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 “NBA”

Campaign Finance Reform Now!

If I heard correctly, those advocating fiscal responsibility wasted $6 billion on ridiculous adverts, flyers that are trashing our streets and that the tax payers now needs to clear up, and various other shallow tactics. Living in California, I have been spared the assault that took place in the swing states. I spend a lot of time with You Tube in the background. Either the Prop adverts have been few, or I am not distinguishing them from the epic lyrics of Nightwish and Nickelback.

But this past week, I have been exposed to a number of campaign ads and they are, to be honest, demeaning, embarrassing, and insulting. The majority of Americans will vote for the same party candidates because of class, religion, or any of a number of acceptable reasons. The undecided (and I remain unconvinced that they really are) are either apathetic and therefore not listening to ads: or genuine thinking individuals who do not deserve to be exposed to such drivel. 

Now is the time to reform electoral finance while we remember how bad it is. Two models come to mind and, I admit, it says a lot about the writer that his sources are the NBA and English soccer.

In the English Premier League, once the most competitive in the world, two soccer clubs have been bought by billionaires who have pumped money into the clubs, allowing them to outbid any other club for players and pay two or three times the salary. Naturally, they have assembled teams that no one else can compete with. In fact, their reserve teams could beat most opponents. This fine game, the bastion of civilization, has been reduced to market forces, and has lost its soul.

Ironically, in a clear sign of socialist America, the NBA allows teams to spend a salary cap. If they choose to spend it on 2-3 superstars or create a ‘deep bench’ (many good players), that is for them to decide.

Each candidate should be given a clear amount of dollars they can spend that can enable them to have balloons at their conventions and launch a limited media campaign. The rest of their efforts should focus on serious debate, Q&A, honest information dissemination, and speeches.

 Money should be provided through taxes:  no candidate should be in a position to be bought by big business, corporations, trade unions, or individuals. PACs should be sent packing.

It is too easy to avoid serious debate and open scrutiny of a candidate’s policies, to be distracted by slick unaccountable ads. Many thinking Americans were simply worn down by the sheer barrage and noise.

Let’s make the change now. 2016 is just around the corner.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Standing Tall – A Salute to Amar’e Stoudemire

I enjoy when men and women of wealth and fame are willing to leverage their money and time to help create a better world. Brad Pitt is a fine example with the work he does in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward, a place close to my heart.

When such a person comes from a low background himself, there is something even more satisfying. Amar’e Stoudemire, the power forward of the NBA’s New York Knicks is such a man.

Through his foundation, Amar’e has been promoting frameworks to encourage children, especially boys, to “creatively inspire a new generation to read.”

Mission: The Amar’e Stoudemire Foundation is a youth outreach program designed to creatively inspire and help at-risk youth to succeed with the goal of eradicating poverty through education.  By providing education, support, supplies, tools and donations, the Amar’e Stoudemire Foundation helps each child thrive and achieve goals well beyond even their own expectations.

 Now he has taken this theme one step further and has himself written two books for children.

A few weeks ago, I saw a great interview with him on The Daily Show. I couldn’t find it to share with you but I found this endearing interview with him.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTz__3swlPQ

I’m sorry for your loss,my friend. But despite all the obstacles, you stand tall and not just on the basketball court.

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Alon Shalev is the author of 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).

 

Go Giants – SF Pride

Now I know that those of you who have supported the Giants through thick and thin regard people like me with disdain and I actually respect that. Here I am, a relatively new transplant, fresh off the boat, and the first time I attempt to absorb myself in the true essence of American culture, the Giants win the World (excuse me – US) Championship, and there I am strutting around the city with my Giants T-shirts and scarf.

What a Moment!

Truth is, my wife (also very community conscious) and I were enthralled by the Giants during the season as we saw that what was pushing this team on (apart from considerable talent) was an amazing team spirit, an all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude, and a handy propensity to ignore the stats and the commentators who read too much into the aforementioned stats.

Having already celebrated winning the championship six months ago, why bring it up now? I believe that a team should reflect its town and its supporters. San Francisco is a unique city, excuse me – City – and so are our Giants.

I am proud that the SF Giants have decided to be the first professional sports team to endorse the “It Gets Better” campaign, which began as a response to a spate of bullying young homosexuals culminating in a tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers back in September.

The Giants made their decision after receiving a petition signed by over 6,000 Giants fans and will produce a video to support the campaign. The sports world remains a macho and often homophobic and racist environment. One of my favorite soccer players, Thierry Henry (a black man), endured monkey sounds being made by a small segment of opposing fans when my team played in European games. Recently, even one of the all-time best NBA players was caught making an anti-gay comment.

I am proud that the Giants have made a stand. You win in sports by never compromising on your commitment to win, by never giving  an inch. This is the only way to deal with racism and homophobia and who better to lead us than those who understand what it takes to win.

Today is Harvey Milk Day, a commemoration of the life of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California and who was assassinated for being gay. It is a fitting day to come together as one City, one baseball team, one community.

Harvey Milk sitting on the SF Board of Supervisors

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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).

bin Laden Thoughts

I wanted to wait until the dust settled, at least somewhat. Like most people I felt a wave of euphoria when the news came through. I immediately googled the President’s announcement and waited with anticipation to watch The Daily Show live.

