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 “January, 2013”

Stay Competitive – Tom Rossi

During a recent grocery-chain strike, in which the workers were not trying to gain anything, but stop the company from taking away a large part of their health benefits, we all got to hear the broken-record, trump card ubiquitous employer-speak in these situations – “We have to stay competitive.”

5061877_1

“Oh, OK. Competitive. Yeah.” That’s the unspoken response. Everybody accepts the argument. But wait a minute… What argument? What does “competitive” mean, anyway? This is such a magic mantra of capitalism, that we all just accept this vague smokescreen without question.

Well, here’s the cheat-sheet on this code: “competitive,” in this usage, refers to nothing except a company’s value on the stock exchange. It has nothing, whatsoever, to do with attracting customers, nothing to do with whether or not new stores can be opened up, and nothing to do with the prices of food and other items in the store.

business-competition

This is the direct result of our wonderful corporatocracy. For a company’s stock to compete with other stocks, for it to keep rising in price and paying dividends, profits always have to be rising. And half of the profit equation is costs, including labor. That’s why corporations are always trying to cut pay and benefits, at least when they can get away with it.

This particular strike, however, took place at stores mostly located in San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, CA. Sorry, bean-counters. In the Bay Area, people care about each other, and they care about fairness.

When the workers went on strike, the customers did something miraculous… they honored the picket line and refused to shop at the stores. This caused revenues to drop like a stone, and soon the company realized it was losing much more money than it would cost to keep their employee’s health benefits intact.

Blog-Header

There’s a not-so-subtle lesson here: If we stick together, we can at least hold our ground against the corporate onslaught. Instead of envying our neighbors pay or benefits, we should demand a reasonable living from our employers too. Think about it, instead of jealously berating public employees for having things like a retirement benefit, shouldn’t we all be asking why we don’t all have that?

Don’t buy the vague, bogus “competitiveness” argument. It’s a cliché meant to cow the populace and trick people out of actually thinking.

-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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Other Side of the Street

“Oh you can’t write in more than one genre. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The man was lecturing me at a recent holiday social event. He is himself an author, not famous, but has several detective novels out. Despite my noble attempts to argue with him, his words have haunted me.

Followers of this blog know that I have three social justice-themed novels published and more on the way. I have written a sequel to Unwanted Heroes and have a framework for a third book involving many of the same characters and also based in San Francisco, the city I find so rich in novel fodder!

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

But I am also excited to be writing Young Adult Epic Fantasy. Over the past three years I have written three novels – a series – and the first was just published with Tourmaline Books. 

While I see a lot in common between epic fantasy and more activist literature, in terms of imbuing certain values, I have to admit that I often feel embarrassed revealing to someone who knows me through my social justice-themed novels and Left Coast Voices that I also write YA epic fantasy.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

I tried to explain to the man that I maintain separate blogs (elfwriter.com) and twitter accounts (@elfwriter) and that my target audiences for both are very separate – actually I am not the only one who enjoys more than one genre – but he would not hear of it.

I am very proud of my social justice-themed novels. When I give talks I begin by stating that I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can help create a better world. 

I am passionate about this and it is what has kept me writing not only the four novels I have completed, but also nearly 800 blog posts in just over two years. I know I am not alone. It is why you read this blog and why I have 19,000 twitter followers.

But I love my epic fantasy books as well. It began as a project together with my sons (I would read a new novel to them on each of our annual summer camping trips. Snuggling in my tent or sitting around the campfire have become definitive memories for all of us. Seeing my eldest cradle the first copy of At The Walls Of Galbrieth with such pride was priceless).

DSCN0193But it has become more than just a family project. As I have met more fantasy fans through the social media I mentioned, I have discovered a rich and wonderfully warm group of people. And if some are a bit quirky, well, I love it.

Writing Young Adult affords an opportunity to share values I believe important with a different age group and if I play a small part in helping create the next generation of book readers, then I am also very proud of my work.

