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 “tragedy”

Back to Gun Control – Now

I have to admit that I feel a bit intimidated writing this post. The truth is that I started to write it shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My blog posts on gun control have elicited the most virulent responses, primarily from people who didn’t even bother to read the posts. 

But, as I watched the tragedy unfold on twitter, those who immediately ran to man the barricades shocked me. Most of us were just trying to glean information, to come to terms with what I hope we all see as a pointless and heart-wrenching tragedy.


My first response to these tweets was that this was not the time: not for those who were inevitably going to call for gun control or those who would defend it. So I held off. In reality, I didn’t feel I could write something rational then either.

I am proud that there are NRA members who, while they disagreed with my previous posts, respected that I was not taking an extremist stand, and joined the debate. These are the rational members of the NRA and they have a voice that the rest of us need to empower so that others will allow them to be heard.

But we need to have the debate and it cannot be held under the shadow of a tragedy. In the same vein, we need to establish parameters for the debate. There are a number of points I wish to make:

1. Historically, the NRA was governed by brave leaders who saw a need for gun control and took the initiative to ensure their members were well represented in policy decisions. As such, they were often a rational and productive voice from within the organization. We need brave leaders in the NRA today. 

2. I recognize the inherent need that many men and women feels to be able to defend themselves and their families. I believe this can be recognized and, as such, relieve much of the anxiety around gun control debates.

3. This debate should focus on automatic firearms (a weapon that will continue to fire bullets as long as the trigger is pressed and there is ammunition in the magazine). It would allay the fears of people who feel the need for a weapon in their house.


There is room to prevent a person holding a gun that can deliver the carnage we saw in the last few tragedies. It is a beginning and part of a controllable process.

Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to debate whether we should debate gun control. Let’s do it now and come to the table in an environment of listening and willingness to compromise.


Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, 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).

Goodbye to a Jazz Legend

Pre-post note: I wrote most of this post before the tragedy happened in Connecticut. I thought about letting out some of the ideas that have been haunting me on this type of subject, but we’re seen something amazing, out of this dip into hell: people, pundits, and even the President are finally, finally talking seriously about what amounts to this: What is an acceptable compromise between the right to bear arms and the right not to be shot. Like everyone, I’m just sick that it took the murder of a bunch of kindergarteners to accomplish this. But everyone, everywhere is saying that. I’ll just add my vote to that super-majority, for now.

On with a smaller tragedy…

This blog isn’t really supposed to be about music, and specifically jazz, but I’m compelled to return to the subject. We lost a great jazz artist, this past week. Dave Brubeck has passed away at the age of 91, after giving us a lifetime of cool creativity.

Brubeck was born in Concord, California in 1920. He kept playing and entertaining pretty much right to the end, but his “golden period” was mostly in the 50’s and 60’s. Well after that, though, he had notable appearances with heads of state and religion.

Video: Stardust

But I don’t want to do a life story here. Let’s talk about Dave Brubeck’s music, and what made it unique. Often to the consternation of the critics, Brubeck just couldn’t bring himself so stick, clearly and permanently, to an identifiable genre. He was a well-educated musician who mixed in techniques and theme structures from various types of what we now lump together as classical music. He used fascinating time signatures that often made his pieces (or those of his various bands) extremely difficult for others to play.

Blue Rondo a la Turk video:

Brubeck’s jazz was actually criticized as not being jazz at all, but basically classical music. I saw an interview of him, years ago, in which he told the interviewer that people use to say to him, “you don’t swing.” Then, he said, after a few years, people said, “You swing, but your band doesn’t swing.” And, of course, he laughed. But Brubeck’s jazz has stood the test of time. Some of his pieces have even become somewhat iconic.

Video: Take Five

Dave Brubeck was, in fact, my first jazz discovery, although somewhat late. Growing up, I never heard anything in my house except classical music. I took piano lessons for a few years and I was even somewhat talented. But I soon realized that I would never be nearly good enough to perform the only music that I knew. In classical music performance the standard is perfection, and I was never going to be perfect, so I quit.

Video: Strange Meadowlark

I certainly wish I had discovered Brubeck and jazz piano earlier. I would have been inspired to enter a whole new world. In jazz, the players are highly skilled, to be sure. But they are allowed and even expected to experiment, to try new things, to play a piece differently every time, and to make it up as they go along. This is part of why jazz is so inspiring. It takes you places that you never thought of before. It’s like your French fry falls into your curry sauce by accident, and you eat it and say, “Wow! I never would have thought of that!”

Video: In Your Own Sweet Way

Dave Brubeck and other jazz musicians (especially pianists) have opened up parts of my imagination that might otherwise never have been awakened. I owe a debt of gratitude to Brubeck. Thanks, Dave, for helping me discover so much.

-Tom Rossi


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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