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 “May, 2011”

Reaching A Proud Landmark

Today, Left Coast Voices broke into the top 500,000 blogs according to the Alexia rankings. That puts us in the top 0.123% of blogs in the world (yeah, I did the math). With a great team of Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls, more people are reading the blog every day and our future looks bright.

As you might have noticed, the blog is a mix of political commentary, recognition of grassroots activism, and experiences and developments in the writing world. The latter will now be restricted to weekend posts for the near future.

If you have a moment, please share in the comments some feedback regarding the following questions:

1. What do you enjoy about the blog and what is missing?

2. Are you more interested in political commentary/grassroots activism/insights into the writing world?

3. Is there a particular issue/organization/topic that you would like one of us to cover?

One aspect that we feel we are lacking is a woman on the team. Do you know a woman who might be interested in blogging once a week, perhaps focusing on women’s issues, or just highlighting a woman’s perspective? 

So a big Thank You to my publisher, Lloyd Lofthouse, at Three Clover Press, who has been a great source of knowledge and support in every aspect of blogging. A really big THANK YOU to Roger and Tom for their weekly posts, their dedication and enthusiasm. But most of all, the biggest THANK YOU goes to you, our readership, who make our day by reading the post, adding to the comments and proving that honest debate and social activism is the most important component of a thriving democracy.

In a world where so many are fighting at this moment for the right to open debate and democracy, our freedom is something we should all be proud of. This spring, blogging has shown itself to be a powerful tool for freedom. Blogging knows no borders. Hopefully freedom of expression and debate will soon truly be a global value in a brave new world. 

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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).

Go Giants – SF Pride

Now I know that those of you who have supported the Giants through thick and thin regard people like me with disdain and I actually respect that. Here I am, a relatively new transplant, fresh off the boat, and the first time I attempt to absorb myself in the true essence of American culture, the Giants win the World (excuse me – US) Championship, and there I am strutting around the city with my Giants T-shirts and scarf.

What a Moment!

Truth is, my wife (also very community conscious) and I were enthralled by the Giants during the season as we saw that what was pushing this team on (apart from considerable talent) was an amazing team spirit, an all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude, and a handy propensity to ignore the stats and the commentators who read too much into the aforementioned stats.

Having already celebrated winning the championship six months ago, why bring it up now? I believe that a team should reflect its town and its supporters. San Francisco is a unique city, excuse me – City – and so are our Giants.

I am proud that the SF Giants have decided to be the first professional sports team to endorse the “It Gets Better” campaign, which began as a response to a spate of bullying young homosexuals culminating in a tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers back in September.

The Giants made their decision after receiving a petition signed by over 6,000 Giants fans and will produce a video to support the campaign. The sports world remains a macho and often homophobic and racist environment. One of my favorite soccer players, Thierry Henry (a black man), endured monkey sounds being made by a small segment of opposing fans when my team played in European games. Recently, even one of the all-time best NBA players was caught making an anti-gay comment.

I am proud that the Giants have made a stand. You win in sports by never compromising on your commitment to win, by never giving  an inch. This is the only way to deal with racism and homophobia and who better to lead us than those who understand what it takes to win.

Today is Harvey Milk Day, a commemoration of the life of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California and who was assassinated for being gay. It is a fitting day to come together as one City, one baseball team, one community.

Harvey Milk sitting on the SF Board of Supervisors

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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).

Kickstarting Art

It takes money to make money. It often takes money to promote a good idea or bring an art initiative to fruition. A friend of mine is part of a theater group at San Francisco State University. While the arts are extremely popular, the university is becoming increasingly restricted in its ability to fund projects through to their production.

In a country reeling from economic mismanagement (yes we should begin to call it what it is before we forget and allow it to happen again), money for the arts is scarce and the process to obtain such funds complex.

Enter Kickstarter – an organization that harnesses the power of many individuals giving small amounts. An artist can prepare a project plan, promote it through the Internet and people can safely (through Amazon.com) pledge as little as $1. If the project needs to raise $10,000, for example, then they have 90 days to raise it all.

One of the aspects that stands out for me is that if the project does not succeed in raising the amount needed for the project then the donors are not charged. In other words, you pledge the money and only pay when the goal is met.

