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 “Political”

Tom Rossi R.I.P

I know its been a while since I wrote anything on Left Coast Voices but I feel compelled to. It’s 1am on Sunday morning and I am staring at the sad news: Tom Rossi, a contributor to the blog, passed away last week after a tragic car accident.

I admit we grew apart at some point, life just got in the way, as it does with so many friends. We only realize, of course, when it’s too late. I wish we had been in touch around the election – before and after. I could use his strength and sense of humor right now.

Tom wrote some great posts: politically cutting, cynical, funny, and satirical. He hid his frustration with the injustices of our world because he was too smart to be able to ignore it.He fought his own personal battles, but never gave up on the collective struggle.

I guess the best tribute I can manage right now is share some of his contributions:

Healthcare.gov, Oh My!

Technicolor Cough?

Left Coast Nihilism 

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite

… and my favorite:  Gordon Gekko Lives

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My thoughts and sympathy go out to Marianne Ingheim Rossi, his dear wife. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose your soul mate. I hope you will find the strength you need.

There will be a memorial next Sunday and details will be posted here.

R.I.P Tom! I’m sure you’re up there already campaigning for equal rights for angels. I hope we will honor you by continuing the good fight.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click hereMore information at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

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Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

images-2-1Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had passed this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes my generation did. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, I can escape on a horse and gallop through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

hobbits-in-pub The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by a variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to help create a better world to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me and often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six days and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. In celebration of the upcoming launch of Ashbar, the third in the Wycaan Master series, Tourmaline Books are offering for August only,  the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth – for 99 cents (kindle only).

The Many Faces of Terrorism – Tom Rossi

Terrorism is defined in Webster’s as, “The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.” But Google provides the definition that is closer to the common, popular understanding that also seems to dominate our legal landscape: “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

The term “terrorism” is now haphazardly applied to anyone and everything whose activities are disliked by those in power, either in governmental or corporate settings. As a result, the term itself is used as a form of terrorism against those who would dissent, including the brave souls who have exposed extreme animal cruelty at factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Meanwhile, things that might justifiably be called terrorism are ignored, or even praised and rewarded. To illustrate this point, let’s look at a disturbing contrast…

The now infamous Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, performed an act of classic terrorism. They set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring more than 250 – some seriously. They apparently did this as some sort of political statement that they were dissatisfied with America. What they hoped to accomplish I cannot imagine. Whatever their goal may have been, they most certainly (and predictably) failed.

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After the Tsarnaevs were identified as the prime suspects, the city of Boston went to war, eventually “locking down” a huge area of the city and occupying it with all types of police vehicles, including some that resembled military tanks. The expense of this operation in democratic, financial, and economic terms, was immense.

As a result of an act committed by two inept, misguided clowns, we have given up even more of our freedom (both in the short and the long run), we have paid a large bill, and we have embarked on even more spending on security that will live on into the foreseeable future.

But what about the other, more insidious acts of terrorism that affect millions of Americans? What about the pollution of our drinking water and soil with substances that, among other impacts, have negative effects on fetal and child development? If a “terrorist” did that, if a person did it, it would be an outrage. There would be 24-hour television coverage for a week. There would be special logos and titles created by all the major news networks: “Terror at Your Kitchen Sink,” “Are You Safe in Your Own Home?” etc., etc., etc.

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The truth is that the acts of terrorism I’m describing go on every day, have gone on for many years, and are rapidly accelerating. Under the guise (or justification) of increasing or cheapening our food supply or providing ever more cheap energy, untested (or sham-tested) chemicals have been dumped into our environment in incredible amounts. Weird and completely unnecessary chemical ingredients have also been added to our food, and toxic gases have been released into our air.

Regulations have been fought, tooth and nail, by the very terrorists committing these acts. We have been told, many times over, that regulating chemicals or even labeling our foods properly would raise prices or bring about shortages. The people of California were told that labeling genetically modified ingredients in processed foods would raise their grocery bills by $400 per year – a lie, but an effective lie.

