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 “November, 2012”

Unwanted Heroes Created After Insulting A War Veteran

In our humble defense, we were new to America. My family was not used to dealing with homeless people and war veterans. There are no homeless on a kibbutz (small intentional community) and, if a soldier is wounded physically or mentally in Israel, s/he receives the best possible help. It is a given, no one questions it. 

So you can understand that my then 7 and 3 year olds and I noticed every homeless person, especially those who were war veterans.

As we approached the entrance to the San Francisco Zoo, we saw a homeless man, clearly a war veteran, selling small American flags for a dollar each. He was smiling and greeting everyone, including those who did not purchase flags from him.

I impulsively gave my eldest son a $5 dollar bill but told him and his little brother to only take one flag each. After cheerfully chatting with my boys, the man took the bank note and went to give them change.

When my eldest said he didn’t want change, the man looked at me to confirm and I nodded. He then tried to give us three more flags and when we declined, he got upset. We had insulted him.

This proud veteran was not asking for charity. He was selling flags as a business. We have offended his self-respect.

It was an unfortunate incident and I was very sad for hurting him. That night, I sat pouring over the Internet, reading issues of war vets, homelessness, and P.T.S.D.

Sometime after midnight, my wife having given up on getting me to come sleep, I typed the following words: Unwanted Heroes, Chapter One.

——————————————————————————————————

 

 

Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

 

 

Advertisements

Fiscal Cliff: A Political Storm in a Water Glass – Roger Ingalls

“The fiscal cliff”, that’s a scary sounding phrase. If you say it real slow and low it sounds even more frightening. It’s amazing how pundits and mainstream media move from one political danger scene to the next like a well edited film with the whole thing directed by our politicians. Sound bites and scare tactics, it’s a coordinated attempt to boost ratings for media companies and make the suits in Washington look like they’re solving some country-killing crisis.

The election is over so now we’ve moving on to the next big thing…the fiscal cliff. I believe this is a big to-do about nothing. We’re led to believe that come January 2nd, 2013 the economy will collapse if some nebulous balance of debt reduction and tax revenue collection isn’t successfully negotiated by our dysfunctional politicians. Really! If we’re relying on this motley crew of brainiacs to solve our economic woes, the party’s already over.

Would it be so catastrophic if we reached the end of the year without an agreement? The temporary tax breaks set in place by the George W Bush administration would come to an end if agreement isn’t reached. Essentially, Federal taxes would roll back to the Clinton era rates. Is this so outrageous? The country’s economic condition during the Clinton administration was one of the best in U.S. history.

In addition, government spending would automatically get cut if agreement isn’t reached. The biggest reduction would be in defense spending but the cuts would not come close to levels during the Clinton era. During the George W presidency defense spending tripled and we have nothing to show for it. Rolling back military budgets to similar levels used during the Clinton presidency is not outrageous. Again, the country ran extremely well during this period.

Lastly, if we hit the so called fiscal cliff due to lack of political agreement, Medicaid and Social Security would stay intact.

If political deadlock in Washington returns us to the responsible tax rates and spending of the Clinton administration then I say yes to the fiscal cliff. The frenzied screams of a pending financial crisis is overblown.  I can’t see why this looming event is being called a potential catastrophe.

I say we call Washington’s bluff and tell them we don’t want agreement, give us the cliff.

National Sax Day – Joshua Redman

Three weeks ago, November 6th, was National Saxophone Day but we can be excused for being just too distracted. Here is my tribute to the day, better late than never, recognizing a great Left Coast local boy.

I have always prided myself with enjoying more than one genre of music. It seems a waste. I have my favorite heavy metal groups, punk, soul and R&B. I have flirted with country and now, with my son’s guidance, am tentatively learning to enjoy rap. Somehow, until I came to live in Berkeley, jazz just passed me by. So it is fitting that the first jazz artist that I learned to admire is Berkeley born and bred.

Joshua Redman is both African American and Jewish American. I have no idea how this fusion affected his music, but I am aware that African American Jews have additional obstacles within even the liberal Californian Jewish community. When it is only a second glance born out of reflex, it is still one glance too many. Sometimes it is more and I have had the misfortune to witness this while working with an African American Jewish student at the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center.

According to his biography Redman was exposed to many kinds of music at the Center for World Music in Berkeley, where his mother studied South Indian dance. He graduated from Berkeley High School [1], class of 1986 (my eldest son will study here next year). In 1991, Redman graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Social Studies from Harvard University, a path I would be happy for one of my boys to emulate.

Redman won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, also in 1991, and began focusing on his musical career. I am not qualified to judge his music; I can only say that as a consumer, I have become captivated by it. When I return home from work, tired and facing making dinner and helping the kids negotiate their homework, Redman’s sax is often in the background.