I dismissed the ethics of targeted assassinations, of whether we should have tried to capture him, and what the implications would be for world peace. I just wanted to bathe in the relief that the bad guy had been taken out and that the good guys had finally won. Most of all as I watched the reactions of people on TV, I felt that just maybe, those who have lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and other attacks perpetrated from this man and his terrorist organization, could find some quality of closure and be able to move on in their lives.

But now, less than a week later, I want to share five concerns.

1. It’s not over. Al Qaeda seems far too extensively organized to suddenly disappear because their ailing and sick spiritual leader of several years is dead. The money, fear and ideology is probably still there, and  the top-tier of management might not be anticipating a career change.

2. Targeted Assassinations – this is sticky. It is generally condemned by many who hold the political views of our readership. Where do you draw the line? In Judaism when someone approaches with the intention of killing us, we are commanded to strike him down first. Still, it is easy when clear-cut, but how often is that the case?

3. The media are going to milk this news-byte and as they do, the American people will become more divisive and our enemies will exploit this to revive extremism.

4. The end of terrorism depends on the outright rejection of extremism in whatever political and religious guise. As long as we turn a blind eye to poverty, exploitation and the materials being taught to millions of children in schools, we are allowing the next generation of terrorism to be bred.

5. The most effective players to counter religious extremism are the moderates of that religion. The moderate majority of Muslims, Christians, and all religions where there are extremists (probably most), must become more active and empowered in setting the limits of what is acceptable in the name of their religion.

I appreciate your skepticism when most of my political commentary is gleaned from The Daily Show and the wisdom of car bumper stickers. So I shall turn to another philosophical well of wisdom: Star Trek.

In one of the Next Generation movies, the Enterprise goes back in time to about 20 years in our future (it  seemed much further in the future when the movie came out a few decades ago!). Earth is reeling from nuclear war and environmental devastation. Commander Riker describes to a disenchanted man  how a few centuries later the people of earth all enjoy peace, freedom, have clean water and nutritious food, good education and health care, and a world free of NFL and NBA labor disputes (my artistic license, but you get the point).

The disenchanted man, staring at the devastation around him,  asks how they achieved this and Riker replies that everyone was made to see that this was the right way. This scene has always made me think – how did they do that? Sure, many saw the light, whatever that light is, but what about those who couldn’t be nicely persuaded? 

I believe in self-defense. I have justified serving in an army as the way to protect my family, my people, and my beliefs in freedom and democracy. I cannot tell you specifically where the line should be drawn wherein it is justified to use violence, but there are too-often occasions where I am sure the line has been crossed.

bin Laden crossed that line and we ended his life on Sunday. This is one such occasion where the line was clearly crossed. Let’s leave it there and focus on the future – offering positive options to those who choose peace and a clear, firm message to those who don’t.

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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).

My Worlds Collide

So there I was, just after concluding what I hoped was a passionate speech (probably more of a speechella since I was sharing the stage) for literature as a tool for social activism. Some people came up to the panel and shared their view, asked a few questions, and then this tall man leaned in.

“English right? Which team?”

I never batted an eyelid. He nodded approvingly as I espoused  my affinity for Arsenal, the soccer team I have passionately followed since my Uncle George, may he rest in peace, took a wide-eyed six-year-old to his first game in 1970. We won 4-0 and I, totally absorbing everything around me, missed every goal. But undeterred, I followed in the family footsteps (one cousin aside, but we don’t discuss that) and became a Gunner-for-life.

Every day, I drink my morning coffee reading the New York Times and the daily offering of Arseblog. I am often moved to tears of joy or anger, or burst out laughing, and I also think the New York Times is a good read.

But this left me thinking. Why do we, primarily though not exclusively, 21st century men, need to find connections over sports? I wear a Golden State Warriors pin on my jacket, and I admit, the pin serves a purpose as I work the room making contact with donors for my non-profit, or to promote my books.

Then, yesterday morning, as I worked out on the elliptical at the gym, I came across an article in Men’s Health (issue – November 2010) by Lee Child called “Get Your Head in the Game”. He took my thoughts one stage further. Why do we, grown men and women all, insist on wearing our lucky shirts for the game? Why do I get up at 4 or 7 am on a Saturday to watch my team play live in the UK, because if I record the game we might lose?

We all know that, though these players need our support, their winning a game probably depends more on hours of training, planning strategy and individual and team preparation. My old Arsenal shirt (commemorating our last year at Highbury before moving stadium), worn 5,371 miles away (I looked it up) from where the game is taking place, at 4 am in the morning Pacific time, probably does not tip the scales.

The answer lies perhaps in the fact that our lives, particularly in the digital age, are becoming so predictable. Sure, shit happens (nice surprises too), but we generally know how our life is playing out, hour-by-hour, backed up by electronic reminders. We even pay most of our bills automatically and can buy our groceries without leaving home.

What is left is the uncertainty of 90 minutes of soccer, when giants can be humbled. The Warriors (NBA) have just reeled off 7 of 9 victories, including winning against teams that will make the playoffs. My own team Arsenal just beat the team considered by most football fans to be the best in the world, even having to come from behind to win 2-1.

This is what makes our blood pulsate. It connects us to the excitement of the hunt. Even if we are not the one to throw the spear, score the goal, or shoot the game-winning basket, even if our team will not be champions at the end of the game or season, for a few moments we allow ourselves to revel in the world of unpredictability. Perhaps this helps to set us apart from the onslaught of technology. Perhaps it is one the few ways to maintain our humanity in the 21st Century.

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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/

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