In an age when a young generation has been brought up on entitlement, I find this a refreshing framework. It might just separate the artists from the dreamers.

My friend and her colleagues are raising money to produce a play that deals with suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge. It is called Jump: A Love Story and is a play which incorporates multimedia.

Please click here to see their short promotional video.

And if you can pledge the price of a cappuccino, please click here. 30 days into their 3 months, they have raised over 60% of their chosen goal. These are students at San Francisco State trying to express themselves and an important social issue through art. And they are willing to get entrepreneurial to see it come to fruition.

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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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An NYT Article on the Oil Companies Tax Breaks

I just saw this article in the New York Times, which serves to highlight the disgraceful behavior of the oil companies and the politicians who let them get away with avoiding paying millions (billions?) of dollars back to the community coffers.

I can’t help wondering that if the Obama reelection team is serious about taking on these tax-dodgers, why not make this a single-issue campaign? These billions of dollars will immediately open economic options that can influence our lives and alieve much of the economic stress we are all feeling. Let’s focus on this very tangible and impactful issue.

Who knows? It might make it more difficult for the other side to focus their own campaign strategy on issues such as birth certificates.

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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).

Republican Debt Mantra: Build It Cuz They B Dumm

 

Tune into the news via the TV, radio or computer and all we hear is noise about the escalating national debt. We’ll hear the well-oiled Republican machine blaming President Obama and the Democrats for reckless spending. The conservative-speak by these silver-tongued devils is so finely tuned it makes Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seem no more complex than a nursery rhyme.

I’m in awe of these self-proclaimed “Christian-valued” politicians that shift their guilt on to the innocent with such ease as if they were channeling Lucifer himself. I suppose this “self-proclaiming” is part of the facade. But how do they do it?  How do they sleep at night and how do they live in their own skin without wanting to crawl out of it? It’s creepy.

Michele Bachmann, US House Rep., MN, Republican

(click picure for scary surprise)

Surprisingly, this simple yet deceptive campaign actually works. Most Americans believe Democrats are the big spenders.

While at dinner with a friend this past weekend, we stumbled upon the subject of our national debt. He mentioned his amazement at the Democrats’ continued quest to add more to the huge debt they’ve already created—I almost choked. Wait, did I hear that right? Did this man, intelligent in many forms, actually say, “the huge debt the Democrats have created?”  Holy frickin’ crap, Batman, even he’s been brainwashed!

I knew, right then and there, something had to be done. These twisted words must be ripped from the devil’s mouth—torn out by its roots.  Many are trying to stop the Republican rewriting of history and I, too, must do my part.

Let’s keep it simple, let’s think like cavemen. Pictures, they’re worth a thousand words. These charts say it all (click image for larger view):

It doesn’t get any more obvious than this. As the charts show, Republicans historically increase spending and the national debt while the Democrats decrease them. The numbers don’t lie.

The purpose of this post is not to solely put the debt blame back on the shoulders of Republicans where it rightly belongs. It is also intended to highlight the importance of searching for truth. Don’t be led blindly by today’s politicians, they are salesmen for Corporate America—especially Republicans.

Whether you’re progressive or conservative, it should be vividly clear that we need revolutionary change within our political system. If a politician can tell a boldfaced lie without so much as a slap on the wrist, something is wrong.

-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.

Movies That Matter – The Social Network

Facebook – love it or hate, but it is here to stay (or at least until the next great innovation), and it is a central part of our lives. The fastest growing age group used to be students (no surprises), now it is the 40-60’s. When someone under 120 tells me that they are not on Facebook (usually followed by a tirade against social media), my immediate reaction is that they are simply not connected. I have, however, learned from experience to keep that thought to myself.

Authors actually seem to complain a lot, but this is, I think, a symptom of the I-want-to-be-writing-not-marketing syndrome. Truth is, while you need to be on Facebook, you are in control of how many times you check it and how long you stay on. Kind of like flossing.

But this post is about The Social Network, the movie about how Facebook came about. I read The Accidental Billionaires (the book about…) and really enjoyed it. I would enjoy this movie even if I wasn’t into Facebook. I have a small library of ‘brilliant students at school’ movies (Dead Poet’s Society, Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting – you get the idea).