And I will continue to write in both genres for as long as I feel inspired to do so.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

 

Great American Pastime: Drugs and Heroes – Roger Ingalls

Today was ballot day for baseball’s annual hall of fame voting process. For only the second time in the past forty years no one was inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  There were many outstanding players eligible but the voting body – a select number of sports writers (Baseball Writers Association of America, BBWAA) – did not deem this year’s crop of athletes worthy. Some of the biggest names in the game were smacked down: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza and many others. They were shunned due to suspicion of using performance enhancing drugs (PED) such as steroids and human growth hormones (HGH).

picture from iplj.net

picture from iplj.net

The BBWAA’s new found morality is ridiculous. Performance enhancing drugs have always been a part of professional sports going all the way back to the Gladiator days in Rome. Baseball and drugs have a hundred year marriage.

Abridged PED History:

1)      Late 1800s – Snuff and Coco leaves

2)      Early 1900s – Caffeine, strychnine, heroin and cocaine

3)      Mid 1900s – Horse pills (steroids) and amphetamines (greenies)

4)      Later 1900s – Designer steroids, human growth hormones and cocaine again

I certainly don’t endorse drug use by athletes or anyone else but the Hall of Fame is a chronological museum of baseball history. Today’s players represent their current environment just as yesterday’s ballers represented theirs.

It’s the responsibility of the BBWAA to select the best players of the recent era for inclusion into the Hall of Fame against the backdrop of the norm for that period. It’s not their responsibility to rewrite or manipulate history.

Heroes Slipping Thru The Net

Mentioning my latest book, Unwanted Heroes, at Xmas holiday parties last month seemed to strike a resistant chord with a number of people, none of whom were war veterans, but often had a close family member or friend with a difficult story. 

The issue that a homeless person who does not take advantage of the benefits offered also touched a nerve. The now-famous story of the NYPD officer who bought a pair of boots for a seemingly homeless guy sitting outside a shoe store barefoot in winter has been overshadowed by the fact that this man actually has a room provided by the VA and social services. He also has shoes but chooses not to wear them or live in his apartment.imgresThere are many people who vigorously defend the VA and, correctly, cite the vast improvements seen in the last decade or so. But I remain unconvinced that we are doing enough. 

President Obama said in a Veterans Day speech: “No veteran should have to wait months or years for the benefits that you’ve earned … so we will continue to attack the claims backlog. We won’t let up. We will not let up.”

The New York Times ran an article in late November, “that the Department of Veterans Affairs, in the long slog through its own paperwork, is in some ways marching backward.”

In fact, during the first half of the year, two-thirds of claims for disability and pension were still pending more than four months after being filed. This is in spite of the VA having strict timelines for claims. This lag gets even worse when a rejected claim is appealed, with the average duration to resolution being two and a half years.

There are two important points to take into consideration:

1) Many of those who need help are challenged to deal with bureaucracy – any bureaucracy. Most everyday citizen has challenges with personal documentation filing, understanding procedure or dealing with a labyrinth of organizational structure. How much more difficult can this be for someone with trauma and mental instability?

It seemed to me that many of the people who complimented the VA system were people who were well-organized (or had a partner who was) and able to work with the system.

2) The Department of Veteran Affairs is reeling from an avalanche of people stepping forward in need of help. The New York Times article cited that the number of claims has doubled in the last decade, reaching 1.3 million in 2011.

imgres-1

In addition, almost half of the veterans seeking help are coming with more than a dozen medical issues, far higher than anything seen after World War II and Vietnam. Again from the New York Times: “Many Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are returning with severe injuries requiring elaborate and complicated care. The population of Vietnam-era veterans is older and sicker than ever. And the list of ailments for which the department is giving compensation — like heart disease, leukemia and Parkinson’s, from exposure to Agent Orange — is growing.”

This suggests that we should not be criticizing the VA, rather providing the infrastructure necessary to deal with this explosive growth in need. Steps are being taken to move records to an intranet, but the department simply needs more hands and a simpler process.

The New York Times article suggests that the VA be more realistic in predicting how long a process will take to allow these men and women to plan accordingly.

I side with President Obama on this issue. When the United States called for it’s citizens to take up arms to defend the values intrinsic to our society, the people didn’t answer by giving a vague date when they might turn up.