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How much does every American man, woman, and child pay each year for the “War on Terror?” It’s a difficult question to answer accurately, but a study from Brown University puts the figure at around $1,000 per year. That seems a conservative estimate. How much will our collective acts of terrorism cost in lost resources and lost health? That’s much more difficult, but you can bet it’s a whole lot more.

As a country, we are apparently more than willing to swallow almost limitless costs to fight one type of terrorism but downright intolerant of the very idea of stemming the type that can do far more damage to many more people. The Tsarnaev brothers certainly should have been pursued, caught, and punished (Tamerlan actually got killed trying to get away) for their cruel and idiotically pointless crime. Should we not also pursue and punish, as a society, what could be called “slow terrorism?”

It seems that if terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers had been motivated by profit rather than making a political statement, instead of being hunted down like dogs, they would have been featured in business television shows and magazines. Maybe they would even have a commercial about how cool they are, narrated by a smart-looking woman in a white pants-suit.

-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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Child Soldiers

Last week, I posted about Emmanuel Jal who was a child soldier in South Sudan and has become a famous hip-hop singer and tireless social activist. I also posted about an amazing British woman, Emma McCune, who rescued over 150 children being used as child soldiers.

This stimulated me to read up more about war children, or child soldiers. There is a stunning estimate of over 300,000 trained children fighting in over 50 conflicts around the world. Emmanuel Jal recounts his story in War Child – A Child Soldier’s Story and there is the more famous – A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. After watching Beah on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, we immediately bought his book, more to show recognition to a fine young man than a desire to read. I couldn’t find that interview, but this one is very good

There is an organization dedicated to abolish the use of children as soldiers. War Child International believes that “Children and young people have the right to grow up free from fear, violence, and to develop their full potential and contribute to a peaceful future for themselves and others.”

Their mission: War Child International exists to create the conditions that will fulfill the protection, development and survival rights for children and young people who are living with or recovering from the effects of armed conflict. We believe in the power of children and young people, and so will ensure they participate in decisions which affect their lives so that their voices will be heard and their contributions made to count.

This is a cause we do not see in the West unless some exceptional young person like Jal or Beah come to light. But it is an unacceptable phenomenon and has no place in a civilized world. It must stop now. 

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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

Emma McCune

Last week, I posted about Emmanuel Jal, who was forced to become a child soldier in South Sudan and has gone on to become a famous hip-hop singer and tireless social activist.

Jal was rescued by Emma McCune, who I discovered was a remarkable woman. Emma was born in India in 1964, but brought up in the UK where she graduated from the University of London. In 1985, at the age of 21, Emma flew to Australia and back in a single-engine, light aircraft with a friend.

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Two years later, she went to Sudan, then in a civil war to volunteer for the British organization Volunteer Services Overseas. She was forced to return to England the following year but by 1989 she managed to return, this time working for Street Kids International, which founded or re-opened more than 100 village schools in South Sudan.

She met and married Riek Machar, one of two leading South Sudan guerrilla commanders, and worked to promote his organization after Street Kids International fired her. She died in a car crash, pregnant, in 1992. Emma’s mother, Maggie C, published her story in Till the Sun Grows Cold, and journalist Deborah Scroggins wrote an unauthorized biography of her called Emma’s War.

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Emma is seen as a controversial figure because of her marriage, but she unequivocably worked to save more than 150 war children in Sudan including hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal. At the APF conference that I attended, he performed his tribute to an incredibly brave woman: “Emma McCune” was recorded for his 2008 album Warchild.

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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.  

Emmanuel Jal – Child Soldier, Hip-Hop Artist, Hero

I had the honor to meet world recognized Hip-Hop artist, Emmanuel Jal, at the Association for Professional Fundraisers conference last week. Jal is from South Sudan and was taken and trained as a child soldier. His father joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and, when he was about seven years old, soldiers loyal to the government killed his mother. 

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A number of boys decided to try and escape and in their three month trek he saw many of his friends die. A British aid worker, Emma McCune rescued him. Jal was 11 years old then and McCune adopted him and smuggled him to Kenya, where Emmanuel attended school in Nairobi. McCune died in a road accident a few months later, but her friends (Madeliene Bunting and Anna Ledgard) helped Emmanuel to continue his studies. However, after McCune died, her husband Machar did not allow Emmanuel to stay with him, and the boy was forced to live in the slums. 

images-8Jal explained how he discovered music, how it became a refuge, a way to process and express what he had gone through and as a powerful tool for both the spiritual and political.