The Social Network fits into this theme. The portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and Person of the Year 2010 for Time, is amazing (I have no idea if it’s true), but this is a brilliant mind who can’t fathom the everyday realities of dress (he goes to a business meeting in a hoodie – with the hood on his head), with little social talents, and yet his brilliance is a magnet for other brilliant minds.

It is for us too. As the movie continues, you begin to root for Zuckerberg, hoping he will win through. This happens, I think, without the writers compromising on the harshness or incompatabliity of the protagonist.

Tamim Ansary, a brilliant SF author, shares his recollection of a favorite scene. This is the most memorable scene for me too. It is written in Tamim’s words according to memory, but it is just great. In this scene, Justin Timberlake wakes up in the morning in the bed of a Stanford student that he has clearly only just met. He is lying in her bed and she is just getting dressed.

“What do you do?”
“I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“Oh,” she sneers, “In other words, you’re unemployed.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way.”
“Well how would you ‘put it’?”
“I’d say I’m an Internet entrepreneur.”
“All right. What have you entrepreneured?”
“I founded a company that lets people share music online.”
“Uh huh. Kind of like Napster.”
Exactly like Napster.”
“What do you mean?”
“I founded Napster.”
“No you didn’t! Sean Parker founded Napster.”
“Yes. It’s good to meet you too.”

I’m going to leave the last word to Mr. Ansary, primarily because it never occurred to me until I read his review.

“Even more fascinating is the understated way the movie conveys that all these plaintiffs are wrong: none of them invented Facebook, and neither did Zuckerberg. Facebook already existed in the world in potentia: the trick was to see it out there, know what it was, and then create the apparatus that allowed it to actualize itself, to materialize.  Facebook invented itself.”

Maybe this is the definition of brilliance. How many times have I read a great novel and thought: “Gosh, I wish I had thought of that plot/character.”

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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).

Gas Prices Set Off Record Levels of Whining.

I’m about to puke from all the whining about gasoline prices and oil company “price gouging“.

America is apparently saying (in a most annoying voice) “Oh, mister oil company. Why, why are you giving us exactly what we asked for? Why are you giving us exactly what we voted for? Why?”

Well I’m here to tell all you whiners to shut up. You have voted, again and again, for “free enterprise”… for “market self regulation.” That one always makes me laugh through my tears. Self regulation… good God. “Listen, all you bank robbers out there, could you just agree not to rob any banks or that, if you do rob one, you won’t take too much money and won’t hurt anyone? Thanks. We really appreciate your being reasonable about this.”

So, here it is. This is the result of your (voters and people who COULD vote but don’t) choices – or lack of will to make a choice at all. You want the government “off our backs?” You want “smaller government?” You want so-called “freedom?” You got it! Congratulations. Here’s your prize: $4.00 per gallon OR MORE.

Meanwhile, the oil companies are raking in Billions with a capital B, and receiving billions more in subsidies from our tax dollars. That’s freedom. God bless America.

Oh, and nice head-fake, too. For a while, I was almost convinced that the American people had sprouted brains where their giant egos once sat. After the last big gas-price hike, people started buying much more efficient cars and parking or selling their giant Tonka toys. But then, when prices started to settle a little and people got used to them, the SUVs started to re-appear.

Every time I see one of these I want to say to the driver, “Hey! Thanks! Thanks for using up twice as much gas as you need to and driving up the price for everybody. I hope you have room in there for your massive ego.” It’s interesting that driving one of these giant cinder-blocks is supposed to be a sign of success and supposed to make people look up to you. If someone in our house takes really long showers, leaving little hot water for anyone else, we call that person a self-centered prick.

What’s most hilarious and depressing about this price situation is that now people are looking to the government, blaming Bush and now Obama, and asking why something isn’t done. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: What’s happening is NOT price gouging. The price is set by “free market” forces – the forces YOU have said (through your votes) that you trust to take care of everything. So now you want the government to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction?

Go drown yourselves in your tears… they’re cheaper than a gallon of gas.

