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 “July, 2013”

Next Stop – Fruitvale Station – Norm Weekes

I’d like to reach out of the screen of your laptop or phone and choke you by the throat until you promise to see the movie Fruitvale Station. But that would be wrong.

imagesFruitvale Station is the story of the murder of Oscar Grant by a BART policeman early New Year’s Day 2009. The audience gets to ride along with Oscar on his last day and reveals the imperfect but very human Oscar Grant. This is not a movie review. For the record it’s a stunning piece of filmmaking from the Bay Area’s own first time feature film director Ryan Coogler.

imgres-1Fruitvale Station also won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance so it’s not just me talking that talk. This transcends entertainment and becomes part of the discussion we won’t have about race in America. It’s the part of the race discussion about African American males as discounted, devalued and people to fear. Hard to emphasize with people you fear. If your empathy is missing Fruitvale Station will help you find it. Here is  an opportunity through the art of cinema to understand a segment of your community that you probably don’t know, may be terrified of and have trouble relating to.

Unless you work or live with the peeps you just know us from music, movies and News at 11. President Obama broke through the noise a bit in his “Listen Up White People” speech after the Trayvon Martin verdict but there will be no follow up. We always talk about having a discussion about race and never do it. I too am complicit. I think after the age of 12 it’s a useless conversation to have. The reason the Trayvon, Oscar and a long line of young African American men get murdered is because we’re demonized, stereotyped and dehumanized as part of the narrative. And the reason this continues is because we don’t know each other as people. We don’t break bread together, worship together or play together.

Fruitvale Station allows you, the good meaning person who is not racist but doesn’t really care about African Americans, a chance to relate without going through the trouble of actually having to spend time with us. It can’t get any more convenient than that. Want to get to know black folk without spending time with them?  There’s a not an app for that but there’s a movie for that!

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By the end of Fruitvale Station you’ll be balling your eyes out because you’ll know you have more in common with Oscar Grant and his family than you thought possible. Black kids have been killed and devalued in our society for longer than I can remember. See Fruitvale Station so the next time a cop, gang banger or neighborhood watchman executes an unarmed black kid you’ll feel the dimension of the tragedy.

If you want to connect with your fellow Americans start the trip at Fruitvale Station.

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Norm Weekes lives in the East Bay and volunteers with non-profits working in social justice and digital literacy. He is a volunteer at The Mentoring Center and Oakland Digital.

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Politicians are Uneducated – Tom Rossi

Our politicians are not, generally speaking, morons. Most are actually of above average intelligence, and that’s true regardless of party affiliation. But the backgrounds of most politicians, both educational and experiential, are narrow.

Most politicians are lawyers. Getting a law degree and passing the Bar Exam is no mean feat, but it doesn’t prepare a person to face the types of issues that now bombard politicians at many levels of government – climate change, “super-bugs,” genetically engineered organisms, fracking, etc. These are scientific issues, or issues that at least require a scientific perspective.

In this millennium, politicians who have only been educated in the law and/or business are making decisions on issues they know nothing about, that’s obvious. But what bothers me more is that the education and experiences of politicians have not even given them the intellectual tools necessary to process scientific information.

scientific-law

The concept here is really not too difficult. Would you want an expert in French impressionism to come over and fix a problem with the electrical wiring in your house? I suppose there might be a French impressionism expert who also once worked as an electrician, but someone like that is probably just a wee bit hard to find. Why would you want an expert in corporate law to make decisions about the food you eat and how it gets to your plate? Why would you want an expert in constitutional law to make decisions about practices that will make a lot of money, but badly pollute our water? Why would you want an expert in franchise and distribution law to make decisions affecting the fate of the entire human race?

Technically, a “moron” is defined as a person whose IQ falls between 51 and 70 points. A moron could hardly pass the bar, nor could he or she easily become a captain of business (the second-leading source of our politicians). But a person can easily be made to look dumb if they are placed in a situation about which they know almost nothing.

Congress occupational makeup

Do you want to see an apparent moron? Ask me to fix your plumbing, or your teeth, or balance the books for your corporation. I can’t do any of these things, despite the fact that I do have the necessary intelligence (my mom sez I is real smart, an’ hansum too!). I have no training in these areas. I haven’t read a book about them or even watched a Youtube instructional video!

This lack of scientific training among our politicians might have been OK (well, not really) 50 or 100 years ago. Here in the third millennium, A.D., our leadership needs to go back to school. Either that or we need to have some scientific prerequisites for our elected officials, well beyond the general education requirements of most colleges.

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Politicians need to know something about the scientific method and about scientific processes. It would also be very helpful for them to have some experience in the debates that go on between scientists, so that they can get an understanding of just what types of disagreements are given validity in the scientific world – the rules are very different from the rules of evidence in a court of law.

