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 month “March, 2011”

The Pied Pipering of America

We’ve all heard the old world story about the Pied Piper—the one where the elders hire the colorful clown to rid the village of pesky rats and when there’s a payment dispute the Pied Piper plays the magic flute once again. But this time he leads the villagers’ naïve children to their death. Historians say it’s a symbolic retelling of the Black Death during the dark ages.

Is America being led into a new dark age? Some say we are and point to our increasing ills: a corrupt Supreme Court privately entertained by corporations, White House-sanctioned torture, economic growth based on the perpetual selling of debt, increased reliance on finite resources, political agendas financed by big business and the Reaganomic elimination of the middle class.

Who are the Pied Pipers leading the American death march? Who’s paying these pipers? But more importantly, who are the naïve followers of the piper?

The Republican masses can be likened to lemmings. They are easily manipulated into followship pacts even when the end result or cause is nonsensical. This is primarily due to a common education level and conservative conditioning.

The education breakdown of the Republican population fits into a Gaussian distribution curve that is centered at the high school level. Since the bulk of the Republican followship has a mid-level education there is a lack of critical thinking typically associated with higher education. In contrast, the Democrat population has a bimodal distribution with peaks occurring in the disenchanted and critical thinking areas— these groups lack a followship mentality.

In addition, Cognitive Science tells us that Republicans have an authoritarian mind set. Their hierarchical structure begins with God and descends to country, father, mother, children, pets and so on. This conservative conditioning creates obedience, especially toward authoritarian leaders.

The Pied Pipering of America has been made easy by the Republican Party. Their authoritarian conditioning and lack of critical thinking creates a simple-minded mass followship. This is a Pied Piper’s dream. With a single playing of the political flute the whole group can be steered toward the highest bidder.

How do we fix this? Should we fix this?

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled 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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Twitter to Change the World

There are many who grumble about the advances of social media in our lives, particularly those who enter reluctantly because otherwise their promotion or platform would become irrelevant for anyone under the age of 100.

We have already seen how Facebook has been used for grassroots activism. Actually as a non-profit who works with students, the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center relies heavily on Facebook. While we still table on the campus, leaflet and send out weekly list serves, it is Facebook that keeps students connected  to our events.

I have begun exploring Twitter as a new social platform for promoting my novels and am still trying to find my way. But I was delighted to discover this short YouTube video explaining how to leverage Twitter for social advocacy.

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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).

Google Personalization, the News Media and Politics

Almost every day, I hear and see more evidence that we will soon be free of the burden of receiving news we don’t really want to hear. You can now choose media sources based on their ideological slant. If you’re a so-called conservative, it’s Fox “news”, Rush Limbaugh, and an endless stream of conservative websites. If you’re a so-called liberal, it’s MSNBC, and an equal supply of web sites.

But the big smoking gun is Google. Google is now offering ever-improving personalization in your searches. Google says it will now use your web browsing history in order to refine your searches and present you with the options for which you have shown a preference. In other words, you will be shown more of what you already think.

For example, a person who frequents Fox “News” on the web and/or conservative blog sites will likely see this page: Limbaugh: ‘Obama has yet to prove he’s a citizen’ at the top of his search and not this one on Snopes.com: Birth Certificate . Sure, the other result will probably still be in the search results, but it’s well known that people don’t typically go too far down the list – most take what’s near the top.

So now you won’t have to worry about information contradicting your own opinions. You can think whatever you thought yesterday, and probably find some information source to back you up. Of course, it’s long been known that the internet is a place (in cyberspace) where you could do exactly this – look only at the sources that you prefer. But now Google is making it that much easier. Google’s personalization mechanisms have actually been in place for some quite some time, but the system takes a while to “learn” whether you’re a redneck or a longhair (or whatever delineation you like) so the effects are probably seeping into society slowly.

What will be the psychological effects of search-engine personalization (that is, beside the creepy sensation that you are being watched – you are!)? It seems to me that if what you already expect shows up in all the highest-ranked results of a search, you might start to feel like there simply is no reasonable, intelligent alternative to your version of the truth. Because you have seen lots of “hard evidence” backing up your views, people who think otherwise must be stupid or crazy or both, right? They obviously haven’t done any real “research”.

So what about the “mainstream media”? How do they please those who like to be pleased and, at the same time, anger those who like to be angered? Well, the major networks’ news departments seem to have adopted a teeter-totter approach, with a story that sounds liberal (like that people die in wars) followed by a story that sounds conservative (like that people are angry at the government over unemployment).