Today he is a famous Hip-Hop artist, known around the world. But he has never forgotten his past and is a tireless ambassador and activist for social justice and human rights. He broadcasts his message of peace and equality through his music and through various NGOs he has founded and involved himself with.

I chose to show this tribute that Emmanuel wrote in memory of Emma McCune, and preferred a live version over the studio one, even though the quality is not great. But it shows his energy and presence.

And he had 4,000 people at my conference (the majority, I am guessing not into Hip Hop) on their feet answering his call for peace. Emmanuel Jal has every right to be bitter and cynical. Instead he is a visionary: “I’m a war child / I believe I’ve survived for a reason / To tell my story, to touch lives.”

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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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The Third Choice – Roger Ingalls

We may have a legitimate third choice for President come November 2012. There’s an interesting movement underway giving all registered voters delegate power to select a candidate that will be placed on the presidential ticket. We’ll all have a chance to vote our choice during an online convention.

Before explaining further, I want to point something out about our traditional caucus/primary system that selects who goes on to the presidential ticket. California is the largest economy in the United States and if it were a country, it would be the eighth largest economic power in the world. However, California has no say when it comes to who should be on the Democratic or Republican ticket because the game is over before its primary takes place. For example: Mitt Romney is a virtual lock for the Republican Party but California’s primary is still six weeks away. The people behind the biggest U.S. economy have no choice… that’s ridiculous.

This new movement is called Americans Elect. Their goal is to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to the people and not a political system. Their slogan is, “select a president not a party”. To date, they have collected enough signatures in 25 states allowing the candidate selected during the online convention to be placed on the ballot in those states. It is forecasted that the signature quota will be met for all 50 states.

The concept behind Americans Elect is good. Our current process to elect a president is archaic and unfair to many regions of the country. Modernizing the process would save money, create election security and provide real choice and fairness for all. With that said, Americans Elect may be an elaborate setup to split votes in the 2012 election. Some of the original monetary backers behind the movement will not identify themselves. The Democratic Party’s demographic tends to be younger, more educated and open to change so they would be more likely to endorse Americans Elect. Conservatives may not recognize the true value of the movement or, in typical fashion, shy away from change. If only liberals and moderates jump onboard, it would fracture the Democrats and hand the election to the conservatives.

Conceptually, I like what Americans Elect is trying to do. It gives some power back to the people. Below are links to videos and their website. What do you think?

Website  http://www.americanselect.org/

Overview  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuYKHnAVJ-Y

PBS Report  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXPLYCPJnWU

CNN Report  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYjnmpBwYd8

Political Progress – Roger Ingalls

It’s a new year! Time to start anew…out with the bad and in with the good. Last year, 2011, was bad for many of us and we couldn’t be happier that 2012 is finally here.

I usually blog about politicians and government policies that are stupid or wrong and occasionally explain what I would do if I were king. This typically involves focusing on the negative. Since it is a new year, I resolve to focus on the positive. Instead of pointing out badness, my goal is to highlight goodness for the sake of happiness or bring attention to things that are working well and give my opinion on how we can expand on them.

This is my first post of the year and there is a positive to discuss. It’s no secret that I lean to the political left but yesterday’s Republican Iowa caucus was very interesting. The folks in Iowa stunned me; they made me proud to be an American.

The last time the voting public made me proud was the day a black man, Barack Obama, was elected president. I thought it would never happen in my lifetime; that was truly a great day.

What was so positive about the Iowa caucus? Mitt Romney, a Mormon, won! This may be more amazing than the 2008 presidential election. When was the last time a non-Christian or modified Christian (depending on how the Mormon faith is defined) won a presidential primary or caucus? In today’s fanatically Christian American, this is shocking.

We haven’t hit the primaries in the Bible Belt and once we do, I’m sure Mr. Romney will lose a few. But today I’m proud of the Iowa voters for seeing past religion to make a selection based on other criteria.

It’s a small progressive step.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

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