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 tag “beer”

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).


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.


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.



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.

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.”

Drink And Market Responsibly.

First a confession: I spent most of my life living in two countries where the drinking age is 18. I believe it should be like that here. I went to pubs in England from the age of 15 and, as long as we behaved and drank responsibly, we were tolerated. We did drink responsibly, reserving our focus for debates about politics, justice and women.

Second, when my sons go to a bar and order their first drink, I want to be there. I want to treat them and I want to be a part of their rite-of-passage. If they are 18, I might be able to slip this in before they leave home. If they are 21, there is less chance.

I enjoy my beer (a stout if you’re ordering), Johnnie Walker Black, and wine. I was always the designated driver (first kid with a driving licence and a mother who gave me access to her car) and before I was given the keys, I was warned about drinking by parents who cared.

I work with students and I see the intense pressure they are under to drink. I see the repercussions of over drinking and the guilt and damage that follows. They choose to imbibe, but we as a society allow them, as teenagers, to build an everyday experience into a mythical and dangerous campus ritual. Over-drinking and driving, sex or drug experimentation bring life-destroying trauma and damage.

So I was pissed (there’s a pun there if you speak the Queen’s English), when I saw that Urban Outfitters decided to market a new line of t-shirts just in time for young women filling their wardrobes before a new academic year with messages that encourage drinking and is modelled by young women who are quite possibly under drinking age.

How Old Does She Look?

These so-called cool and humorous messages are no joke. In fact, they reflect a reality that alcohol use is associated with increased rates of sexual activity for teens as well as decreased condom use.

A just-published survey showed disturbing results including one out of five teens is drinking, using drugs, or smoking during school hours. Urban Outfitters know what they are doing. Most of their customers are between 18 and 24 and the second largest demographic is under 18.

Their stores will be flooded with young women buying their T-shirts and Urban Outfitters will make plenty of money. But profit doesn’t allow you to sleep at nights and I hope those who made this ruthless decision to market such a message come to realize what they have done and change it.  

And if the high-ups in the company are awake in the wee hours, tossing and turning, maybe turn on the news or open a newspaper. You might find stories that will give you nightmares, but the reality is, most of them will not even be reported. And you will be too busy anyway drooling over your stock portfolio and how you plan to spend your bonus.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Olympic Extravaganza

The extravaganza has officially jumped the shark.

My wife sat through the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics on Friday night. I watched about half of it. About all I could take was a couple of minutes before I went to check email, the refrigerator, or to see if Jodie, my long time house ghost was OK.

How low we’ve sunk. This extravaganza thing has been growing like the 2006 bubbled up housing market for the last few years and it’s finally popped. I’m so tired of contrived choreography and costumes whose continuing attempts to be shocking are only satires of themselves.

My wife wanted to watch the athletes march around the field. She’s from Denmark and wanted to see the Danish team, for one thing. I remember when I was a kid, totally enraptured by the Olympic Games, watching the athletes enter the stadium. Somehow they showed both humility and pride at the same time. These people have worked incredibly hard to get to these games.

For many of them, this is the absolute pinnacle of achievement in their sports as there’s not much potential to compete professionally in canoe sprinting (as far as I know). This event is about those athletes and about nations coming together and putting aside the politics and competing peacefully.

We were watching a rerun, essentially, as London is eight hours ahead of us. In order to make it work for TV, including maximizing the audience and making the fireworks and light shows work, the actual event took place from about 9pm to 1am, London time. The extravaganza came first, of course, leaving the athletes entrance march until after 11pm. Many of the athletes didn’t want to stay up so late because they had competitions early the next morning. The result was that we saw some fraction of each team in the parade.

This robbed both the athletes and their fans of a big moment. In fact, many of the fans in the stadium got up and left before the event was over. All this for one of the most boring, self-indulgent shows I’ve ever seen. People in silly costumes just danced around and waved their arms endlessly. They were telling the story of the evolution of England – apparently in real-time. It had nothing to do with sports or the Olympics themselves.

But this has become the norm. Everywhere I look, these days, there’s another extravaganza. So many that it’s just plain boring. The English spent $85 million on this turkey – money that could have gone a long way toward alleviating the “worst quality of life in Europe,” as has been said of England.

I say the day of the extravaganza is seeing its sunset. The level of hype for events can’t really get any higher. The hype is so extreme that it’s lost its meaning. You’d think that drinking a can of cola or light beer is going to bring about the world’s biggest party and the Rolling Stones are going to play there. Words like “amazing” have no meaning whatsoever, anymore, because EVERYTHING and EVERYONE is amazing. I’ve heard that word at least five hundred times in the past year.

I’m tired of hype. I’m tired of commercial exaggeration. I’m tired of the extravaganza. I know when something’s great. I know when I’m anticipating something. I don’t need to be told how to feel. Can we move on? I’m ready for the next thing.

By the way, I’ve drunk thousands (maybe millions?) of beers in my life and half of them were actually really good (some people are wine snobs, I’m a beer snob. Sue me). But I’m still waiting on Mick Jagger. Maybe I still haven’t drunk the right brand.