-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

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Oil Companies Disgrace, Public Apathy

You know from my novel, The Accidental Activist, that I have no love for the oil companies. You have probably seen infomercials, full page adverts and websites set up by the oil companies to tell us how green they are becoming and what worthwhile members of the community they are, as seen through the various philanthropic project that they donate to.

I’d like to share an email (a public one) I received from Jim Messina. Jim manages the Presidential Campaign for Obama ’12. I had started to paraphrase what he wrote, but I can’t do a better job than Jim:

“The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate on Thursday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.

It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.

Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.

Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.

I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.”

When we are cutting essential social services, when we are cutting education and health, when there are people unemployed and losing their houses – how do we let the oil companies and their politician puppies get away with it?

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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).

Twitter Genius

Matt Stewart is the author of The French Revolution which was awarded the best novel of 2010 award from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Matt works in marketing which tells you that he is going to be cutting edge with regard to social media. When he wasn’t able to get the attention of publishers in the traditional sense, he launched his new novel over 3,700 tweets on Twitter.

Matt came and spoke at the California Writers Club last month and, firstly I must say, if his writing is as sharp and funny as his banter, his book is going to the top of my ‘To Read’ pile which sits next to my bed, mocking me as I invariably fall asleep after a couple of pages (because I am tired at the end of the day, not because of the great books i am reading!).

In his own words, Matt chose Bastille Day, not only because it is relevant to his topic, but because nothing happens on July 14th!

Again in his own words:

“Starting on Bastille Day – July 14, 2009 – I started broadcasting The French Revolution via @thefrenchrev and thefrenchrev.comI braced myself for widespread ridicule (“What kind of moron’s ever going to read a novel on Twitter?”) – and was accordingly astonished when the feedback was overwhelming supportive. I wound up making headlines worldwide and landing a book deal with the ballsiest publisher of them all, Soft Skull.

Lessons: Go for it. In literature as in life. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Nothing. And then you’re no worse off than when you started.”

Couldn’t have said it better!

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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).

CSA: The Next Generation

On Monday, I blogged about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). I was pleasantly surprised to hear how many people are participating in a CSA program. What I also learned is that many farmers are going beyond the traditional box of organic produce.

Many farmers are now offering bread, cheese, chocolate, wine, olive oil or jam, whether made by them or from a local artisan. I understand that this is ordered on a regular basis. This is an interesting phenomena because it suggests that these local producers have recognized the business potential of CSA. Where a few years ago, CSA was the maverick in the marketing family, it has now become an attractive channel for other producers marketing plan.

Sarah Henry, who blogs at Lettuce Eat Kale found that in addition, the local artisans are experimenting with the CSA business model to sell their own goods. “The jury is still out on if this is sustainable, long-term,” said Cindy Tsai Schultz, co-founder of Fresh Bite, a baked goods start-up that began with a community supported approach, but has since put the idea on hold.

Other companies who are experimenting with the idea of partnering with, or harnessing the CSA model include Soul Food Farm (chicken and eggs), Marin Sun Farms (meat) and Massa Organics (rice), which partners with produce CSAs to provide its products. Bellwether Farms and Cowgirl Creamery have cheese clubs, which essentially work in a similar way to CSAs.

Others have had a more rocky experience. Pandora’s Box is a bakery that enjoyed initial success but was unable to sustain it financially. Fresh Bite used this business model to market their baked-goods, but moved their business into offering complete meals, but finally settled on developing a wholesale line of products in popular outlets like Monterey Market and Star Grocery and will expand to the Solano Farmers Market.

There are local businesses who have been able to make the model work. Wine enthusiasts can pick up a six-pack (can you use this word for wine?) at Vintage Berkeley once a month for $60. The advantage of this is to leverage the experience of an expert, in this case, owner Peter Eastlake and Vine Street store manager Brent Fraker.

By the way, Vintage on Vine Street also serves as a CSA pick-up for the Fatted Calf Charcuterie. “We just figured it was a good fit,” said Fraker. “People who like artisan salumi, duck confit, and pork terrine are probably going to want to drink some wine with their meat. It’s working out really well.”

I was able to write this article because of the research by Sarah Henry at Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.

Now, please excuse me. I am suddenly very hungry!

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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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