Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Possessed Writers

Elfwriter

The scene might be the same in any house mid-week, early evening.

Your partner is rushing to make dinner, still in his/her office clothes. Ten- year-old son is irritable, primarily because he prefers to play wall ball than eat his lunch at um … lunch break. He has even pointed out that the First Lady wants him to exercise more (you just lost my vote in 2020 Ms. Obama! Tell him to eat that sandwich we made him). Older son is drowning in homework and needs help. Unfortunately it is not math where he ends up explaining it to a perplexed calculator-wielding father – it is English and father is the fastest typist in the house.

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From within this maelstrom, hassled wife turns around from steaming cooking pots and sees an unset, messy dinner table, a swivel chair, and a writer’s desk. The writer, sitting in said chair, is distinctly…

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Disgusting Radio – Roger Ingalls

Last week, while making the usual commute to the office, I was listening to Ronn Owens on KGO and the morning topic was the Boy Scouts. More precisely, the discussion hinged on the Boy Scouts ending their ban on openly gay youths but still disallowing gay leadership. By the time my car pulled into the parking lot, I was so pissed at Ronn that my brain was in overdrive planning a social media campaign to create a massive boycott of KGO.

Normally my political and social views are more or less inline with what Ronn expresses on air. Like many people across the nation, Mr. Owens supports the inclusion of gay youths into the Scouts but he disagrees with the exclusion of gay leaders. I do want to make it clear that my beliefs on this issue are the same as Ronn’s but he pulled a disgusting stunt during the program that really infuriated me.

The Ronn Owens morning program is the typical format. He orally frames an issue, gives his opinion and then invites listeners to call in and give their thoughts. On this particular day, he fielded many calls and there was a variety of opinions on the Boy Scouts gay issue. But it was how Ronn mistreated one specific caller that truly got to me.

A listener calls in and expresses his dislike for anyone gay being accepted into the Scouts, at any level. He apparently believes it will lead to sex and molestation because that’s how gays are. The man cites these outlandish statistics published on antigay websites. He sounded like your typical uber conservative radical. Ronn rightfully challenged the caller on his source of information but then it got ugly. The man goes on to say he is speaking from experience and explains that he was molested as a child and still suffers from it. He’s untrusting and must take medication for anxiety. So how does Mr. Owens respond to this? He laughs, that’s right, he laughs at the guy. I repeat, he was actually laughing while this man was talking about an apparently traumatizing event…it was obscenely disgusting.

We may not agree with someone’s opinion but must we get that disrespectful?

KGO was once a great Bay Area radio station but you can now hear their evolution into numbness as they succumb to the Cumulus puppeteer. Ronn Owens appears to be transitioning to shockjockdom as the station appeases its newly adopted corporate parent.

Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting.

Too Much Homework?

The United States ranks 17th in the world for education, a legitimate and worrying metric to examine where our country will stand in the next few decades in terms of business, innovation, and the ability to live out our own values and encourage others to follow a similar path.

I realize that, for the sake of our children, I should be calling in more investment into education, a greater status and respect for teachers, and other ways to boost the performance of our children, their grades and general rounded education. I want to live in a smart society.

I should be calling for change because I truly believe that education is the key to advancement, because I believe that every child should be given the opportunity to reach their own potential, find and train for a meaningful career, and use as a stepping stone to rise up in society. I also believe that education helps makes people more satisfied and happy, and that this creates a better world to live in.

I’ll leave this to the experts:

 

But I don’t feel like writing this right now. Like my teenage son, I feel thoroughly burnt out and resentful. In order to pass on a full curriculum, designed by people far more professional and knowledgeable than me, our children are being forced to study, not only most of the day, but during the evenings and most of the weekends.

When he is not studying, he is so exhausted, that all he wants to do is vegetate in front of a screen, and frankly, I understand that.  My work has periods of intense and long hours. During these months, I only want to crash on the couch when I get home and stare at burly young men kicking the pigskin around. Often during these times, when my wife asks who is winning, I need to glance at the scoreboard first before answering.

I’m willing to go through these periods because I love and am inspired by my work, and because I believe that this is the sacrifice the main breadwinner of the family makes. One day, when my children are settled, I will have plenty of time to go fishing, bird watching, do Tai Chi, and sit in a coffee shop and read a newspaper (remember those? I am convinced they will become a status symbol of independence from the clock).

imagesBut there are things I want to do now – and I want to do them with my son. I want to take him biking, to the gym, to practice archery, and read a good book together by the sea or in a forest. I can make that time, get up early, go to bed late, do whatever it takes – train through the pain as one of my favorite t-shirts says (the one I wore playing basketball with a torn meniscus).

