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 “religion”

Pagan America – Hellaween!

A couple of times a year, I feel compelled to ooze love about my newly adopted motherland (parentland?). I realize that many of the blog posts that I, and my esteemed colleagues at Left Coast Voices, are critical of one thing or another. But there are certain times that everything fits, and you feel the real America. I love the freedom, the liberty and Halloween. 

I know this ancient, spiritual festival is now commercial, sugar and additive prone. I know these are the hazy remnants and perhaps denigration of the customs and culture of a religion systematically destroyed by monotheism. But I love how, for a few hours, everyone throws on a costume, get all excited and friendly, and for a few hours share the sandpit together without squabbling over toys or Obamacare. Oh, and I enjoy the kids celebrating Halloween too!

Perhaps it’s something unique to The People’s Republic of Berkeley, (I have never lived anyway else in the US), but when whole neighborhoods get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of the villagers and a mysterious stranger who comes into their community. One of the elements felt by the villagers is the breakdown of their community, how they are becoming increasingly estranged from their neighbors.

Through reigniting the Pagan religion that once united them, the protagonist offers an opportunity to reclaim their community. We need this today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked by a man who tried to steal her purse. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpouring of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community. But it lasted only a year or so and we returned to our own little connected/unconnected worlds.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much violence and conflict in the world that sees to revolve around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. The earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Taboo Talk: Religion – Roger Ingalls

Normally I don’t like to write about religion because it is very difficult to explain the nuances of one’s thoughts in a blog post consisting of a few hundred words. And, not too many people will read a 10,000 word post about the subject. However, I do like to talk about religion; it’s a fascinating topic.

Actually, this post isn’t really about religion, it’s about bring people together.

I read an article earlier today which got me thinking about how other people view religion. Participation in organized religion is on the decline but most people still believe in “something”. It would be extremely interesting to hear what others think about in regards to a higher order or their interpretation of religion. According to the article, it seems people want spiritual dialog, not preaching and they don’t want to be judged. In addition, there’s a feeling that the Gods of the main religions are ancient and don’t have relevance or show their existence today.

It would be fun to bring people together in some type of open forum where thoughts and beliefs could be shared without judgment. With all the social media and connection tools this should be easy to do. I’m brain storming on the fly here but this is something I may try to initially organize through GoToMeeting. I’d have open invitations to all people: all religious backgrounds, races, sexual orientation, atheists and so on. I’d try to get religious leaders to come to get their views but also so they could hear modern views first hand. Perhaps I could talk local churches, temple, mosques and synagogues into opening their door to host the meetings.

It would be an interesting experience but would people actually come?

Religous Leaders

Gordon Gekko Lives – Tom Rossi

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I’ve been wondering lately (okay, for many, many years) how people can still hold onto conservative ideas about the economy. Social issues are one thing – there is a legitimate debate about abortion, for example, but for some people, economics seems to be even more of a religious issue than that. People just hold onto their beliefs, despite a wealth (pun intended) of evidence to the contrary.

To track down some of the reasoning of the followers of the tired, old religion of conventional, “free-market” economics, I interviewed démodé economist Charles “Chipmunk” Griedesgud at the Gordon Gecko Center for Economic Satire in Slashington D.C.

Presented here are some highlights of the interview. The entirety of the interview will be published in book form by the same publishers that put out Bill O’Reilly’s weekly treasures. It will be called, Killing… something or other.

Me: Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Mr. Griedesgud.

Griedesgud: Please, call me “Chip”.

Me: Fifth generation at Yale?

Chip: Exactly.

Later…

Me: Ha ha! I’m sure your cat didn’t see THAT coming! Oh… Ahem. The main thing I’ve been wondering about, Chip, is how people can still believe that giving corporations big tax breaks leads to more jobs. The corporations don’t seem to create jobs anymore; they just build factories overseas or buy robots to do the work. Don’t people know these things?

Chip: If we cut taxes on corporations, they will build factories and make jobs… in China and Mexico.

Me: How does that help us?

Chip: But then, you see, the Chinese and Mexican workers will become more affluent.