It now appears that the profession formerly known as journalism has been infiltrated by politics. When I watch the news, my neck gets sore from watching the ping-pong ball go back and forth: “Since we just offended the half of our viewers who think that facts are partisan, we will now offend the other half with this story about a senator, an underage girl, and a member of different species.” I’m offended, all right. I’m offended by the game itself.

Welcome to the new America – where the cows run free (at least some of them) but the people have their feet stuck in partisan cement.

-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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

The Advantages of Twitter

I realize that so far in this series of threads, I have not actually cited Twitter’s advantages over other the other popular social media tools that are widely used today.

Tom Raftery used Twitter to search for a job. He also used Facebook and compared the two. His conclusion was that Twitter brought the quickest and most consistent responses and felt his Twitter network to be more engaged and responsive.

Jeff Glasson, writing for Social Media Today, suggested that this is because there are many things to do on Facebook beyond communicating with another person or persons. Helping a friend quickly and efficiently find employment just might get buried under a new game, revealing photos and avoiding vampire bites.

Twitter does one thing and it does it well. It is straight forward communication without bells or whistles. What seems to be the most important factor is the people you chose to follow. If they are players, connected, and motivated, you have a serious team to back you up.

Charlene Li points out that Facebook, whatever it subsequently became, began as a student platform. Business professionals claim to make up only about 34% of Facebook, but make up the vast majority of Twitter users.

I think there is a danger that we might generalize too much. Facebook has some serious, artistic and philanthropic uses, and Twitter is utilized for which commercial you prefer in the Superbowl.

What I have learned from this is to seriously consider who I follow on Twitter and with whom I spend time. Right now, it is still a mass of ### hash@@. I want something different from Twitter than what I already have on my blog, website, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, authorsden page, and Amazon Author’s page. Otherwise it becomes just another social media site to maintain, another chore, another distraction from writing.


Any ideas?

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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).

Authors Who Tweet

Yesterday I shared that I am trying to strategize how to best leverage Twitter with getting totally narcissistic. So I looked around to see what other authors are doing.

Nathan Bransford was a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. from 2002 to 2010 and is about to become an author in his own right. JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle grade novel about three kids who blast off into space, break the universe, and have to find their way back home, which will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in May 2011.

Nathan Bransford

There are two other things I can tell you about Nathan. He lives in San Francisco and he provides a lot of help to authors through his blog. I have read a number of his posts and his blog is saved in my bookmarks in a folder of blogs to visit regularly.

Nathan can be found on twitter and can be found at @NathanBransford, When I saw that he streams his blog through Twitter, I admit I copied the idea. Along with this I see that he has congratulated the achievements of other authors or promoted an interesting article relevant to the writing world.

I like this idea. There is a Jewish saying that the mark of a person is seen through their generosity and good deeds. I guess it is a case of what goes around comes around. Here I am promoting Nathan because he writes such helpful blog posts and because I am impressed by his desire to help others. Oh, and good luck with your book launch, Nathan.


Jody Hedlund is a romance author out of Michigan. Her new novel is The Preacher’s Pride and her blog and twitter also serve as a resource for writers. I love the way her articles are so realistic and that the goals she suggests are attainable.


Do you follow authors who use Twitter for anything other than promoting their blogs, careers and networking with readers? If so, please let me know. If you are an author who tweets, I would also love to connect.

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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).

Just A Little Rain

The following post is from a friend, Nina Egert. Thank you, Nina. This is very apt as we all wonder what kind of rain is falling on California. And yes, nothing seems to have changed since the 1960’s.

Nina:

Back in the 1960’s, Malvina Reynolds, a 40-something CAL Ph.D. in English, began writing songs for the coffee house movement.  While not a great singer, her simple lyrics are some of the most profound ever written.  Luckily, people like Joan Baez and Pete Seeger picked up on her material.

Newport Folk Festival, 1964

In those days, the concerns were over nuclear war.  The fear was that fall-out from bombs would travel through the atmosphere, destroying the planet.  How little has changed.

On a rainy day in California, when news from power plants in Japan worsens, I though people might appreciate a link to this song on YouTube.  Malvina’s version is tender, but missing some of the lyrics, so listen to Baez’s as well:



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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).

 

 

 

Congratulations Amanda Hocking

I recently shared the story of Amanda Hocking, now a full-time author through primarily selling e-books and working really hard to create a dynamic social platform.

Though Amanda has been a pioneer of the alternative way to sell your books and make a living as a fiction writer, she has been rewarded with a traditional four-book contract that according to the New York Times, is worth more than $2 million. The deal is  with Macmillan imprint St. Martin’s Press, and follows what the Times described as a “heated auction” in which they beat out Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins.

