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 “The Simpsons”

State of the Left Coast Union

Last week (at least at the time of writing), President Obama gave his State of the Union and I enjoyed it. I even subjected my sons to listening live as we ate dinner (PST) – actually I bribed them offering that they could watch The Simpsons after homework (reverse psychology – two teaching opportunities for the price of one – kids haven’t caught on yet).

Speaking as a new American, (the 49’ers run finally had me watching American football) I am still puzzled at how much power and attention this jewel of democracy gives its President. We elect representatives to Congress as our direct representatives. They are paid to protect and advance our interests. The judiciary, while a very important watchdog, is there to ensure that the laws are interpreted and enforced.

Now I am all for strong leadership and a steady fan of the President. I have one of his books on my iTunes and when a chapter randomly comes up (usually while I am at the gym) I listen. I should also confess at this point, and did a year ago, that I am a faithful devotee of West Wing.

However, I often feel that the media frenzy that dogs the Presidential trail (and that includes the Primary circus) provides a comfortable distraction for those we sent directly to Congress. The vast majority of laypeople, myself included, know more about the activities, thoughts and efforts of the President than we do of our representative. I wonder how many people of voting age even know who their representative is? I have read two books by the President, but have no idea if Representative Barbara Lee or Senators Boxer and Feinstein have even written any books.

The role of the President should be to represent our country and to have a strategic overview. Many have criticized President Obama as being too conciliatory with Republicans, but I admire his collaborative nature, even though I am frustrated that it cost us a serious health care bill.

While I believe that  Congress should be more prominent and accountable, I enjoy the State of the Union – certainly better than the Queen’s (bless ‘er) Christmas Address at 3pm every 12/25.

The President should be the communicator to the nation. The State of the Union should be a 10,000 foot view of our accomplishments and challenges over the past year and looking ahead, but it should never replace, or give the illusion that, the responsibility lies with all our leaders.

President Obama’s speech did give the impression of electioneering, but there was an important recurring message: Put it on my desk and I’ll sign it into law.

President Obama was addressing the nation, but he was also addressing Congress. Partisan stagnation has no place when our nation is suffering. So my State of the Left Coast Union is simple:

Electioneering be damned: Our nation is hurting. Stop the circus. One debate, one half hour uninterrupted prime time TV slot to each candidate and let’s go to the ballot.

The rest of our politician’s time should be spent doing what we pay them to do. I realize this will seriously hurt our media industry, but perhaps they might be inspired to focus on real news and analysis to empower the people to make informed decisions.

Too Radical?

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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 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).

A Good Leader is A Good Reader

The problem with writing blog posts in advance is that they run the danger of being out-of-date before tehy are published. I wrote this post two weeks ago and since then, Herman Cain has resigned. I decided to keep the post because, amidst the sex scandals, something very important surfaced and needs to be processed.I have left the post intact because when I began to edit it to being in retrospect, it lost the anger that I felt. I hope this doesn’t prevent the point being made.

I’m somewhat surprised by the Republican debates. Blame it on the TV coverage, or the fact that they are facing a standing President who, despite struggling to see his agenda through to practical fruition, is still extremely impressive, but how are the Republicans allowing certain candidates to still be in the running?

When do people start losing in this game of Musical Chairs?

More specifically, how are they allowing Herman Cain to stay in the running? If it is really about the money, who is willing to stand up and admit to investing millions in this man, or at least to continue to invest their money in him.

The sexual allegations are of course the most shocking. If this man is being totally set up and framed, let’s expose those behind it and send them to jail where they belong. If the answer is anything but this, why on earth is Herman Cain still running?

I have no doubt that Mr. Cain is a keen and astute businessman. We need such people helping to set our economy right. But the seat of the Presidency requires a lot more.

Mr. Cain’s lack of grasp on foreign policy is stunning. Libya? Really?

But it is with somewhat mixed emotions that I discovered that Mr. Cain and I have something in common. We both love The Simpsons. I also quote from the show, Mr. Cain, but I’m not sure I would if I was a presidential candidate.

I love that scene from 2007’s “The Simpsons Movie” when Arnold Schwarzenegger who is the movie’s President of the United States has to make a critical decision. His aids offer him several options and he immediately picks one without reading the briefs. The character of Schwarzenegger when asked why he doesn’t read the options replies: “I was elected to lead, not to read.”

He does encourage people to read his own book.

In a recent post, The Power of Paolini, I shared my gratitude to J.K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini, for turning my son and his generation onto reading through their respective Harry Potter and Eragon series. I want a President who can inspire the nation, a President who can make educated decisions, and a President who considers  all the options.

Never go anywhere without your nuclear launch codes and a good book.

Perhaps if we lived in a country that read, if we were a nation who stayed informed, we would not have allowed ourselves to dig such a deep hole that we now have to climb out of.

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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 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).

Here We Go Again – Norman Weekes

One of the problems of age is living through the repeated mistakes of the past. Decisions that lead us down a road we’ve been down before only to ensure suffering, punishment and horror on a new generation. The inexplicable replay of a nightmare that surely once lived would never return. But we see the same policies and bloodlust for profit override common sense. And so the McRib returns.