But my son can’t. He has math problems to solve, a project to write, an English essay to complete. Sure, he finds times to hang with his friends and some screen time, I don’t resent him this. It is part of growing up.

I remember being in school and looking forward desperately to the summer. I recall my mother being annoyed that I wanted to lie in bed late every morning and enjoy not having pressure or a schedule.

I want my son to succeed in school for all the reasons mentioned earlier and the profound fear that I will not be able to help him, that at some point he must stand on his own, as I did. But I also want to enjoy being together while we still can, while he still wants my company.

He gets a long summer break and deserves it. I will take a week and we will head north into the mountains. We will fish, bike, swim in a lake guarded by a snow-covered mountain. We’ll eat too much ice cream, fight over who gets the hammock, read together by the fire.

DSCN0951None of this will help my son or the USA become more successful in the decades to come, but sometimes life is more than statistics, and more than homework assignments and grades.

Somehow we need to find ways to measure quality of life, to value relationships, to create memories. Perhaps we will find that time is as valuable as making the grade.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Anderson Cooper: Journalism’s Biggest Sellout – Tom Rossi

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about “selling out” that mostly focused on music. But musicians’ selling out is really only a minor irritation. The selling out that really burns me up and hurts us all in concrete ways is when journalists sell out. Today, I’m going to call out one of the biggest sell-outs on television, and one of the biggest disappointments to me – Anderson Cooper.

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Anderson Cooper was, not that long ago, a hero of American journalism. He did in-depth investigations into government and corporate shenanigans, he told us things that people in power didn’t want us to hear, and he did so with integrity and a non-sensationalist professionalism that was his brand. For all of this, he has won several awards. I miss THAT Anderson Cooper.

Today, Anderson Cooper is a media whore. He still has his old show on CNN, but it is worthless. In fact, his reports resemble Fox “News” in both their quality and their shallowness. Cooper has also added to his resume. He now appears semi-regularly on 60 Minutes, and he has his own daytime talk show.

The quality of his reporting on 60 Minutes leaves me wondering why they put up with him. At the end of his reports on that show, my wife and I both sit there, in disbelief, full of what seem to us as obvious questions that should have been addressed. A journalist is supposed to answer those, and questions that people didn’t even think of. A journalist is supposed to get through the fluff and cut to the meat of the story, telling us not only the where and the who (everybody does that, it’s the easy part), but the why.

Why???? What was the motivation for this event? What do (qualified) people say about it? Is this part of a bigger issue? What’s the background? If you’re talking about a government program that is turning out in an unsatisfactory way, why did that happen, and what are the alternatives? A journalist doesn’t research and come up with alternatives, but he or she ASKS people in the field what went wrong, what might have been done differently, and what could be done from here.

I saw two different Anderson Cooper reports (I think on two different shows of his) on high-speed rail. They were both done as Fox “News” reports – just “scandal/boondoggle” type talk about how much money had been spent and how the train trip from some corner of New England to New York City is only 28 minutes shorter now. WHY has all this money been spent? What, exactly, has it been spent on? WHY is there “little to show for it?” WHY are the trains “still slow?” What is the real problem? What are the alternatives? What could have been done, instead? What if nothing had been done? And maybe the big one: What should we reasonably have expected, by now?

High-speed rail is such rich ground for journalism, it just shocks me that these reports by a former top-level journalist like Anderson Cooper are so thin.

“Anderson Live” is the name of Anderson Cooper’s talk show. It’s worthless. Cooper has always said that it would not be a news program, but wow. Recently, on the show, he was discussing with his co-host for the day (or week or whatever) Melissa Joan Hart the discomfort that he feels, knowing that someone may have “tweeted” him while sitting on the toilet. This is the level to which Cooper has sunk.

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Every time I have tuned to this show I have felt dismayed with his celebrity gossip, and unneeded segments on some isolated crime, committed somewhere, that has already been covered extensively by the people who concentrate on that type of thing. The good news is that Cooper’s talk show has apparently been cancelled.

