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 “Soviet Union”

Presidential Jabber – Roger Ingalls

The campaigning season is upon us and the air is abuzz with comedic babble. In this spirit, I’d like to share a few of my favorite political quotes; some witty and funny but others just ooze stupidity.

”You know nothing for sure…except the fact that you know nothing for sure.” —President John Kennedy

”If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” —Abraham Lincoln

”Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.” —Lyndon Johnson

”My fellow Americans. I’m pleased to announce that I’ve signed legislation outlawing the Soviet Union. We begin bombing in five minutes.”—Ronald Reagan

”I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.” —Ronald Reagan

”Once you leave the womb, conservatives don’t care about you until you reach military age. Then you’re just what they’re looking for.” —George Carlin

”Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”—Groucho Marx

”My esteem in this country has gone up substantially. It is very nice now when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”—President Jimmy Carter

”Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”—Ronald Reagan

”A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”—President Franklin Roosevelt

”Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”—Will Rogers

”I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix.”—Dan Quayle

”We do know of certain knowledge that he [Osama Bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead.” —former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

”Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” —President George W. Bush

”We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” —Donald Rumsfeld

”Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?” —George W. Bush

There’s a million of them; we could go on for days. Let’s close this out with a quote by Mark Twain that accurately describes todays Senators and House of Representatives, ”Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

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It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

A Chinese Spring?

I am intrigued by Chinaand have blogged about it many times. So I was excited to read an article by in the New York Times on a topic that has crossed my mind. How is the Arab Spring going to impact the world’s largest non democracy?

One of the most lucid social commentators today.

 

Now I am not a China-hater, far from it. There are many things we can learn from them. But my biggest bone of contention lies in the basic right of freedom. As a teenager I came of age politically with the anti-Apartheid movement and the campaign to free Jews from the Soviet Union.

With this in mind, I do wonder whether China, a country with extensive Internet resources can remain unaffected by the Arab Spring. warns that China cannot ignore the lessons of what factors serve as incubators to 21st Century revolutions or how these rebellions are being played out.

“Let’s start with the new. Sometime around the year 2000, the world achieved a very high level of connectivity, virtually flattening the global economic playing field. This web of connectivity was built on the diffusion of personal computers, fiber-optic cable, the Internet and Web servers. What this platform did was to make Boston and Beijing or Detroit and Damascus next-door neighbors. It brought some two billion people into a global conversation.”

The world is connected

The rise of  smarter cellphones, wireless bandwidth and social networks has brought a further two billion people into the conversation and these populations are often living in remote areas.

All this means is that the days when traditional forms of mass communication such as state-run TV and radio could ensure the people hear only the official party lines are over. “The Syrians can’t shut off their cellphone networks now any more than they can shut off their electricity grids.”

illustrates this by  pointing out that although Syria has banned all foreign TV networks, you only need go to YouTube and  search for “Dara’a” in order to see clear up-to-the minute video of the Syrian regime’s crackdown. These videos are all filmed using cellphones or flip-cams by Syrian protesters who upload them to YouTube.

Internet Police cannot be everywhere in this mobile world

  second lesson from the Arab Spring is “a manifestation of “Carlson’s Law,” posited by Curtis Carlson, the C.E.O. of SRI International, in Silicon Valley, which states that: “In a world where so many people now have access to education and cheap tools of innovation, innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb.” As a result, says Carlson, the sweet spot for innovation today is “moving down,” closer to the people, not up, because all the people together are smarter than anyone alone and all the people now have the tools to invent and collaborate.

The regime of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was just too dumb and slow to manage the unrest. The Tahrir revolutionaries were smart but chaotic, and without leadership. Therefore, the role of leaders today — of companies and countries — is to inspire, empower, enable and then edit and meld all that innovation coming from the bottom up. But that requires more freedom for the bottom.”

While reading this, I began to get frustrated that was focusing too much on technology which essentially is a means rather than an end. But he then moves on to quote the Russian historian Leon Aron who drew comparisons between the Arab uprisings and the democratic revolution in Russia twenty years ago. “They were both not so much about freedom or food as about “dignity.” They each grew out of a deep desire by people to run their own lives and to be treated as “citizens” — with both obligations and rights that the state cannot just give and take by whim.”

Aron added that “The spark that lights the fuse is always the quest for dignity. Today’s technology just makes the fire much more difficult to put out.”

In fact the slogan of the Tunisian uprising was “Dignity before bread.”

China has one of  the fastest growing economies and a standard of living that is probably greatly appreciated by Chinese citizens. But there is more to life than just economic factors. If a Chinese Spring is to be avoided, the first step forward is to acknowledge that maybe the Chinese people crave the values that have seen an amazing chain of events in the Arab world.

The first mistake would be to think that you can prevent them from hearing what is happening globally. The days when the Great Wall of China was its first line of defense does not have a place in the 21st Century. Not that it always takes technology…

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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).

Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen,

I have spent a while trying to decide what I want to write about these major upheavals. It would be easy to say that they are far away from our Left Coast by the Pacific and ignore what is happening. This never stopped me commenting on the Nobel Prize debacle and other political prisoners in December. But something is gnawing away inside and I am feeling threatened by what I see as a rise in extremist ideology.

Let me begin by stating that I value my freedom and my democracy very highly. I have never lived in a country where this has been seriously challenged (though I did campaign against the rise of the British National Party – a fascist movement – back in the 70’s), but I would like to think that I would be out there on the streets, shouting, demonstrating and, well, blogging.

I have campaigned to free Jews from the Soviet Union, to bring down apartheid in South Africa, and to free Tibet from Chinese oppression.

But I feel equally threatened by extremists, whether from the left, the right, or from religious fundamentalists. If I value my freedom of choice and expression, I should be trying to stop the advance of such political movements.

But what happens when a nation supports an extremist ideology? What right do I have to prop up an equally or more oppressive regime? Do I even have a right to try to impose my democratic doctrines on another country?

The problem is that no country is an island, no ideology limited to a single country. When the Internet defined itself as a world-wide web, they meant world-wide. It doesn’t take much for an ideology to spread across continents.

What is missing from public debate is what is the best environment to avoid extremism and violent change? When such symptoms as low education and poverty are prolific, there is an easy framework to influence or stir people to fight for vague hopes or instant solutions.

When revolution was spreading through Europe in the early 1800’s, journalist William Cobbett said: “I defy you to stir a man on a full stomach.”

I would add to that. Give a person an education, a meaningful job, and respect, and s/he will seek a middle path. We badly need more middle paths today and no one is discussing how to really create such an environment through education, health, professional skills, and sustainable infrastructures.

People shouldn’t need to take to the streets to seek their own dignity, and to provide for their families. And they shouldn’t need to break their country’s laws when expressing their desire for freedom.

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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

 

When Fiction Can Help Us Better Understand The World

It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Amir and Hassan are still with me and I pay more attention when Afghanistan is mentioned, as it is too often unfortunately in our news.

But this is my point. Those of us who even bother these days to listen to the news on the radio, watch it on TV, or open a newspaper (paper or on-line), quickly become desensitized to a topic that is consistently appearing, especially if it is something that either we know little about from the beginning, or that little impact on our personal everyday life.

Afghanistan for me, prior to the war was a vague mountainous region where some tribes seemed able to prevent the powerful Soviet army from conquering it. That was about it.

Now, having read The Kite Runner, my ears perk up when the news mentions Afghanistan. I know what a Hazara is. I understand the NPR reporter’s language when he recounted how different ethnic groups were responding to the election.

This was all made possible for me by reading a fictional account of the land, history, people and culture. I am going to assume that Khaled Hosseini is painting a fairly accurate picture of Afghan society as he sees it. I cannot assume more.

But fiction can play an important part in providing understanding and awareness of what is taking place in the world. Perhaps it can also help provide a desire to demand and work for a sustainable future for, in this case, Afghanistan.

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

Accusing From Afar

Living in England, you learn that the British Empire was something positive. It brought roads, education, medicine, and culture to the masses. You see movies of the aristocratic class in India, Africa, and just about everywhere else. “The sun never set of the British Empire,” was said as an expression of pride, if not wistfulness, as I grew up.

One of the biggest shocks to my social conscience occurred when I began studying sociology at London University. I had been political as a teenager, advocating for human rights in the Soviet Union, Tibet and South Africa. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

I arrived late to university as the semester opened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The class was discussing a book, A Savage Culture, by Remi Kapo. A black, English sociologist was describing how many of the violent, classist, and racist facets of British society, were entrenched as part of the psyche of the British Empire, even though the British Empire was now a largely inactive Commonwealth.

I thought I was just missing something. I raised my hand and asked whether his premise was that the British Empire was wrong and evil. You could have cut the tension with a chainsaw.

The professor looked at me for a moment trying to decide, I imagine, whether I was being a smartass. Seeing that I was trying to disappear from embarrassment, he took pity and explained everything, feeding off my willingness to be honest about what I had learned growing up.

I remember wanting to tell him and the other students how I considered myself a political activist and brag about the campaigns I had participated in. This was a group of very politically aware students and it was a while before they accepted me as a friend.

It is easy and convenient to see evils from afar and confer rapid judgment on what others are doing. Here on the Left Coast we are especially good at doing this. However, are we doing this to feel good with ourselves because we are unable to solve the injustices in our own backyard? Does it not feel more righteous to accuse others (usually well-deserving), rather than admit when we fail to achieve the values and ideologies that we preach?

The age of the Internet has made it possible to help others in any part of the world. My novel,  The Accidental Activist, tells this very story, highlighting how the Internet was utilized by a small group of activists to fight a multinational corporation in court (It is based on the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s).

But while today there is no excuse for being uninformed about world events, it also makes it easier to avoid injustice on our own doorstep. It is simply more convenient to go online than onto the streets.

When I look at the inequalities here in California and the potential that we have to correct them, I wonder whether we can perhaps teach the greatest lesson by being the greatest example. ——————————————————————————————————-

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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

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