Redman was an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards’ judging panel to support independent artists. Unfortunately, with the decline of session studio work Redman’s contributions are gradually being replaced with computer-based synthesized music. While again claiming no musical talent or judgment, I have to share that I find the rise of computer-based synthesized music to be disturbing. If I can claim to play music because I own a certain computer program, then Houston we have a problem.

My youngest recently told me that he can choose a new instrument and can’t decide between a number of instruments including trumpet and sax. I thought of Joshua Redman and fired up my favorite Redman album, Freedom in the Groove, onto my stereo system. No pressure there, son.

——————————————————————————————————-

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 Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Americans United for the Separation of the Useful and the Useless – Tom Rossi

In Riverside, California, a controversy is brewing… over a cross.

It’s a huge cross, 35 feet in height, standing atop the rocky, steep-sided hill known as “Mount Rubidoux.” The Washington, D.C.-based group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has threatened to sue the city of Riverside, contending that the cross, which has existed in one form or another since 1907, amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity, and therefore violates the first amendment of the U.S. constitution.

The separation of church and state is essential to just governance. It’s crucial that a nation’s important policies be decided on their merits as to their effects on that nation’s citizens. But a well-known aphorism applies well here: Pick your battles.

This battle, against a cross that is much more a monument to the history of the region than it is a monument to Christianity, is more than just a waste of effort, it’s counterproductive to any real progress in furthering the separation of church and state.

This particular battle is pointless, misguided, and damaging to the image of the people who should be (and in many cases are) fighting for changes that actually mean something. In fact, so much so that I almost wonder if the whole thing isn’t another Karl Rove “brainchild,” cooked up to make “liberals” look like idiots. In fact, several conservative groups and media outlets have seized upon this misplaced effort to ridicule “liberals” in general and to call all good Christians to the defense of their religion.

The incident has prompted a HUGE outpouring of support for the Mt. Rubidoux cross and, predictably, hatred for “secularists.” What else could Americans United expect? It’s the easiest forecast since Superstorm Sandy.

Essentially, this is a frivolous issue, but one in which the “opposition,” those who want to “defend Christianity,” are passionate. In other words, this battle is a sure loser.

As this blogger and many others have said many, many times, our efforts should be put into issues that really matter. The separation of church and state is certainly one of these, but the display of a cross or a Nativity scene is not. The way to address these “problems” (if you insist) would be with a sense of humor and irony, as well as with patience and tolerance.

Let me leave you with a letter to the editor of the Press-Enterprise, Riverside’s blatantly conservative daily fish-wrapper. The letter is from Riverside resident Mark S. (last name withheld here) and is quite eloquent:

“There are many serious places where narrow-minded religion creeps into civil society. Prop. 8’s ban on same-sex marriage and the fact that almost half of Americans don’t accept evolution come to mind.

The Mount Rubidoux cross also reflects narrow-mindedness, but with a secular twist (“Council ponders Mount Rubidoux cross options,” Nov. 14). Americans United for Separation of Church and State is behaving exactly like a fundamentalist organization, substituting an idolatrous interpretation of the Constitution for an idolatrous interpretation of the Bible.

Why should Riverside have to spend time, effort and money to support this group’s self-righteous views? This battle just makes AUSCS look like a fringe group and weakens its argument on serious issues.

The cross was a gift; it cost us nothing; leave it alone. If you don’t like it, don’t climb Mount Rubidoux.”

Well said, Mark.

-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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Unwanted Heroes – Released Today In Ebook!

Now that’s what I consider a great Thanksgiving gift!

Three Clover Press announced that Unwanted Heroes is now available on Kindle and Smashwords. The paperback will be closer to the expected January date.

They generously agreed to price the ebook at $2.99 for the present. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Lloyd Lofthouse, a fine author and a war veteran, who personally deals with and writes about P.T.S.D on The Soulful Veteran blog. I am sure it was not easy for him to edit my novel.

Lloyd has overseen the project throughout the various stages and provided me with both honest feedback and tough love.

Here is a quick synopsis:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an old, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed memories bring them together, finding in each other, an unlikely ally to free themselves from the tragic past that binds them both.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

Unwanted Heroes follows two other social justice-themed novels, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale, that were both placed in my native England. This novel is the first of three that will be situated in San Francisco, the city I have grown to love and dare call my home. Unwanted Heroes focuses on the issue of how we treat our war veterans and the homeless. The two future novels will deal with other issues relevant to the US – gay rights and gun control. After that, who knows?

But right now, I am very proud to share Unwanted Heroes with you. If you would do me the honor of reading it, please take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon.com or Smashwords. Reviews are playing an increasingly critical role in guiding readers to purchase a book.