-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.


Real Men Don’t Cry

This is how we are brought up. Men used to wander around with a club, bringing down mammoths and dragging a female back to the cave. We have progressed a bit since then, what with vegetarianism and on-line dating, but there are certain mores that we don’t expect to cross. 

I’ve done the ‘man’ things – play and watch sports, hit the gym, enjoy beer, fish, served in a combat unit, wooed a beautiful woman, and fathered two wonderful boys. I have a good job and plenty of friends.

Last month, my eldest son had his bar mitzvah and put on a flawless display of teaching, chanting, and schmoozing. He stood before our community and talked about the need to educate and not punish, to pursue social justice, and his desire to make the world a better place.

He was great and I am very proud of him. He worked very hard for two years to reach the level in which he could achieve this. Then it was time for his parents to bless him.

My wife won the toss (soccer reference) and chose to go first, knowing that I am confidant and used to standing before an audience and speaking into a microphone. Her blessing was modest, genuine and heartfelt, a reflection of her as a mother, wife and friend.

Over the hump, right? Wrong. I had written my blessing for him a while ago. I told him meaningful the project we had pursued together (we wrote the first Wycaan Master novel together) and then imparted how I saw him as our coming-of-age protagonist. And then I choked up…and cried. When I stopped and stole a sip of his water bottle, he leaned over and gave me a hug.

The first thing that went through my mind was shock. I hadn’t expected this, even though I have been known to cry at a Simpson’s episode (another story). I actually wasn’t embarrassed for myself: I was embarrassed for him. I struggled through and he still talks to me. Moreover, many people came up to me and gave me loving reinforcement.

But it was the comments from the men that I remember. There were some who admitted to shedding a tear themselves, others who said that I had done something they would like to be able to do. Some admitted they could never allow their mask to come down like that in public, or maybe any time. 

In the struggle for equal rights between the sexes, we have seen a necessary push for women – equal opportunities, equal pay, and legal protections. All this stems from societal mores that favored men and allowed us to exercise a ‘power over’ that is unacceptable in a modern society.

But we, as men pay a price. Most of us still shoulder most of the burden of material provision, or at least feel we should even when our partners are better qualified and can pursue better jobs. We are mostly the warriors from defending our country to our family,

We all respected George Bush for shedding tears at 9/11 but we still expected him to go blow someone up as a consequence for us being attacked. President Obama’s status rose when we took out bin Laden. He did not gather the intelligence or undertake the mission, but in making the decision, he became a warrior chief.

I have worked closely with my son over the past few years, preparing him for this rite-of-passage, and I will continue to work with him, preparing him to enter society as a man.

To ignore our role as the hunter/gatherer would be foolish. To ignore our rights as men to be sensitive and nurturing would be sad.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Memorial Day – Another Perspective

When I first came to the US, I asked a colleague how one behaves on Memorial Day. She looked at me in surprise. “Fire up the barbecue and chill the beer.” Allowing for the disturbing thought of chilling beer (I am a Brit and newly arrived in the US), I was surprised at her response. “What about the memories of soldiers?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, creasing her brow. “There’s some of that on army bases and at cemeteries, I guess.”

Today, I would like to share how Memorial Day is observed in Israel, where everyone serves in the army and so everyone knows someone who lost their life in uniform. This is an excerpt form my next novel, Unwanted Heroes.

At 11am, a siren is sounded and the whole country comes to a stop.


James sighs. “I served in the marines in Vietnam. Jane knows I was an officer, a decorated officer. There are five medals in a case in my den. My unit was honored by President Johnson and he spent some time visiting us.”

He pauses, staring into a distant past. “Jane knows that while her friends’ families organize barbeques on Memorial Day, her father disappears. She knows that in the days leading up to Memorial Day, he secludes himself in his den when he’s not at the office, and that he doesn’t share jokes or listen very well to his little girl’s stories.

“Maybe she sees him drinking more during this time, though I hope not. Perhaps she sees that her mother is uncharacteristically understanding and supportive, stealing worried glances at her husband, knowing she is powerless to help.”

James stops for a moment and takes a long, contemplative drink and a deep breath before continuing with unconcealed venom.

“I hate Memorial Day. I hate that it’s a national excuse to party. You know, I went on a business trip once to Israel and the middle of the trip coincided with their Memorial Day. Every man serves in the army there and many women too. Everyone has lost somebody. I was being driven from Tel Aviv to Haifa on their equivalent of Highway 5. At exactly eleven in the morning the driver pulled over. My host had forewarned me that this would happen, but I was still astonished at what I saw. We all got out of our cars, I mean everyone. The whole highway stopped; six lanes of traffic. People stood in silence by their cars, heads bowed, as sirens wailed from car radios.”


Now I enjoy a barbecue just like the next non-meat eater, and I have even learned to drink my beer chilled. But can we not find 60 seconds in the day and bring the whole country to a stop: to remember, to reflect, to honor?

Just 60 seconds.