This would be government reform with real meaning. Now where’s that television repair person? I need some music lessons.

-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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Sex or Swords?

Lot of discussion about what is appropriate to expose to our teenagers – is it better to prevent or control the message?

Elfwriter

I recently finished reading an epic fantasy novel by an author who is perhaps a year ahead of me. He is a couple of novels deeper into his series and seems to have a similar, but not bigger, social platform. 

But his books are selling impressively and I enjoyed reading his work, but there was nothing in the quality of the plot, writing, etc. that suggested why he is outselling me.

There are a lot of things in common between our novels. They are both character driven and, though there is a clear plot arc, you really stay engaged because you are rooting for the characters. There is plenty of action and moral dilemmas. If and when I write a review, and I definitely will because this is so important to the author (hinting here!), I realize that it would be similar to many of the reviews I have received for At…

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Jail for the Privileged and Profiteers – Roger Ingalls

Another city jail opens its doors to corruption. Fremont, California over build their incarceration capacity by a factor of six so now they’ve decided to lower their vacancy rate by renting out the open cells in an attempt to turn a quarter of a million dollar profit. On the surface it sounds like a good idea because the city fixes a planning mistake and they also make money to spend elsewhere. But these profit motivated jailing programs have proven corrupt and beneficial to mainly the privileged.

Obviously, these programs cater to the wealthier members of society. As an example, if someone breaks the law and is sentenced to jail time, instead of serving time in a crowded county jail they can appeal to the judge for movement to a city facility if they pay a daily rental fee. In the case of Fremont, the daily fee is $155. If you have extra money, you can buy your way into a nicer jail with fewer prisoners and a less stressful environment. So, two criminals with the same offence with different monetary standings will serve different sentences. The poorer guy gets hell while the richer one gets a more privileged stay. Sentencing for crime should not be based on a criminal’s wealth.

picture by thinkprogress.org

picture by thinkprogress.org

Another problem with for profit jails is financial corruption. Again, it’s already been proven that judges can get bought. A for profit juvenile jail in Pennsylvania kicked back $2.6 million to two judges for keeping their facility at capacity; the infamous Kids for Cash Scandal. Offences that normally resulted in suspension from school for a few days often put teenagers in juvy-jail for months. The judges hid behind a position of zero tolerance but in actuality it was payola time.

For profit incarceration is also driving the criminalization of basic human behavior. Many of the prisons built over the past twenty years are constructed and managed by companies on the stock exchange. Many facilities originally built by local governments are now being handed over to for profit companies. Do you wonder why crime reports state that violent crimes are down but then the next report says the prison population is increasing? To attract stock investors, publicly traded incarceration companies need to grow revenue quarterly and annually…that’s how Wall Street and their financial institutions work. More prisoners equal more dollars and rehabilitation is a dirty word. These huge prison companies and their large work force hire lobbyists and political marketing firms to promote the passing of new laws or rally against movements that try to do away with bad laws that criminalize normal human behavior. Again, these companies need bodies behind bars to make money.

Jailing for the purpose of profit is a corruption of justice.

Changing the World

I am feeling emotionally tired bouncing from one political cause to another. There is simply too much to do to fix our world. There are amazing organizations that work for solutions whether globally or locally…and they are all worthy of my time, attention and dollars.

I am aware that many political activists suffer burnout and seem to get excited once every four years at best. I used to be critical of them, but I am beginning to understand where they are coming from. I will be fifty next year and though there are ten months to go, I’m already taking it hard. I went to my first political rally when I was eleven and never looked back. But I am having a hard time when I look at my dear children and the wonderful students I work with, wondering what I have achieved to make this world a better place for them.

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I lost my political virginity campaigning for a political prisoner who walked from 25+ years in jail to lead his nation to a democratic and non-racist society. He dismantled the worst racist societal framework in my lifetime and did so with as little violence as possible. As I write this, he lies in hospital on life-support and I am profoundly sad. I had a pencil case at school with a sticker Free Nelson Mandela on it and when the teacher told me that I could only display a political sticker if I explained to the class who Mandela is, I stood and made my first political speech.

nelson-mandela-in-prison

I would like to compile a series of blog posts that each relates to a particular action that will have a profound impact on the world or at least the society we live in. I can only think of a couple so I am turning to you for help.

Think of an action that can have serious impact and let me know in the comments and maybe I, Tom or Roger, might take it on. If you would like to compile it into a 400-600 article, you are invited to guest post it here on Left Coast Voices. Let me know at alshalev at yahoo dot com. I’m happy to edit, provide the pictures etc.

There is a famous Jewish proverb (Rabbi Tarfon I believe): You are not obligated to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.

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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.