Waiting two-and-a-half-years to receive what is rightfully yours after sacrificing so much for your country is simply unacceptable. There are too many Unwanted Heroes slipping through the net.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Please, Stop Whining About Spending! – Tom Rossi

The words “tax” and “spend” get thrown around a lot by our beloved politicians – especially by the Republicans. The simpletonistic, cave-man assumption we are all to follow along with is: “Taxes bad, spending bad. Ugh! Atouk zugzug Lana!”

The idea actually is pretty simple – government spending necessitates taxes, and the more taxes, the less money in your pocket. Fair enough, but also myopic.

Everyone, except a handful of fringe lunatics, agrees that some spending is necessary. In general, Democrats believe we have to spend money on some kinds of public health programs and things like that, while Republicans always seem to think we need a more military might.

Right there, something should become obvious – not all spending is created equal. What surprises me is that the anti-spending crowd is opposed to moderate spending now, that would prevent mega-spending becoming necessary later. Now we’re talking about my favorite word: infrastructure.

America’s infrastructure is in a sorry state. That isn’t some nutty, liberal viewpoint, it’s the opinion of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Here’s the report card they gave the U.S. in 2009:

2009 Grades

Aviation D

Bridges C

Dams D

Drinking Water D-

Energy D+

Hazardous Waste D

Inland Waterways D-

Levees D-

Public Parks and Recreation C-

Rail C-

Roads D-

Schools D

Solid Waste C+

Transit D

Wastewater D-

America’s Infrastructure GPA: D
Estimated 5 Year Investment Need: $2.2 Trillion

Why do I always harp about this? Because these elements are the life’s blood of America. The individual pieces of our infrastructure are aging and deteriorating, and it will eventually cost us… big.

Even the most hardcore of bottom-liners have to see that our economy will utterly fail if our water, transportation, flood control, energy, waste, and educational systems and facilities start to falter with increased frequency. And, at this point, we’re not even talking about preventative maintenance. We’re trying to keep up with massive failures.

How do you treat your own home, and your own car? Car owners know that skipping their oil changes at “Jiffy Lube” to save $35 will most likely lead to a ruined engine, at a cost just slightly higher than $35.

Homeowners know that “saving” the expense of fixing a little leak in the roof that appears one day will certainly mean a nightmare, where the entire roof will have to be replaced and the house will probably suffer water damage.

Fixing water pipes or levees before they burst, fixing bridges before they fall into the river, and repairing roads before they completely shut down transportation can save ten times what these repair jobs cost.

And the dollar-cost isn’t anywhere near the whole story. Any of these infrastructure failures causes huge logistical catastrophes, as well. Imagine what it would be like if the bridge or the freeway you take to work was out of commission for 6 months, or if you had to go without running water for as long.

floodCapture

Another big reason to start investing more in our infrastructure is that it would create many, many jobs. We could put Americans to work physically fixing America. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? And it wouldn’t be giving away money for the sake of it, it would be directly improving our country in so many ways.

I’m tired of all the anti-spending ranting. We need more spending, not less. We just need to focus our spending on constructive activities.

-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.

___________________________________________________________________________

A Place for Tree Books

My latest novel, Unwanted Heroes, was released in ebook format over Thanksgiving. I was stoked. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the electronic book revolution and my Facebook status lists me in a steady relationship with my kindle. I would, I admit, consider an open relationship but no iPad came down my chimney last month – I really should ask the landlord for a chimney.

When the ebook was released and I alerted the usual suspects, I was surprised at the number of people who responded with: “Let me know when the paperback comes out.” My surprise was because many were people who enthusiastically embrace the tech revolution and could probably download and read a book simultaneously on their phone, tablet, laptop, computer, TV, and by just staring up at the cloud.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

But they choose to hold a ‘real’ book in their hands. They want the feel, the crackle of pages turning (there must be an app for that), the smell of a book (how about an ink-addiction app?). One person told me that, when buying a book by an author that she knows, it doesn’t feel right if she is not holding ‘a real copy’. For authors she doesn’t know personally, she buys ebooks.

Two months ago my family moved house and for a long time there was a great wall of boxes in every room. I realize that the point when I began to feel at home was when I was able to unpack and shelve my books. This was my identity, my stamp on the territory.