Thank you.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Surviving Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Buy Nothing Day

It’s got very confusing. I don’t know anyone who is not aware of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or any of a number of other crazy sales days or anti-consumerism initiatives.

I have to admit that I have stood in line in past years and exploited the opportunity. I feel okay with this because I have always bought something that my family ‘needs’ (let’s not go there, okay), and would have bought anywhere. The self-righteous like to point fingers at the fanatics, the violent, and the irresponsible. Fair game. But, as Eugene Cho commented a year ago, this is often the privileged who can afford to buy these items year round.

So the question is: do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Answer: only if there is a special deal on babies or bath water – check out Bed Bath and Way Beyond.

But here are five steps to embrace Black Friday and not feel like you sold your soul to consumerism.

1) Decide on a number of items that you want to buy, how much you are going to spend, and only buy these.

2) Bring an extra cup to share that hot chocolate you have to avoid hyperthermia and share with the person in front of you.

3) Support Small Business Saturday by patronizing a local family-owned shop, also for something you need.

4) I’m impressed with the idea of Buy Nothing Day. I think it is something incredibly powerful and educational. The kids will love you for it!

5) Take a portion of the day and do something for charity. Maybe donate what you bought last year at Black Friday to Goodwill or Out of the Closet. You need to donate something of worth. Those stained, musty t-shirts don’t count.

6) There is no No. 6 – we are sticking to a plan and the plan was 5 ideas, remember? You alway want more than you set out for, looking for the extra deal and value. What do you think this is? Black Friday?

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Thanksgiving from the Mind of a Social Activist – Roger Ingalls

What are you thankful for? I’ve decided to take some liberties and put myself inside the heads of various characters, people and organizations in an attempt to say what is really on their minds. If retail giants can bastardize Thanksgiving why can’t I use it to make political statements? It’s all in good fun. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wall Street, “We’re thankful for gullible conservatives.”

Kardashians, “We’re thankful for Spanx.”

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, “We’re thankful for gifts from the Koch brothers.”

The Financial Industries, “We’re thankful we get to write the regulations that govern us.”

Walmart Executives, “We’re thankful Americans prefer cheap crap over worker’s rights.”

Westboro Baptist Church, “We’re thankful we’ve created God in our own image.”

Global Warming Deniers, “We’re thankful for data culling.”

California School Board, “We’re thankful kids make good propaganda tools.”

Kermit the Frog, “I’m thankful most Americans don’t eat frog legs.”

Smokey the Bear, “I’m thankful for wildwood flowers…out here in the deep forest where no one’s around, smokey has a whole different meaning.”

Prison Industry Authority (PIA), “We’re thankful incarceration is big business and criminalizing human behavior doesn’t concern us as long as we get paid.”

Pharmaceutical Industry, “We’re thankful the Feds still won’t allow people to grow their own cheap medicine otherwise we’d be obsolete.”

Republican Politicians, “We’re thankful Americans don’t understand that Military personnel are government employees otherwise they’d understand we’re responsible for the biggest increase in government spending.”

Factory Farms, “We’re thankful military explosives and chemical fertilizers are one and the same; it makes availability cheap.”

Insurance Industry, “We’re thankful people don’t understand that business practices dictated by Wall Street eliminate a free market economy.”

Banking Industry, “We’re thankful people don’t understand that business practices dictated by Wall Street eliminate a free market economy.”

Fossil Fuel Industry, “We’re thankful people don’t understand that business practices dictated by Wall Street eliminate a free market economy.”

And me, “I’m thankful for beer and cookies.”

Oh Florida

Admittedly, this post is being written before the end of election day, so there is still time for other states and polling stations to screw up. But Florida, really? Again? And Ohio: did anyone tell you that the whole nation is watching you?

Now I have organized big events, though nothing on the scale of an election for a state. I have also made mistakes, but I have tried to learn from them. Florida – you embarrassed us all in 2000 – could you not be bothered to learn something from it and try to improve your performance? 

Already, accusations of fraud, misconduct, and six-hour waiting lines have dominated the news of electoral procedure from your state. Reports of voters (your employers) having to wait for several hours and cast their vote at 2.30am is not only intolerable, but abusive.

A line of early voters snakes around a parking lot at a voting location in Columbus, Ohio. (Michael Finnegan/Twitter)

Readers of Left Coast Voices know me for a man who doesn’t need too much encouragement to entertain a juicy conspiracy theory, but it is either considering electoral tampering, or gross mismanagement on a scale that is harder to swallow than Area 51.

It is not just the people on the ground who oversee the complicated process of facilitating a line of voters who put a cross on a piece of paper fold it and put in a slot…and then counting them afterwards. It goes right up to the top of their organization, no doubt led by people who hold degrees in organizational management and earn a good salary.