Zimmerman, Martin, and Legalism – Tom Rossi

The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, as well as the trial and acquittal of Zimmerman have set this country on fire. There are many implications and many causes and contributing factors being discussed in a civilized manner, or shouted with extreme vitriol.

Today, I want to look at one aspect of Zimmerman’s acquittal. Many people are asking how… how could a jury of six people have come to the unanimous conclusion that George Zimmerman had shot Trayvon Martin as an act of self-defense.

zimmerman images

It’s somewhat clear that some of the jurors went into the trial with that opinion. This was not properly vetted by the prosecutors. But that still doesn’t explain the outcome.

One juror (so far) went straight to video – Anderson Cooper, that is. She said, among other juicy tidbits of insight, that the jurors looked really hard into the law, and just couldn’t find a way to convict Zimmerman, even on manslaughter charges.

From this juror’s description of the deliberations, it’s clear to me that legalism has not only reared its ugly head, but it has taken over the thinking of the average American. What do I mean by legalism? Dictionary.com gives this definition of legalism, which applies here: “strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit (my emphasis).”

This most likely comes from the constant flood of courtroom dramas on TV. Most of these shows, and even at least one Shakespeare play, feature some tiny technicality – and it’s usually employed by the “good guys.” The good guys are the heroes for either freeing an innocent defendant where there is circumstantial evidence against him, or jailing a guilty defendant who has a great alibi. These would both be good things, of course, but the way this is accomplished in these shows glorifies nitpicking and subverts the intent of the law.

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What’s the intent of the law? Generally, “Don’t hurt people.” That’s it. End of story. That means, don’t kill, don’t beat up, don’t steal, don’t kidnap, don’t embezzle, don’t deprive people of their rights, don’t poison, etc., etc., etc.

But it has become an acceptable defense to say, “Well, the law allows us an average of 30 insect fragments per 100 grams of peanut butter, and our average is 29.95, so legally, we’re not hurting anybody.” At the moment that Zimmerman shot Martin, Zimmerman was afraid. If you look at that moment, legalistically, that fear was justification to shoot. It didn’t matter that Zimmerman had caused the entire scene to take place. It didn’t matter that he ignored police instructions to stand down. It didn’t matter that he had pursued and confronted an innocent teenager for no reason.

Ironically (or maybe not) if Trayvon Martin had been carrying a gun, and George Zimmerman had followed him, chased him, and approached him belligerently (just like he did), Martin would have been justifiably in fear for his life and could have shot Zimmerman. Of course, there’s the whole race issue, but this is the way the law reads.

If juries (and judges) would pay more attention to the spirit or intent of the law, and less attention to nitpicking little details that lawmakers couldn’t possibly have anticipated, we might actually approach something resembling a just society.

-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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Porn Website For Teens?

My teenage son wants to watch the Game of Thrones series with me over the summer ­– a father/son bonding opportunity? I rarely pass up one of these increasingly rare opportunities. But I baulked at this.

It was not the questionable morals and values of many of the main characters in a series where even the heroes are rarely portrayed as gallant. Neither was it the violence that can be quite graphic. I baulked at the sex, not because I don’t want my son seeing explicit sexual scenes, but because I felt these were not healthy examples of sex.

The sex scenes in Game of Thrones are often about men using their power over women, or women using sex to manipulate men. There are many instances where the man unceremoniously mounts the woman from behind, enjoys a couple of grunting thrusts and climaxes (we assume). He then ties up his breeches and saunters off.

imgresIt seems to me that this reflects much of what is out there in Internet porn. I’ve never watched BDSM, rape or violence scenes, even if they are fictional, so you will excuse my assumption that these are not what I would consider healthy sexual encounters.

I do not want my son learning about sex from such videos or scenes. While we have discussed the birds and the bees, and the difference between having sex and making love, I have to acknowledge that there is only so much he is willing to learn from his father.

When I was his age, I had seen a few sex scenes on the then-new (British) Channel 4 – The History Man anyone? – but this seems very tame compared to the options now available with the Internet. And I was woefully prepared for my first time.

imgres-1So I was fascinated to discover an article in the Daily Mail – Make Love Not Porn – in which Cindy Gallop, an entrepreneur, has launched a website which has already over 100,000 subscribers.  Ms. Gallop told ABC’s Nightline: “Children are viewing porn years before they have their own sexual experiences and it is shaping their view of sex. That is why showing real lovemaking is so important.

“Young men and boys alike have a warped sense of what sex is like. I want to change that.”

There is a statistic floating around the Internet that claims 90% of children between the ages of 8-16 years have visited porn sites. I could not find the study, but even if it is ‘only’ 50%, I am not sure I want a generation receiving their sex education from Internet pornography.

I plan to check out Ms. Gallop’s website. In the old days, a father would leave Mayfair and Penthouse magazines in a hidden place that his son would find and hope he can connect the dots. A positive website showing healthy sex might seems a better option for the 21st century.

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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.

Ant People – Roger Ingalls

Recently, I read an article about the similarities between ant colonies and the human brain. Basically, an ant colony, as a whole, learns in the same manner as a single human brain. A single ant may not be smart but a bunch of ants leap-frogging each other in bits of temporary knowledge will complete a task and the path to success is chemically marked or memorized. Our brains work the same way and the number of right and wrong turns we take in trial and error learning is almost identical to an ant colony.

Social Insects by Emma Adair and Jane Garver. By creating a closed environment, there was ample room for ant-people and onlookers alike. (Photo by Ben Grad)

Social Insects by Emma Adair and Jane Garver. By creating a closed environment, there was ample room for ant-people and onlookers alike. (Photo by Ben Grad)

After thinking about this study, I realized that people are becoming more like ants. Every aspect of life is being simplified, monitored, variety-limited and generally dumbed down. Here are a few of many examples:

1)      Zero tolerance for this or that is another way of saying don’t think, it just yes, no, black or white. In many aspects of life we are no longer allowed to study a situation and then make a smart or compromised decision.

2)      Electronic monetary system is quickly becoming the rule. If you don’t have a credit or ATM card it’s near impossible to function. Cash payment and bartering are almost extinct. This is a government and big bank control issue.

3)      Institutional food distribution is limiting our choices. Drive down any major road in any part of the country and it’s like you’re continuously driving around the block where you live. It’s all the same; McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and so on. Every freeway exit has the same crap.

4)      Almost a repeat of 3 above: Institutional product distribution is limiting our choices. Drive down any major road in any part of the country and it’s like you’re continuously driving around the block where you live. It’s all the same; Walmart, Lowes, Kmart and so on. Every freeway exit has the same crap.

5)      Repeat again: Industrialized agriculture drives affordability of vegetation-foods to a limited variety of grain crops such as, corn, wheat and soybean. These starchy crops are multi-purpose and generate revenue in many markets (animal feed, people feed, food additives, liquid fuels…). Grain crops are chemically grown with basic macro-elements (npk) and are void of essential micro-nutrients. Even leafy greens or other non-grain vegetation-foods and factory farmed with macro-elements. Limited variety and limited nutritional benefits.

6)      Protein foods also lack variety. Fish, beef and other meat variety are industrially raised and fed on cheap nutrient-low grain diets that are unnatural. The end food product for humans is, again, void of essential micro-nutrients.

7)      All our religions must be monotheistic. If we don’t believe in one god we are considered weird. We must conform to a one leader authoritarian based belief system. Complex thinking that lacks reverence for authority is forbidden because free thinkers are hard to control.

The majority of us now want and do the same things; smart phones, credit cards, cars, kids and homes with green manicured lawns. We are being groomed for easy control and corporate profit.

We are ants.

When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 

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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.

esaeleR sserP adirolF – issoR moT

From Satirificated Press Wire:

.drawrof gnivom si etats taerg siht taht desaelp si tnemnrevog adirolF ruoY

.etsaw ot enog ,gnol os rof ,evah secruoser niatrec taht dezingocer evah eW

.secruoser eseht ezilitu ot redro ni seicilop gnitnemelpmi era ew ,yhw si tahT

.sisnacirfa sunamuhbuS rof sesnecil gnitnuh gniussi nigeb noos lliw adirolF

“.elpoep kcalb” sa ot derrefer ylremrof erew sisnacirfa sunamuhbuS

.tsep a deredisnoc gnol seiceps a fo gnitsevrah eht wolla lliw sihT

.4102 ni detnemelpmi eb lliw ,yrevals sa nwonk ,margorp wen a ,noitidda nI

.ytilitu dessecca-nu ylremrof fo erutpac eht rof wolla lliw siht ,niagA

backward horseimages

.snoisiced truoc suoirav yb elbissop edam erew segnahc esehT

.gnitov no noisiced truoC emerpuS eht saw eseht fo tnatropmi tsoM

backwardsledimages

.snoitcele ni etov sisnacirfa sunamuhbuS tel ot deriuqer regnol on si adirolF

.srezilitu laitnetop sserppo regnol on nac sisnacirfa sunamuhbuS ,eroferehT

.elbissop stimrep gnitnuh edam snaidirolF sikamibab sunamuhimeS xis ,oslA

.ssecorp eht detidepxe tsael ta yeht ,rO

backwardsFlorida_in_United_States.svg

.snur selttikS egavas fo raef ni evil ot decrof eb regnol on lliw snaidirolF

.sgniht rehto gnomA

.erehwyreve snaidirolF rof modeerf drawot pets taerg a si sihT

-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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