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 Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Tax Mysteries Uncovered! (part 2 of Why Some People Pay More Taxes…)

In part 1 I started to explore how a business owner benefits more than an employee from public roads. Let’s go a little further with this simplified example.

 We’ve already seen that an employee benefits from public roads in that he or she can get to work to earn some money. The business owner gets the same benefit from his trip, plus the benefit of the worker coming to work to do something of value to the business.

 But let’s look at other uses of roads by the business. We have already said that the business in this example is “old-fashioned” in that it actually makes something, in the U.S.A., and without the aid of robots or too much automation. Then the business sells its product to either consumers or retailers. How does the business get its products to buyers? Most likely in trucks.

 These trucks use the same roads that we all drive on and pay for through our taxes. So this use is a benefit for the business and the business should pay its “fair share” for the construction and maintenance of the roads.

 But it’s even bigger than that. Trucks loaded with cargo cause exponentially more damage and simple wear-and-tear on roads than do passenger cars – even big SUVs. Because of this, roads have to be built much thicker and stronger in the first place, but they must also be re-paved, have potholes and cracks fixed, etc. much more often.

 The result is a situation that mirrors the discussion in part 1: both the business owner and the worker use the roads to go to the store to buy things. But the business uses the roads to make a profit. Once again, the imperative is simple: Pay for what you get!

 Okay, we’ve mostly talked about businesses so far. In part 3 I’ll start looking into individual benefits from the things that taxes pay for. Again, this is not to say that some people are “bad” and therefore need to pay more taxes. It’s simply based on the same principle we all observe every day: Want two donuts instead of one? Pay for two. Want a Fat Tire instead of a Coors? Fat Tire is better (6,428 times better, by my calculations) and it costs more – if you want it, you have to pay for it.

-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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


Updates – An Exciting Month!

January was an important month for me. I entered Unwanted Heroes into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and Oilspill dotcom into the IPPY contest. I have already written about the importance of contests in a previous blog entry (January 8th – In Search of Golden Nuggets). In addition, I listed Oilspill dotcom with a company that markets books for a commission.

My goals for February are focused on a number of specific social networking forums. I have been active in LinkedIn groups that, while I learned a lot from the other contributors, have not produced any sales (as far as I can work out).

These are the forums that I plan to work on this month.

1) CreateSpace community
With the merger of Booksurge and CreateSpace, I want to explore the CreateSpace community. This is an active forum of authors and I want to expand my online platform with a group of authors from the same publishing house.

2) Goodread community
This is a community of readers. I have already seen how authors use it to promote their books (harnessing reviews) and there is a very different group of people assembled here.

3) Smashwords Marketing Document: Read Through & Implement
I am very proud to have my ebook published with both Smashwords and iScribd, but I have not put an effort into promoting my ebook outside of this blog. The emerging ebook market fascinates me, and I need to focus on developing my presence in the e-reader world.

4) Amazon – I have purchased the book ‘Sell Your Book on Amazon’ by Brent Sampson. I plan to read through the book this month and implement his ideas. Amazon remains the most effective platform to sell my book. While I experience success (sales) when meeting people face-to-face, the options available in Northern California are steadily shrinking, and I am not succeeding in creating marketing opportunities further afield. If I am to invest time in Social Networking Media, then I need to fully exploit my Amazon store.

5) Amazon community – Amazon do a very good job creating an online community for its customers. In the same way that bookstores use different ploys to get/keep you in their store, Amazon have created a number of communities to achieve a similar goal. This is, therefore, another network where I need to develop a presence.

One of the common threads is to spread my blog throughout these networks. If I am writing my blog, I should try to promote it at each of these forums. This thought has brought me to scrutinize how I am utilizing my blog and what I want to write in it.

A friend of mine recently attended a seminar facilitated by a very successful blogger. The blogger made a number of statements including the need to blog a few times a day (everyday) and also to write passionately about whatever platform is the subject of my blog.

Countdown to a Novel Published began over a year ago as a countdown to the launch of Oilspill dotcom. After the book was published, it became a diary sharing my experiences in marketing and promoting Oilspill. I hope I have honestly portrayed my successes, frustrations and challenges.

I have purposefully avoided sharing inane descriptions about standing in line at the post office and what new protein smoothie I am drinking to increase word production. There are plenty of narcissist blogs and the airwaves are a-twitter (pun intended) with such descriptions. They are read essentially, one would assume, by loved ones, friends and helicopter parents.

Truth is, I am struggling more and more to find topics that I believe are interesting to those beyond my immediate support circle, and I think that this struggle is reflected in the lack of growth in readership over the past 2-3 months. Blogging is a time-consuming component in the little time I have to market my books. I say this while acknowledging the significance of such an investment. But if I am to be truly productive with the time I have, my blog needs to grow, in subject matter and readership.

So I am adding another goal to those listed above: to decide where to take my blog from March onwards. And I would like to solicit your honest thoughts about the direction I should take. So please, drop me a line (comment on the blog, my website, email, or over a beer – yes people still meet face-to-face). I appreciate your input.

Good Writing,

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