Perhaps we need to hand this task over to Event Planners. I attend a few conferences and weddings every year and they flow without a hitch. I know, an election is more complex, so take the best and brightest from the field. At least there is no drunk uncle making a toast or bridegroom having cold feet at the last-minute.

In fact, there is little that cannot be anticipated four years ahead. So Florida, Ohio et al: start planning now for 2016. If it truly is a matter of having the best organizational minds running the show, then do it. Democracy is too important to be abused and the voter is the foundation stone of democracy. 

Otherwise, we conspiracy theorists might just start suspecting.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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 Moron Interview – Tom Rossi

One of the things that often angers me about journalism (hey, what would I do with myself if I wasn’t angry about something?) in recent years is the way that time is wasted during network television news broadcasts.

Video: I LOVE being angry!

 watch?v=i9R09GVzTCA

News shows on TV are usually broken up into half-hour segments. They may be scheduled for an hour like, say, the “5 o’clock news,” but often the second half hour starts off repeating the top stories from the first half hour. That’s the first way that valuable time is eliminated – repitition.

 

Then, there is the inevitable story about some celebrity. This is never an actual news story like, “Jennifer Aniston goes on shooting spree in the U.S. House of Representatives.” No, it’s always something like, “Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorcing.” Tripe.

 

Then, if that wasn’t enough time wasted on Hollywood “news,” it’s followed by the “Hollywood Minute,” “What’s up in Hollywood,” or “Celebrity Corner,” or something equally ridiculous (it’s never only a minute, by the way).

 

Then there might be a legitimate (sort of) news story as sort of a break in the inanity, followed by a newish and horrifying phenomenon, the “What’s Hot on Twitter/Google/Facebook” segment. Really? Is this news? Is there really nothing more important going on than this?

 

As stupid, annoying, and wasteful of my time and, worse, the opportunity to actually inform the populace about current events and concerns these useless segments and stories are, they pale in comparison to the most offensive snippet of all: the street moron interview.

 

“Yeah, the train got shut down, I guess, and I had to wait over two hours to get on a bus to get to work. I was late and everything.”

 

“I never saw anything like it! It was mud! Just flowing down the street!”

 

“I was just standing out here and, like, I heard, like, “pop, pop, pop!” And I looked, and this dude was, like, laying in the street, and I was like, ‘Whoa!'”

 

What purpose do these interviews serve? What insight do they provide into the events? Why are these interviews taking up my news time?

 

In the never ending quest to make news more “entertaining,” the news deteriorates further and further. During a half hour news cast a few months ago, I saw an eight-minute story about one of the Jonas brothers doing a solo album. And when news room managers are asked about this pathetic state of affairs, they always say: “That’s what people want.”

 

It’s not what I want. And the people who want Hollywood gossip don’t watch the news. News managers are failing in their responsibility to inform the public. They are violating our trust. They are depriving us of opportunities to educate ourselves about the community and the world around us. Those of us who actually want news are getting sick of it and turning, more and more, to the internet. With considerable research, we are finding better alternatives.

 

Before I forget…

This just in: Michael Jackson is still dead.

 

-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.

___________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Ann Bear – Another Angel In Heaven

Yesterday, a dear friend, mentor and philanthropist, Ann Bear, lost her struggle with cancer, and passed away.

Jewish texts teach of thirty-six light-bringers who wander the earth sharing love and compassion with all. Ann Bear was one of those people. After I got to know her better, I would watch her as she worked the room at a philanthropic event. She would leave a trail of positive energy in her wake.

I got to know Ann closely after her husband, Irwin, passed away. Irwin had been the President of the Board of Directors at San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, where I work.

I happened to meet Ann on two consecutive days at Jewish events and then bumped in to her as I entered, and she exited, the building of the SF Jewish Federation. I was on a low professionally, and quite surprised when I blurted out how amazing she is to be all the time working for philanthropic causes.

She looked at me in astonishment. No, she told me, she is blessed to have a partner in Irwin who can put her in this position and who encourages her to spend her time in this way.

Anyway, she said, I am the one who is amazing, and went on to tell me of the important work I am doing and how inspiring I am to her.

I walked away, my body straighter, with a big smile on my face.

That is the effect that Ann had on many others and me. It is for us to learn and emulate the way in which she lived her life. It is what I believe she would most want.

I visited Ann last week and spent almost four hours with her. She insisted that we focus on a project that she was helping me with. When I kept asking if she needed to stop to rest, she refused. She felt a sense of urgency and the need to give as much as she could while she still could. She lived her life for others right up until the end.

We must celebrate her life and continue to walk in her path. There is no greater way to pay tribute.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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: