country, it would be the eighth largest economic power in the world. However, California has no say when it comes to who should be on the Democratic or Republican ticket because the game is over before its primary takes place. For example: Mitt Romney is a virtual lock for the Republican Party but California’s primary is still six weeks away. The people behind the biggest U.S. economy have no choice… that’s ridiculous.

This new movement is called Americans Elect. Their goal is to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to the people and not a political system. Their slogan is, “select a president not a party”. To date, they have collected enough signatures in 25 states allowing the candidate selected during the online convention to be placed on the ballot in those states. It is forecasted that the signature quota will be met for all 50 states.

The concept behind Americans Elect is good. Our current process to elect a president is archaic and unfair to many regions of the country. Modernizing the process would save money, create election security and provide real choice and fairness for all. With that said, Americans Elect may be an elaborate setup to split votes in the 2012 election. Some of the original monetary backers behind the movement will not identify themselves. The Democratic Party’s demographic tends to be younger, more educated and open to change so they would be more likely to endorse Americans Elect. Conservatives may not recognize the true value of the movement or, in typical fashion, shy away from change. If only liberals and moderates jump onboard, it would fracture the Democrats and hand the election to the conservatives.

Conceptually, I like what Americans Elect is trying to do. It gives some power back to the people. Below are links to videos and their website. What do you think?

Website  http://www.americanselect.org/

Overview  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuYKHnAVJ-Y

PBS Report  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXPLYCPJnWU

CNN Report  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYjnmpBwYd8

Saving Nature, Our Natural Defense

A few days ago, I posted A Rude Intrusion, about BP and other multinational oil companies sponsoring an exhibition on the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, highlighting responsible cultivation of our oceans and wetlands. I spoke about the irony of the company who brought the latest oil spill to our coasts, and ironically the Gulf Coast, taking on this role.

The issue of the disappearing wetlands is an important lesson. During this past trip to help rebuild New Orleans, I learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. This is chronicled in Hurricane on the Bayou. The bottom line is: had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

It is scary that, despite possessing this knowledge, despite the harsh lesson that we were taught from Hurricane Katrina, we are still destroying the wetlands, at the incredible rate of an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

There are a number of organizations trying to raise awareness and instigate policy that would reverse the trend. Unfortunately, they are not gaining much attention. One such organization was set up in our own San Francisco, by Louisiana natives who have raised funds for a new initiative. 

For the Bayou was founded in San Francisco in 2008 by Louisiana natives to increase public awareness of the disappearing Louisiana coastal wetlands, to foster restoration and protection of this culturally significant coastal environment and to aid and assist the people of Louisiana in the event of a disaster.” 

Here is their project:

It costs just $25 to buy and plant a burlap with the grass that can hold the wetlands. For details of how to donate, please click here. Perhaps it is not too late stop the sun setting on the bayou, and by saving this vital ecosystem, save our own beautiful Gulf Coast community and culture.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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).

Moving and Insanity – Tom Rossi

I’ve uncovered the answer to one of the great mysteries of modern American capitalism: The reason that you become less credit worthy if you move your place of residence too often is not that it shows that you’re unstable or unreliable…

It’s because it shows that you’re insane. Why do we do this to ourselves? How do we convince ourselves that some, little concern like proximity to a job, needing extra space, inability to pay your mortgage, or not wanting to be irradiated by a huge bank of “smart” meters is worth the incredible pain in the ass of moving?!?

Each phase of moving is horrible. Sure, at first it seems exciting to look for a new place – it’s like window shopping. But it soon gets old, especially as you realize that you have limited resources and can’t afford the rent/mortgage on your “dream” home.

In fact that’s what haunts the entire process – money. My wife was frustrated with the whole process as we could not seem to find a place with the right combination of proximity to transportation, space, layout, a neighborhood where we would expect not to be shot or stabbed during daylight hours, etc. This was when I observed that it would all be so easy if we just had more money.

The same could be said of the moving process. If we just had more money, we could have hired a moving company to do all the work and my back would still work right. 

I don’t really have an alternative system to suggest, but money has really taken over our lives. Our entire worth as human beings is defined by how well we make money. By this measure, the only measure that really seems to count, I am worth at least a million times less to humanity as Donald Trump.

Not only that, but people who bring us television advertisements are worth several times more than the average teacher.

The material world is now our only world. A neoclassical economist would argue that our capitalistic system is simply the nearest approximation to an efficient way to allocate resources. First of all, efficiency doesn’t mean the same thing to an economist as it does to the manager of a bicycle factory. But it’s gone much further than that.

Like I said, I don’t necessarily have an alternative to offer (I’m working on it – don’t hold your breath) but to me earnings have always seemed out of whack. The average pro athlete makes ten times the pay of the average janitor (custodial engineer or whatever is the current, politically correct term). This seems completely backwards to me. I’d play pro hockey for practically nothing, but you’d have to pay me a fortune to clean toilets all day.

And come to think of it, I’m entertained by watching sports, sure. But given the choice, I’d take the lack of pro sports over the lack of clean bathrooms and kitchens. To me, that means that janitors are more valuable than pro athletes. I think a lot of people would agree. If enough people agree, then janitors are worth more to society than are pro athletes.

And because, while I’m certainly annoying, I’m definitely less annoying than Donald Trump, maybe I’m worth more society than he is.

Checks and major credit cards accepted.

-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.

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A Rude Intrusion

During our trip to New Orleans we had a day of storms that prevented us from working. We took advantage of the time, frustrating though it was, to visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Walking around the incredible displays, watching the otters, seals, penguins, sharks and albino alligator, I imagined sharing this with my boys and how much they would enjoy it. My frustration for not being able to work (we were extremely motivated having come all this way from San Francisco), coupled with seeing all these eager parents showing their kids some nature, while mine were thousands of miles away, began to rise.

My highlight!Since there was little point taking my frustration out on either the weather or these families, I needed to direct it on something else…I got my wish.

I was drawn to the section about the wetlands. On this trip, I have learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. For a great documentary on this, check out Hurricane on the Bayou. Had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

And in case you are wondering, we are still destroying the wetlands, as incredibly an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

Back to the aquarium and I discover that the wetlands and ocean ecosystem presentation is sponsored by several huge multinational oil corporations, including my old nemeses – British Petroleum – who famously tried their best to silence Left Coast Voices and others who weren’t impressed by their spewing oil into the Gulf Coast.

I browsed through their presentation that firmly told children how important the contribution of the oil companies are to the area, how they are courageously fighting pollution and ensuring the energy needs for the next generation.

There is a great Yiddish word – Chutzpah! It means audaciously outrageous – but chutzpah just says it better (for best results focus on the ch and bring up all the phlegm you can manage). This is the Jewish People’s gift to the world!

I cannot believe that BP and its friends would dare to put such an exhibit in New Orleans, when it has ruined the lives of many of the people who come to the aquarium – actually they probably don’t, since they most likely can’t afford to pay the admission into the place.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas claims to be an educational institution for primarily young people. So why does it allow the rich, multinational corporations to rewrite history on its premises? Doesn’t it understand the legitimacy it is giving the oil companies by allowing them to tell their story under their auspices?   

The answer is, of course, money. I am sure that BP paid more than 40 pieces of silver, but the value of the transaction hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. Planet Earth, however, has, and dangerously so.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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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