I tried the McRib when it originally debuted. I admit it. I am ashamed that I would try a meat substance named a rib which has no bone put between two pieces of bread. I know the rib bone was put there by God so we could eat the meat without putting it between two pieces of bread. I know adding barbeque sauce can make anything edible. I also know McDonald’s would sell zombie meat if they thought people would by it. I know this and still ate (most of)  that thing. Yet the temptation to simplify something perfect was too much to resist. I won’t get fooled again. 

Really?

Celebrity newscaster Diane Sawyer publicly declared her affinity for the mystery sandwich. Her Nixonian roots lead me to believe she doesn’t really like the McRib (I just can’t see anyone making her salary eating anything from McDonald’s) and she’s practicing good old fashioned advertiser ass-kissing. That’s the problem with our propensity to make mistakes. Half of it is agenda driven and the other half is ignorance.

The McRib is only a symbol. Vietnam/Afghanistan, 1929/2008, The Gilded Age/The Present Age, Clarence Thomas/ Herman Cain. We don’t teach, we don’t learn, we don’t remember. We walk out of movie sequels saying, “That wasn’t as good as the first one.”  Style trumps substance, marriage becomes a business model, athletes are our spiritual leaders and there’s no national moral compass, GPS or iPhone voice to tell us how to behave. We should know better but we don’t.

Three-eyed-fish - from The Simpsons

Three weeks before 9/11 we were a country self absorbed with shark attacks in Florida. Then the planes exploded and we rallied around our president, our country and each other. Shortly after George told us to go shopping, invaded Iraq while we were at the mall and the feel good ended.

Now we feel good again because of the hope and awakening of the Occupi. The leaderless organization as an agent of international change is new and exciting. I hope it is successful. But if they anoint a leader and begin to “negotiate” I’ll politely pass on this sequel.

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Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist.

 

The Problem is Nuclear Waste

I am trying to establish an argument against nuclear power, without any grasp of the scientific exchanges that are going on. One aspect, however, seems to be clear. It is the entire process of nuclear energy production that must be scrutinized and there is a growing belief that the Achilles heel of nuclear power is the issue of nuclear waste and what to do with it.

From what we understand, it might take thousands of years for nuclear waste to break down into a compound that is not dangerous to the environment. This fact alone makes the storage of nuclear waste to be one of (if not the most expensive) stage of the process. There are several methods that are currently used, though none purport to have such lasting ability.For a list and explanation of current methods, please click here.

I'm sure that helmet is excellent protection if there is a leak!

As the storage of nuclear waste builds and the experiments work or not (how do you measure the success of a storage technique that needs to last thousands of years?) there inevitably will be failures. I am not trying to be obnoxious, but this is the nature of experimentation. It’s a shame that my chemistry teacher didn’t subscribe to this when I blew up some compound over a Bunsen burner.

He works at a nuclear power plant - it never seemed to have affected him.

Do we even want to experiment with such dangerous materials? Our lab is our planet and so far, it is the only one we’ve found with decent cappuccino.

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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).

Nuclear Energy – still safe?

You would think, given my blog post on Friday that the era of nuclear power is over. Actually, according to a recent poll, more people think that nuclear power is safe after what happened in Japan than a few years ago. In fact, only 40% of Americans believe that nuclear energy is unsafe.

All Smiles Despite Japan's Disaster

A few more interesting titbits from this survey: 60% of men believe in nuclear power, while only 40% of women. Also, the older you get, the more willing you are to accept nuclear power. What about the grandchildren, paps?

One brave columnist decided to take the 1986 meltdown of Chernobyl, Reactor 4, as the worse example in history. He honestly accepts that:

“Thirty-one people died soon after the accident, most of acute radiation exposure, with perhaps a few more in the years since. More than 100 others suffered radiation injuries. Some 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been diagnosed in Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians who were under 18 at the time, many likely stemming from radiation exposure via milk contaminated with radioactive iodine. However, only 15 deaths had been reported as of 2005 — thyroid cancer is readily treated.

“There’s evidence of increased leukemia and cataracts among recovery workers who received higher doses, but no health effects otherwise. (Experts project an eventual 4,000 additional cancer deaths among the 600,000 people most exposed — i.e., an increase of a few percent beyond the 100,000 cancer deaths you’d expect for this group.) An irregularly shaped “exclusion zone” of about 1,700 square miles around the plant remains off-limits to human habitation, 220,000 people had to be permanently relocated, and agriculture is restricted, but vegetation and wildlife for the most part have thrived.”(source)

…but then goes on to point out that: “Look, here was a five-star fiasco and the confirmed death toll is about the same as from 12 hours of U.S. traffic accidents. Is that an outstanding safety record or what?” (source).

If Homer can live with it...

Now I have to admit, the amount of fatalities from traffic accidents and drunk driving is astounding and there is no reason in the world to belittle it, but his comparison is chilling.

He then makes the comparison to coal. “Each year, on average, 35 U.S. coal miners are killed and 4,000 are injured. In China, 2,600 coal miners were killed in 2009, following 3,200 dead in 2008. (Recent U.S. uranium mining deaths: zero.) Coal-burning power plants release close to three times as much radioactivity as nuclear plants.” (source)

Sometimes I just hate statistics! How would you respond to this?

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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).

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