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The thing that bothers me most about Anderson’s adventures in “look-at-me-ism” is that he has spread himself so thin that the quality of his important work, the actual journalism, is obviously suffering greatly. I’m sure the networks lured Cooper with huge amounts of cash. I’m sure they told him he could be the next Oprah. With visions like that crowding his horizon, Cooper seems to have lost sight of himself.

To Anderson Cooper I say this: You have stolen an incredibly valuable resource from the people of America. We want it back. There is nothing preventing you from returning to your former glory. You will be forgiven. Put the money you have made during your long flirt with self-centered, self-indulgent, self glorification in the bank, and return to serving the people. One day, when you lay dying of old age, you can look back at a life of real accomplishment, and people will remember you with gratitude.

-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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The End of the Melting Pot

The concept of a society being a melting pot is something that strongly resonates for me. My family has never put down roots for more than a couple of generations. I myself have made two major moves and lived in three continents.

The idea that an ethnic group moves to a country and tries hard to become part of that society is a rich element in literature, movies and music. It is a symbol of a country’s ability to be accepting and absorb different people into its social fabric. It sees the intrinsic value of adding another rich layer of culture, food, costume and language.

There is also an oft-irrational drive on the side of the immigrant. After living in Israel for two months, I refused to speak English (it’s amazing what you can stutter through with a hundred words or so). I only listened to Israeli music, and sought Israelis to hang out  with, even though I was often a wall flower since 90% of the conversation passed me by.

When I moved to America, I immediately adopted the local basketball team, becoming a passionate Golden State Warriors fan (never easy – ask those fans who have followed them all their lives). I have goggled tailgaters, researched the Super Bowl party protocol (still more excited about the game than the ads and half-time show), and learned to look knowledgeable when wine tasting. I studiously watched The Daily Show and Colbert, okay – and the Simpsons.

I work with students on the San Francisco State University campus, a rich and diverse community from all over the world. The cultural richness is stunning and the programs offered impressive. There is an impressive statistic for how many students are first-generation to graduate high school and go on to university (I’m thinking 40%, but please correct me if I have it wrong).

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I recently used the term melting pot in front of a colleague who is also an alumna (yes I checked it to make sure!) of SFSU. I meant it in a complimentary way to express how comfortable students feel to openly express their cultural and ethnic roots.

This colleague, a millennial, baulked at the use of the word. She responded that it is derogatory and suggests we all need to strive to be the same, that there is an intense pressure to conform to whatever the dominant culture demands.

It got me thinking. I desired to fit into the culture around me because I wanted to be accepted. But I never lost sight of my roots. I was always the Englishman in Israel and my friends never lost an opportunity to poke fun at my accent, the Queen, or to accept my undisputed authority on the noble topics of soccer and beer.

I understand why the term melting pot is problematic. Often the liquid in the pot is fermented by racist connotations. But melting pot does not have to mean only one soup with only one taste. Perhaps a tapestry is a better term. Many different colored strands weave together to create a beautiful work of art.

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The millennial baulks every time that the ‘adult’ society tries to define it, put it into statistical graphs and research projects. The millennial doesn’t spend time pondering whether s/he is a Jewish American or an American Jew.

S/he is comfortable with multiple identities. Have you ever watched a millennial working on their desktop (it doesn’t work so well on phones)? They have a dozen windows open at any one time and flit from one to another like a humming bird on speed. It is the same with their identity. They are comfortable being Jewish here, gay there, a jock in one place, an intellect in another. It is natural and easy.

But there is a generation even more exciting than millennials following them. A while ago, my youngest son met three classmates at the park. The fathers stood together and looked on. One was Israeli, another Palestinian, a third from India, and the fourth from Pakistan. While the kids had fun on the wooden playground, the fathers fidgeted, discussing the weather, house prices and the 49ers. The fathers are all good men, wanting a peaceful world and a just society to live in for their families. We were all happy to stand there in that park playing fathers.

But what was amazing was that our sons were perfectly comfortable. They played together because it was simply fun to hang out. I am sure they each have an understanding of their roots and often hang out with people of their own ethnic background but do not feel a need to be defined as such.

The biggest problem I feel with the melting pot is that it is/was deemed necessary. The millennials will treat it with vague intellectual curiosity and the next generation won’t even know what it was – like a pay phone or record player.

And that is what gives me hope for a better world.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Beyond Genetically Modified Food – Roger Ingalls

There’s a new food source coming and it makes GMOs (genetically modified organisms) look like child’s play. Soon, your food may be printed.

Normally I’m not in favor of manmade or DNA altered organisms getting into our food system because our bodies have not evolved to properly recognize and chemically breakdown many of these foods. It’s no accident that obesity and diabetes correlates to the rapid adaption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in processed food and drinks. HFCS is a manmade invention and the human body cannot adequately deal with it. However, 3D printed food may be a different but positive development.

picture from SMRC

picture from SMRC

If you’re not familiar with 3D printing, click here.

There are two basic reasons why I believe food printing could be a good thing. First, it will be a very efficient way to produce food and second, food could be composed exactly the way an individual may need it to maintain health. Fundamentally, food is made of proteins, sugars, oils, macro and micro nutrients and water. Like ink in a printer cartridge, these building blocks for food can be printed in layers to form an edible meal and the printer can have a built in hotplate to cook the food as it is being formed.

The fundamental elements would be in a powder form and could be stored for decades. This would greatly reduce food shortage all over the world because stocks could be built up during good production years. This type of food system would conserve valuable resources such as water and energy. Food would be assembled where needed (no or limited transport cost) so the energy goes straight into making the product and the same is true for water.

In 30 years the world population will grow from today’s 6 billion to 9 billion. We will need all forms of food production such as genetically modified factory farms, urban grown food, feed lot animals and aquaponics. 3D printed food assembled from basic elements will be just another needed source to feed the hungry masses.

John Legend – Already A Legend

I met John Legend at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in San Diego a month ago where I first met Emmanuel Jal.  He is an amazing performer and you can read his already impressive resume here.

But you might just be better off listening to some of his hits.

In a world where so many of our young (and older) musicians and artists are so insular, Legend brings an impressive track record of leveraging his music and talent for social justice.

He has helped promote campaigns in Africa where he raised money for a village in Ghana where people were living in extreme poverty. He cites Professor Jeffrey Sachs‘ book, The End of Poverty, as his inspiration to improve the lives of people living under the poverty line and he started his “Show Me Campaign” in 2007.

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In May 2007 he partnered with Tide laundry detergent to raise awareness about the need of families in St. Bernard Parish, (Slidell, LA) one of the most devastated areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. I had brought a group of students two months earlier to work in this parish. Legend spent a day folding laundry at the Tide “clean start” mobile laundromat and meeting with that community.

He possesses talent, organizational ability and the energy to inspire others to get involved. I truly felt in the presence of a man with a keen awareness of what is going on in the world and the recognition that we can overcome these injustices and create a better world.

images-4 It is why I find working with millennials to be so incredibly exciting. It gives me hope for the future.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

The IRS “Scandal” – Tom Rossi

Bigger than the planet Jupiter! Heavier than the Sun! More important than World War II, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and Justin Bieber’s monkey problems, combined!

The “IRS scandal” is more in need of a cure than cancer. The Republicans and Tea Party types are pulling out their hair, running around in circles as if their hair were on fire, and screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Oh, how I’m enjoying the irony after years of hearing that environmentalists were “alarmists.”

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Not that this isn’t a serious issue, potentially. It would be pretty scary if the IRS could be used as a political tool. Just think of what that will mean the next time the pendulum swings back the Republican way. And, by the way, the same thing DID happen, in “reverse,” (and much worse) under the Bush administration. You can read all about it here.

But the key people at the IRS, at the time of the scandal, were either non-political appointments, or were appointed by President George W. Bush. For one thing, that tells me that they would be quite willing to tell us if they had been under pressure from President Obama to act in a certain way. But they aren’t saying that.

So then, one of two explanations must apply…

The first possibility is that these people at the IRS where doing their job. Who is more likely to cheat on their taxes than professed tax-haters? That’s one of the stated purposes of the Tea Party – activism against taxation. In addition, a tax-exempt entity must follow certain rules, among which being that any political activities undertaken must be in somewhat clear support of the group’s mission statement and, “We Hate Obama” is not an acceptable mission statement (nor is “We Hate Bush,” for that matter).

The second possibility is that this was the realization of a conspiracy against President Obama. The Republicans have been searching, waiting, and hoping for a “Monica Lewinsky” scandal that they could use to disable Obama’s presidency. People like Karl Rove don’t wait well. As one vulture said to the other, “Patience my ass. I’m going to kill something.”

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I actually think that the first possibility is more likely. The people who work for the IRS are very serious, boring, accounting-types. And the newer employees were essentially being tested on their ability to weed out those non-profit applicants that were pushing the rules a little too hard.

Some might raise a red flag, reminding us that big corporations and the super-wealthy get away with murder on their tax returns. This is true. But big corporations and the super-wealthy are powerful entities in this country. Powerful enough, in fact, that they don’t simply have to follow the law, they make laws. When they claim that they didn’t break any laws on their tax returns, they are mostly telling the truth. The corruption happened much further up the line. They have legalized their own tax cheating.

So, we have another hoax. And by “another,” I’m not referring to global warming which is, most unfortunately, real. I’m talking about things that supposedly prove a president is unfit to govern – things like the Lewinsky fiasco. This mainly happens because half of President Obama’s policies, like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (now known universally as Obamacare) are actually what most of the people want, while the policies that aggravate the left, like continuing the permanent war doctrine, are things the Republicans want. So there’s nothing real that they can complain about and get any traction.

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So it goes. We are evidently incapable of having real discussions, in politics or in the media, about real issues. So we scream about haircuts and drinks of water and birth certificates, instead. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to seek some more intelligent entertainment. I think “Teletubbies” might be on the cartoon channel.

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-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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Craving Recognition

Wanted to share this post written on elfwriter.com prior to the results of the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Have a great weekend.

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I admit it. I crave hearing that someone has read my books, even more so when they really enjoyed them. I love seeing reviews posted, however critical, because someone cared enough to take the trouble to write something. The first (and only) time I saw someone reading the book on the train, I suspect my feet actually left the ground.

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Nothing, of course, compares to when my sons held their first copies, or when I hear them talking to people with pride about their contribution to the story. A few weeks ago, we sat with dear friends around a campfire, and everyone was invited to share an achievement from the past year. My 10-year-old spoke at length about his pride on our teamwork writing the fantasy series.

At The Walls Of Galbrieth reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2012, and I remember a powerful…

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Gun Control – It is about control. Glen Beck

I have been accused, ironically only around the gun control issue, that I do not share the “other side.” Perhaps. I have never really felt a need to give a platform to those who don’t agree with me beyond their freedom-of-speech right and I have never deleted a comment unless it was abusive.

But Glen Beck has me thinking. In his new book, Mr. Beck states that gun control is not about safety, common sense or saving American lives. In his opinion it is about “control.” He was preparing his book (he has gathered many other people’s work) when the tragic Sandy Hook shooting occurred and rushed to publish the book. I realize this was a marketing opportunity, riding the wave of a story no matter how tragic it was, but it leaves a sour taste. I suppose such an event never stopped those of us who support gun control from jumping straight onto the bandwagon, so why not the gun extremists?

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While Mr. Beck tries to dispel claims that anti-gun advocates with study after study – and we are all know you can find statistics to support other views – the crucial part for me is the issue of control.

For the record, his main attacks are on the premise that more guns means more crime, and that strict gun control in other countries have not worked. He sums them up in this You Tube clip:

What I find most interesting is Mr. Beck’s comments: “More gun control doesn’t mean less crime. More gun control just means more control.”

He is wrong. Preventing mass shootings at a school or university is about saving lives, plain and simple. But, I concede, control is a part of it. I want to control who can get their hands on firearms. I have no problem with Mr. or Ms. law-abiding, America citizen, having a gun in their house to protect their family.

But I want to keep guns away from criminals and people with mental issues. I want to make it as hard as possible for criminals to have access to firearms.

And I want to turn the question back to you, sir. When people talk of an armed militia, when they feel a need to stockpile, and to have automatic weapons are they not harboring sinister desires for control? When a person refuses to accept that the police are the trained professionals who must keep order on the streets, are they not willing to yield control?

It is about control, Mr. Beck, and that control works both ways. I want control in the hands of a democratic and open government  responsible for the safety of its people. I don’t want a lone wolf, political extremist, or sick individual, who has the control over the life and death of another individual.

That sir, as I am sure the vast majority of your target audience would agree, remains in the hands of God.

Final Note: Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to leave a comment below, but note any abusive comments directed at me or Mr. Beck will be deleted. I respect his right to voice his opinion and stand on my own to respond. Please join us for an honest  debate.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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