Me: Uh huh.

Chip: Meanwhile, American workers will accept lower and lower paying jobs…

Me: Waiting for the good part.

Chip: …which will eventually allow them to make the commodities that are demanded by the newly affluent foreign workers.

Me: Yeah. Great.

Chip: So, it still trickles down; it just might go through a couple of extra steps.

Me: Wow. I can’t understand how I never thought of that.

Chip: I sense a little sarcasm in your voice.

Me: Me? Nooooooo.

foreclosure

Chip: Would you, instead, have no job creation at all? I mean, if we balanced things more toward the mythical “middle class,” then there wouldn’t be the concentration of wealth at the top that it takes to start the projects and businesses that do just that.

Me: But isn’t that exactly what happened between the 1950’s and the 1970’s, America’s greatest period of economic growth and shared prosperity? The progressive tax structure taxed the super-wealthy and their corporations heavily, and they all kept right on growing anyway, along with the well-being of their workers and the workers’ families.

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Chip: That approximately three-decade period was essentially an illusion of economic bliss. In reality, the so-called “middle class” was stealing from the providers – the wealthiest Americans, who could have built a much LARGER economy, and created even more jobs. They did this through forming alliances known as “unions” and through other underhanded methods.

Me: Those bastards!

Later…

Me: So, what could we expect if we were to follow your prescription, which seems to be the way we’re headed, anyway?

Chip: Well, economic growth and prosperity, of course! Our economy could be growing like the Chinese! And why not?

Me: Do you mean the Chinese economy, or the Chinese population?

Chip: Take your pick.

Me: But won’t this scenario mean that those countries make the same “mistakes”, as you call them, that we made? And won’t they be hurting their economies?

Chip: Yes! That’s exactly what we want! There are two ways to look at winning a competition – you can perform better than the others, or they can perform worse than you!

Later…

Me: So, you say we could head into a period of fantastic economic growth and prosperity. But the “middle class” can’t share in that prosperity, lest they sabotage the whole process.

Chip: That’s exactly right. You asked me about the benefits before: the average income would rise beyond anything we’ve seen.

Me: But wouldn’t that just be a result of the outliers? Wouldn’t the income median and mode be dismally low?

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Chip: Well, thanks to years of effort, nobody knows what those even mean. We’ve trained people very effectively to think that averages are everything. We’ve kept telling them about the average income in America being so high and we even invented a term called “GDP per Person” that throws them way off. Complaining about your income just makes people feel ashamed now.

Me: Wow. Just… wow.

Later…

Me: Well, thank you, Mr. Griedesgud, for the interview. I suppose you’ll be going back to work for the rest of the day?

Chip: Work? What work? This story hasn’t changed since 1890! I’m going to dinner with some lobbyists at the “Oval Room”. I love a restaurant with a punny name!

-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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Have you Been to Church? – Tom Rossi

Have you been to church lately? Have you worshiped the almighty Jobs? Have you read The Book of Jobs? Have you attended services to celebrate the resurrection of Jobs?

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 Steve Jobs was, as far as I know, the first CEO who was enough of an egomaniac to call big press conferences to announce a new device that his company had produced – even if that device was, many times, just the latest version.

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 Now, press conferences to announce new toys or versions of electronic toys or versions of softwares are de rigueur, and reporters and “enthusiasts” (people whose lives revolve around having the latest iPhone or whatever) flock to them like kids to ice cream trucks on a hot day. We still have press conferences for Apple, but also Samsung, Facebook, and a host of other companies who have CEOs anxious to play the court jester. I think they all want to stick their success in the faces of the jocks who kicked their asses in high school and the girls who made barfing sounds when they asked them out.

apple-iphone-os4_007

 Yes, these press conferences are attended by throngs of reporters because the release of a new device version is what, today, passes for news. In between a few reports of shootings in east Oakland, this weeks big party parade across San Francisco, traffic reports, and horse-race political reporting, there is always “news” of some company releasing an iblender4.3, or something. “Apple announced, at its big event today, that iPhones will now be available in blue.” Very exciting news.

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 What really gets me about these press conferences is that they are purely for the purposes of publicity, and the media are complicit in the scheme. Every tech-head nerd-geek knows better than to take what is said at these release orgies too seriously. Anyone with more sense than dollars waits to hear from the reviewers who take the thing back to the office and work it over like Muhammad Ali beating up on Cleveland Williams. That’s why we hear so quickly about defects with things like map apps.

 But this is our new church. We, or our representatives, sit in the pews, waiting and hoping for a glimpse of our savior – whoever is the latest to promise us safe passage into heaven… or to heavenly FaceSpaceTumbling and Twitstagramming, anyway.

 I have an iPhone. It’s kind of a nice thing to have. I use the map a lot – that’s really what I bought it for. My iPhone is something like two years old. It still works well enough. I also have a hammer and a pair of vice-grips that I like. They’re all pretty useful tools.

 -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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Little Quotes That Teach – Roger Ingalls

Freedom

“There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.” Walter Cronkite

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.” Jim Morrison

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” Abraham Lincoln

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” John F. Kennedy

“The secret to happiness is freedom and the secret to freedom is courage.” Thucydides

Politics

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Plato

“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” Aesop

“We have, I fear, confused power with greatness.” Stewart Udall

Religion

“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” Thomas Paine

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Albert Einstein

“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.” Dalai Lama

“It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.” Thomas Jefferson

“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.” Voltaire

Peace

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” Jimi Hendrix

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Peace begins with a smile.” Mother Teresa

“Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.” George Washington

Closing Arguments

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” Plutarch

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” Winston Churchill

“Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.” Confucius

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

The World is Your Facebook – Roger Ingalls

This afternoon I received an interesting email from a friend that contained a PowerPoint presentation showing facts about the world. It proportionally represented the entire population on Earth as if we were only a village containing one hundred people. It made the numbers more comprehensible.

Facebook World

Let’s do something similar and bring the facts even closer to home by making the world our Facebook page. I’d like you to imagine that the only people in existence are also your Facebook friends. The average user has 130 friends. You may have more, or less, but let’s represent the entire human race relative to the average Facebook user. We have demographically shrunk the world proportionally.

Your world, your Facebook:

1)      You have friended all 130 people on Earth.

2)      You are friends with 67 women and 63 men.

3)      Seventy-four (74) of your friends are Asian, 27 are European, 18 are from the Americas (north, central and south), and 10 are from Africa.

4)      You have 43 Christian, 29 Muslim, 18 Hindu, 9 Buddhist and 1 Jewish friend.

5)      While worshipping their God, 60 of your friends live in fear of assault or death.

6)      Fourteen (14) of your friends are gay.

7)      You have 8 very rich friends that control 60% of the world’s wealth.

8)      Poverty hurts 104 of your friends.

9)      Sixty-five (65) of your friends are hungry or malnourished.

10)   Ninety-one (91) of your friends cannot read or write.

11)   One of your friends is giving birth.

12)   One of your friends is about to die.

13)   Only one of your friends has a college degree.

14)   Only one of your friends has a computer.

15)   If you have clothes on your back, sleep with a roof over your head and have food in the fridge, you live better than 98 of your friends.

Proportionally shrinking the entire population down to the size of the average Facebook user’s friendship-reach, did make it easier for me to rationalize the true state of the world. It was a good mental exercise.

I’m fortunate and should be more thankful.

Americans United for the Separation of the Useful and the Useless – Tom Rossi

In Riverside, California, a controversy is brewing… over a cross.

It’s a huge cross, 35 feet in height, standing atop the rocky, steep-sided hill known as “Mount Rubidoux.” The Washington, D.C.-based group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has threatened to sue the city of Riverside, contending that the cross, which has existed in one form or another since 1907, amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity, and therefore violates the first amendment of the U.S. constitution.

The separation of church and state is essential to just governance. It’s crucial that a nation’s important policies be decided on their merits as to their effects on that nation’s citizens. But a well-known aphorism applies well here: Pick your battles.

This battle, against a cross that is much more a monument to the history of the region than it is a monument to Christianity, is more than just a waste of effort, it’s counterproductive to any real progress in furthering the separation of church and state.

This particular battle is pointless, misguided, and damaging to the image of the people who should be (and in many cases are) fighting for changes that actually mean something. In fact, so much so that I almost wonder if the whole thing isn’t another Karl Rove “brainchild,” cooked up to make “liberals” look like idiots. In fact, several conservative groups and media outlets have seized upon this misplaced effort to ridicule “liberals” in general and to call all good Christians to the defense of their religion.

The incident has prompted a HUGE outpouring of support for the Mt. Rubidoux cross and, predictably, hatred for “secularists.” What else could Americans United expect? It’s the easiest forecast since Superstorm Sandy.

Essentially, this is a frivolous issue, but one in which the “opposition,” those who want to “defend Christianity,” are passionate. In other words, this battle is a sure loser.

As this blogger and many others have said many, many times, our efforts should be put into issues that really matter. The separation of church and state is certainly one of these, but the display of a cross or a Nativity scene is not. The way to address these “problems” (if you insist) would be with a sense of humor and irony, as well as with patience and tolerance.

Let me leave you with a letter to the editor of the Press-Enterprise, Riverside’s blatantly conservative daily fish-wrapper. The letter is from Riverside resident Mark S. (last name withheld here) and is quite eloquent:

“There are many serious places where narrow-minded religion creeps into civil society. Prop. 8’s ban on same-sex marriage and the fact that almost half of Americans don’t accept evolution come to mind.

The Mount Rubidoux cross also reflects narrow-mindedness, but with a secular twist (“Council ponders Mount Rubidoux cross options,” Nov. 14). Americans United for Separation of Church and State is behaving exactly like a fundamentalist organization, substituting an idolatrous interpretation of the Constitution for an idolatrous interpretation of the Bible.

Why should Riverside have to spend time, effort and money to support this group’s self-righteous views? This battle just makes AUSCS look like a fringe group and weakens its argument on serious issues.

The cross was a gift; it cost us nothing; leave it alone. If you don’t like it, don’t climb Mount Rubidoux.”

Well said, Mark.

-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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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).

 

Good from Bad – Roger Ingalls

I read an article a few days ago and it gave me hope so I’m going to redirect this post to that story after just a few short sentences. It’s a story about devotion to faith. It’s a story about inner development over outer beauty. It’s a story about ignorance, remorse and enlightenment.

It’s about an open mind and tolerance.

I hope these links below make you feel good and give you hope too.

http://www.uscatholic.org/blog/2012/09/religious-tolerance-and-education-making-headways-person-time

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1263314–bearded-sikh-woman-post-goes-viral-anonymous-poster-apologizes

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/25/balpreet-kaur-sikh-woman-proudly-sports-facial-hair-faith_n_1913355.html

Religion and Education Don’t Mix – Roger Ingalls

Usually I avoid making negative comments about religion and try to minimize my opinions on various religious teachings. However, I do not believe religion should mould the minds of the young in ways that diminish objective thinking. We should teach children how to think, how to question and how to judge without bias. Unfortunately, religion is taught on the backbone of faith, without question and without compromise. Young minds should be expanded with possibility and not bound into narrow unsubstantiated beliefs.

We need to keep the teaching of creationism out of schools. Let kids learn by experimentation and observation so they can evaluate and then select their beliefs, later in life, with an open and smart mind.

I’m not discrediting religion and do consider myself to be religious, perhaps unorthodox but, nonetheless, religious. I just happen to believe scriptures written thousands of years ago – by men – were an admirable attempt to explain the architecture of the universe in a way that was comprehensible for uneducated people of that time. The “just have faith” aspect was added through the ages to keep the populous under control which carries through to this day.

Organized religion does have its place. It creates community and a sense of comfort and that’s why I still visit a Catholic church every once in a while. It gives me peace even though I don’t subscribe to the naive teachings. Most places of worship are filled with good hearted people.

Religion does not belong in fundamental education; it’s too narrow-minded and inflexible.

Here’s a message from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

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