Ms. Hocking wrote a blog entry on Tuesday in which she shared her decision to enter the conventional publishing world.

“I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation,” she said. “My goal has always been to put the highest quality product I can out in a way that is the most accessible to readers.”

I appreciate your honesty and your hard work in bringing yourself to this point, Ms. Hocking. You are an example and an inspiration to the rest of us. You are the first to succeed with this route, hopefully the first of many.

Ms. Hocking won’t be speaking tomorrow at Copperfield’s Books in Napa, but I will – between 1-3pm. Copperfields is at 3990 Bel Aire Plaza (between Highway 29 and Transcas Street. Happy to chat with you about these exciting developments, accidental activists, and anything else you can think of.

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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).

 

 

 

Tweet Tweet

“What! You’re not on Twitter? Why’s that?”

This response is usually elicited from someone who tweets and is either very proud that they are so cutting edge, or need to justify the time they are spending each day on social media. I try and explain that I blog daily, am on Facebook, maintain a website, and try to add an opinion post at least weekly on one of the LinkedIn e-groups where I hang around.

All this while editing one manuscript, writing another and trying to sell the novels I have already published (and I haven’t mentioned family, full-time job, and those annoying staples like sleeping, eating, doing laundry and hitting the gym).

Why are there only 24 hours in a day? But then again, why only 140 characters in a tweet?

Twitter is defined by Tweetnet as “a social networking and microblogging service” in which you can update your friends and followers with up-to-the-minute accounts of what you are doing.

Now I can understand why a celebrity like Charlie Sheen or LeBron James attract attention, but why me? My mother is extremely interested in what I have to eat for lunch, but it probably stops there. My original blog was about Alon Shalev, the author, and it had a very small following. While I am sure that a lot of the people I network with are interested in my imminent rise to fame as a leading social commentator of our time (in other words as someone who is very opinionated), they are not interested in the mundane activities that we all share.

Tweetnet also suggests that Twitter allows for “informal collaboration and quick information sharing that provides relief from rising email and IM fatigue.”

Excuse me, I need to move the laundry over to the dryer (that’s a 56 character tweet). I’m back. Admit it, you were on the edge of your seats wondering if I would remember to remove the wool garments before turning the dryer on. I did. You may resume breathing.


So the question is: How does someone like myself leverage Twitter? Are you on Twitter (I realize these are two questions)? I would appreciate your feedback and I shall stalk a few authors in their Twitter accounts over the next couple of days and let you know what they do.

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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).

 

 

 

Speaking on Sunday in Napa

I will be speaking at Copperfield’s Books in Napa on Sunday between 1-3pm. Copperfield’s is at 3990 Bel Aire Plaza between Hwy. 29 & Transcas Streeet. If you are there for the weekend, or have friends in the area, please drop by and support the local independent bookstore and help spread the word.


Here’s a quote from the flyer:

Meet an author with an opinion. Alon Shalev will discuss using fiction to create a better world, the changing face of the publishing industry, the craft of writing, and (most) anything else!

“The novel has long held the ability to create powerful images and characters that stay with the reader long after the final page.

What if the novel can precipitate a transformational change not just within the story, but also for the reader?

What if the emotional connection between reader and plot, or reader and fictional character, can provide impetus for the reader to engage in fighting social injustice?

Mrs. Blogs will be joining me, so I promise to be on my best behavior. Actually, just between us, it was Mrs. Blogs’ political and social values that first drew me all those moons ago (well her political awareness was, and still is, part of a very attractive package).

See you on Sunday?

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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).

 

 


Socially Responsible Investing Proxy Power

It might not be enough to just invest in a socially responsible portfolio, In an article by GreenBiz.com, a new report is reviewed that highlights a rising number of shareholder resolutions that focus on improving various companies’ social and environmental performance.

“Nearly 400 environmental and social shareholder resolutions were filed in the latest proxy season for issues ranging from labor and human rights to supply chain impacts and recycling, according to Proxy Preview 2011. The seventh annual report was published by As You Sow, the Sustainable Investments Institute and Proxy Impact.

“I think the critical difference proxy voting makes is to signal to companies that these issues are important to significant institutional investors,” said Leslie Lowe, an attorney and senior program strategist to As You Sow.”

The phenomenon of shareholders getting involved in this way has seen a steady growth in momentum as more conventional investors have begun to embrace Socially Responsible Investing with a growth of 55% of proxy filing in the last 10 years.

Examples of  environmental resolutions include those related to natural resource management and toxics. Companies such as Bisphenol, Yum Brands, and Dentsply International, IBM, Pepsi, and Target have been filed and are pending. according to the report.

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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/

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