On Wednesday, Three Clover Press announced the release of Unwanted Heroes in paperback. So, all you tree book lovers, I would be honored for a place on your bookshelf.

I have also set myself a goal to garner five reviews on Amazon for Unwanted Heroes. If you have read the novel, please consider leaving a review. It is very important to me. Thank you. 

girl-hugging-words1

And just for the record:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an elderly, 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 abruptly surface, cementing an unlikely relationship that just might release each from the tragic pasts that bind them.

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.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Never-too-late New Year Greeting

I’m still basking in the New Year glow. There is something so hopeful about switching from December to January that every other monthly transition lacks. Maybe this year will be one of peace. Maybe we will discover a cure for cancer. Maybe we can create an environment that is sustainable. Maybe we can help people find a meaningful occupation, true love, safety, hope.

It will happen … One Day…

.. but only when we realize that despite our differences we can only achieve it together.

Happy New Year.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

How I Spent My Winter Vacation – Tom Rossi

Like we do every other year, my wife and I spent this Christmas in Denmark with that part of her family. We actually had a “white” Christmas, with a nice new layer of snow, which is actually getting more and more rare as Scandinavia gradually heats up. But this year was really special for me…

denmark winter

because I caught the flu.

I haven’t had a flu in many years, at least not with recognizable symptoms. I never get a flu shot, as I am egomaniacally confident in my immune system, but this year things seemed to break down. And wow, was I miserable. I didn’t really get a fever, I haven’t really had one since 1985, but I got everything else – the aching, the nausea, the pain in my gut, the stuffed up head, the sneezing, the coughing, the whining… well, you get the point.

I also got something I hadn’t felt in a few years – the feeling of almost complete helplessness and dependence on others to take care of me. I think that’s what hurt the most. But in the midst of lying in bed, feeling oh, so sorry for myself, I all of a sudden realized what a wimp I was.

winter-pictures-bagsvaerd-lake-zealand-island-01

For almost ten years now, our nation has experienced, sadly, a steady flow of wounded soldiers who have returned from Iraq, Afghanistan, and a few other places. Some of these soldiers (I try not to use the PR-firm-generated term – “troops”) have had arms and/or legs blown off in explosions. Some have taken bullets or shrapnel to the head. And some have (possibly in addition to physical ailments) had their minds so thoroughly invaded by the hell of war that they can’t sleep at night, can’t hold a job, and in some cases, can hardly relate to other human beings anymore, including their own families.

As someone who has suffered a major brain trauma, himself, I’m just as sympathetic to that last group as the ones listed prior. But all of these pains make my whining about a little tummy ache seem truly pathetic. That thought actually made me get up and start eating, again, in hopes that my stomach would feel better with half a dinner roll with some peanut butter on it.

winter-pictures-new-harbour-copenhagen-01

I am incredibly pissed off, at every level and for every reason,  with the Cheney/Bush administration, with Donald Rumsfeld, and, to a SLIGHTLY lesser degree with President Obama for sending our men and women into this ridiculous collection of wars. The people in our military volunteered to protect our country from real threats, and they were turned into underpaid mercenaries.

However, in this new year (as if it were any different) I will keep in mind that our soldiers were not responsible for the poor decisions and con-artistry that sent them into hell on earth. Nor are they responsible for the continued brain-washing they receive from the military about all the good they are doing over there.

The war machine wants to convince us that everything comes down to the noble (or ignoble, in some cases) soldier. Individual soldiers decided to go whup Saddam Hussein’s ass, and individual soldiers decided to go all crazy at Abu Ghraib. Those are the stories we’re supposed to swallow.

But I want to make it clear as daylight that I don’t want to criticize the enlisted members of our military. My contempt rests squarely with the top dogs – the commanders in chief, secretaries of defense, and generals responsible for these con jobs we call wars.

2531931742

I will never look with disdain upon any current or former member of our armed services, even if he or she buys into the lies that got many of his or her comrades-in-arms killed. I’ve been conned, too, in the past. These people volunteered to protect our country, even if very harsh conditions were to arise. They followed their orders. They trusted the chain of command. These are all honorable things.

Let’s make sure we blame those who deserve blame. And take good care of those who trusted them… and got burned.

-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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: