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 “November, 2011”

Occupy a Political Party

Last Wednesday, I shared my concerns for the sustainability of the Occupy movement as we see it now – without an agenda, a strategic plan, or a leadership structure. I suggested that an agenda be built around the demands suggested by Roger Ingalls.

This past weekend, I suggested to a friend of mine that the biggest challenge should possibly be bringing the Occupy moment, with its agenda and values, into the Democratic Party.

A Leadership Is Needed

He strongly protested. “Barack Obama has failed us,” he said. “The democratic leadership is part of the 1%,” he declared. “Once we join the system, we will be compromised and become a part of it.”

I tried to take him to task. I don’t believe Barack Obama failed us, I think we failed him. We created a mass grassroots movement to sweep him into office. We cried with pride at his inauguration, and then we went out for sushi and two years later, the Republicans were in a position to block everything the President had talked about during the heady campaign days.

Why did we let up? What on earth made us think that one man could change Washington? Where did we find the arrogance to think that the Republican machine would simply roll over and lick its wounds in silence?

As we celebrated the amazing Change We Can Believe In, and told ourselves that Yes We Did, the Republicans were plotting how to fight back. I don’t blame them; we would have done the same, no?

Whatever you might think of the Tea Party, they have galvanized the Republican Party. Whether this is good or bad, might be highlighted by who becomes the Republican presidential candidate. Actually it might be bad no matter who is voted in, depending on your political perspective. But for the Republican masses, they want the Tea Party behind the candidate, because these are engaged and empowered people.

So where do we take the Occupy movement? We take it into the Democratic Party and we decide not to hand over the keys. We become empowered partners who work not only for four more years of the most visionary and intelligent President that most of us can remember, but we fight on to give him a Congress that will work with him and not against him.

Occupy. Obama, Tea Party - somethings gotta happen!

There are those in the Occupy movement who will have trouble with this. They have worked hard to create a momentum based upon commitment and values, rather than power and ego. But their biggest test will be to continue to deny their own power aspirations and ego without getting disillusioned by entering mainstream politics.

This is a win: win for everyone who believes in a left or liberal agenda. For the Democratic Party to do this, they need an army of grassroots activists who are feeling empowered despite the blows rained down on us from Wall Street and big banks. They need the energy of the Occupy movement and the Occupy Movement needs a political party to let our President do what he set out to achieve.

Most of all, this is what America needs. It is what a sinking Europe and a poverty-stricken Africa needs. It is what those seeking to throw off the chains of autocracy and fanaticism need.

A strong, democratic, and moral democracy must emerge for the world. And it can begin with the next step that the Occupy movement takes. I hope they are willing to take that first step. And I hope the Democratic Party has a strategic understanding that they must welcome a new generation into their hallowed halls.

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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).

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Ways to Save Tax Dollars – Tom Rossi

When President Obama took office in January of 2009, some people all of a sudden got very concerned with government spending – which they had ignored during the Bush administration. Republicans and InsaniTea party members want social services cut to the bone. But it seems that whatever cuts are proposed by Democrats, they are not nearly enough – just scratches in the surface of the money that needs to be saved.

So, here are my cut proposals to make life less painful to those always suffering Republicans. Call these: the ideas I would have if I suddenly lost my mind. Or call them, the endpoint of “austerity.” 

Eliminate the police. Those who are worthy of protection can afford to hire their own, private security anyway.

Privatize fire protection. If I want to protect my house from fire, I’ll pay for it. If your house burns down, why should I care?

Eliminate most of the military. We really only need a few drones and a few nuclear missiles. Those should keep our enemies in check. The rest is a waste.

Eliminate public education (this one’s already on the chopping block in R version of dungeons and dragons). Are you kidding me? I’ll send my kids to private school and yours can train on the job to tend my landscaping.

Privatize everything to do with water. Sell all water rights to the highest bidder and let that corporation sell water to those who wish to buy it.

Eliminate sewer services. People who want to make sewage go away and/or be treated can pay for it. The rest can live in their own filth.

Stop building and maintaining dams. We can get plenty of electricity from good, old-fashioned coal. We have lots of it. And as for flood prevention and that sort of thing… move to higher ground if you’re worried.

Stop constructing and maintaining highways and roads. If you really need to get somewhere, buy an off-road vehicle to get over the deteriorating pavement or take a helicopter or something. Otherwise, stay home and watch Jerry Springer on TV.

Eliminate the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Let air safety be subject to the free market. If you want to pay for safety, you will be able to. If you prioritize cheap air travel, you will be able to choose a riskier but cheaper airline.

Eliminate the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). This one’s a slam dunk. If you see people dying from an over-the-counter or prescription drug, don’t buy it. That’s how the free market works – people making choices. 

Eliminate traffic lights. Well, don’t spend money to take them down, just don’t use electricity to run them. Just let people work intersections out for themselves (in their off-road vehicles).

Eliminate or “streamline” (I almost choke writing that word – even as a joke) ALL regulation in the U.S. If you want safety, pay for it. If you want to be sure that when you buy a gallon of gasoline, you’re really getting a whole gallon, then measure it yourself. If you want a corporation to stop polluting the river in your town, pay them to stop or stop buying their products. If you want to breath without sucking carcinogens into your lungs, wear a gas mask. 

In short, what I suggest to make Republicans happy is a complete return to cave-man times, but with some technology whiz-bangs and doodads that will allow us to pretend that life is still tolerable. And wouldn’t this be a great country to live in? Stark, spartan, desolate – except for the lucky few. Ahhhh, heaven.

The United States is currently 40th worst, out of the 140 countries measured by the GINI coefficient. GINI measures income inequality (the least income inequality is in, of course, Sweden). But the Republicans are not satisfied with only 40th worst. They want the United States to be number one!

This would mean more for the top 1% and less for the 99%. That’s the direction we’re heading, and the some of the changes I’ve listed are actually on the Republican agenda. Of course, these do NOT include eliminating the police or the military as these are Republicans’ favorite things – several steps above chocolate ice cream. A few of these I mean to be humorous (in a dark way), but if we want to live in a country with no taxes, we will have to live without government services. I’d rather pay a few bucks in taxes and live in a country that provides a decent living environment for it’s people. 

-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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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.

 

Occupy Starbucks

I know I am going to get into trouble for this post. Most people reading Left Coast Voices are more likely to drink their daily sin under a Starbucked notice than the green mermaid (or whoever she is). Yes I have stuck up for Starbucks in the past, but I have also been critical where I believe it apt.

And yes,I know it is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but a lot of the discussions around my family table were political and depressing. So let’s give a shout out for something positive, whoever is behind it.

Today, I want to highlight the positive. Many have commented on this blog that they want to see more concrete steps coming out of the Occupy Movement, steps that will impact the 1% or help the 99%. Bank Transfer Day was a great example (and its not too late!).

Starbucks have seeded money for a project called Create Jobs for USA. Starbucks have teamed up with Opportunity Finance Network® which is a group of community lending institutions who will help to finance jobs within the community. 

When we buy a wristband at Starbucks stores or online for a minimum of $5, these institutions will generate 7x the amount. In other words for every $5 we donate, $35 will be generated and invested in small business, affordable housing, commercial real estate, micro-enterprises, and non-profits.

Yes, those of us seriously Starbucked can find a way of being cynical, of showing how this is a sophisticated marketing move by the company. But right now there are thousands of people without jobs who are losing their dignity and their hope for a better life. 9.1% of the labor force, translates into 13.1% of the Hispanic community, and 16.7% of the African-American community. I am sure the numbers are worse when analyzed by geographical dispersion.

Let’s put our differences aside. Let’s ally with Starbucks and the Opportunity Finance Network® and help people get back to work in meaningful community businesses. On the bracelet is the word Indivisible. The logo has the word on an US flag. 

We don’t need to wait for government. The American people are strongest when we work together…when we are indivisible.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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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).

Ketchup Turkey and More – Roger Ingalls

I’m a guest blogger on Left Coast Voices and Thursdays are my day to post. Thanksgiving falls on Thursday and I feel like it is necessary to write something that honors this day. But I have nothing. I have no profound or original thoughts.

The only thing that comes to mind is the usual “I’m thankful for this, that and whatever”. So, here we go…I’ll try to make it interesting.

I’m thankful for:

1)      Ketchup because no matter how you cook turkey, it just doesn’t have flavor worth the multiple hours of effort it takes to prepare it.

2)      The Super Bowl Champ Green Bay Packers because it makes me smile, from head to toe, knowing a small town professional sports franchise owned by the community can beat the snot out of teams owned by Big Business fat cats.

3)      Knowing some Americans are finally recognizing the middleclass genocide brought on by the financial copulation between Wall Street and politicians.

4)      The smart and articulate people that are successfully bringing attention to the evils of the Citizen’s United decision made by the Supreme Court. Corporations are not real people and should not have the same rights as real people.

5)      Americans becoming more politically aware and that some are motivated enough to protest. Say what you will about the #Occupy Movement but at least they understand something isn’t right and they are doing something about it.

6)      Thomas Jefferson because without him we would not have a Bill of Rights. I’m also thankful that many of the nation’s grade school students will not receive textbooks written by conservatives trying to write Jefferson out of our history because he didn’t have orthodox Christian views. Without Jefferson, the conservative Christians would not have the right to write these books they’re trying to change history with – how ironic.

7)      Will Allen for turning inner-city food deserts into thriving urban farms that feed thousands of people. Urban farming is the next big employment opportunity.

8)      Occasionally getting ill overseas and experiencing, first-hand, the marvels of universal healthcare. It opened my eyes to the extensive lies told by our politicians just to protect the interests of big business.

9)      Being a senior corporate officer in a publicly trading company. The experience of stock offerings and investor relations exposed me to the unethical behavior of Investment Banks and their supporting partners.

10)  Alon Shalev giving me the opportunity to post on his blog. It has allowed me to vent frustration and hopefully entertain and educate a few people along the way.

I know it sounds like a cliché but most of all, I am thankful for my wonderful, caring and gorgeous wife.

Puts some ketchup on your turkey and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled 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.

Occupying an Agenda

I have posted frequently about my excitement over the Occupy movement. The ‘uprising,’ if I may use such a term, is both a shift of consciousness and a call for grassroots action. I am proud of those who are creating micro communities on these sites and seeking an inclusive culture that allows for everyone present to feel involved and listened to. I am sorry that the mass media do not seem willing to give this aspect the attention it deserves.

Occupy SF

This is the crux of the movement. What mobilized people is the rising frustration that the vast majority of us are simple pawns in a game played with impunity by corrupt big business principles and a failed political system where those sent to Washington do not represent those who voted to send them (and those who didn’t), but rather represent those who paid for them to get voted in.

People need to feel listened to. They have a right to know that if they work hard, save for retirement, buy a house, and then they will receive a minimal social network. Their children will have a good education, their medical needs will be taken care of, law enforcement are there to protect them, and that they can retire with dignity. If you play by the rules and participate in the system, surely you have entitlement to basic human rights.

The rains are coming and it is unclear how the Occupy movement will cope with the coming winter. What most worries me is that, as far as I know, there is no strategic plan. It is unclear who is the leadership and we will revisit next week on this blog whether there should be an agenda.

Will people come out in the rain?

This past summer, ‘Tent Cities” were created in most major towns in Israel. There was a huge outpouring from a disenfranchised and disillusioned public (many of them under 40) with a myriad of social issues represented. Some were similar to here in the US, others more unique to Israel.

There are many similarities to Occupy. There was no recognized leadership because there was a desire not to exclude anyone and creating a power structure, however open and inclusive, runs the risk of marginalizing people. Furthermore, there was no central agenda, again because of a desire to promote different social injustices and issues, according to those who stepped up to join the Tent City. There were also clashes with police.

Israelis of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and religions came together for a summer.

When the summer ended, the groups slowly lost momentum. I am afraid that without a framework and platform, then it might not be able to sustain itself. I believe the Occupy system needs to decide one of two things:

i) To create an agenda – and they might do well to read Roger Ingall’s suggestions.

ii) Decide to create a leadership structure and strategic plan, or take the momentum into the Democratic Party.

More on this second aspect next Wednesday.

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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).

Liquor Store Robbery – Now Legal? – Tom Rossi

The following news story brought to you by A.S.S. – the American Society for Satire.

Washington, D.C. –

Over 1.6 million liquor store robberies were reported during 2010. Liquor store owners have complained loudly but, as Liquor Store Robbery Council president Paul Mufinger says, “No laws have been broken.”

This is, in fact, true. In 2007 and 2008, the LSRC spent over $3 million lobbying congress to affect change in our nation’s armed robbery laws. As of January 1, 2010, as long as no one has been directly killed by a robber, there has been no crime. Because of this change, liquor store robbery is now a legal and legitimate profession.

It is also a form of employment. Liquor store robbery corporations, of which several are members of the LSRC, sprang up prior to the aforementioned lobbying of congress. The legal climate at the time of their inception forced these corporations to take political action in order to stay competitive with foreign-owned robbery enterprises.

“These robbers take risks, they take time to prepare for each job, they work hard. Why shouldn’t they enjoy the fruits of their labor? Are we going to punish success? Is that what America is about?” asked Mufinger.

The good news is that this change has driven the creation of over 45,000 jobs, with fewer than 450 liquor stores being forced to close down. Mufinger continued: “For years we’ve watched big corporations use their money to make it legal to rip off and poison the people and the environment of the United States, all while paying almost no taxes at all. Our constituents used to strike back against this unfairness in their ineffective little way by robbing a liquor store here and there, willy-nilly. Now, we have our own powerful organization, and our people don’t have to worry about being sentenced to jail time just for trying to make a living.”

And in fact a new tax loophole has been created which allows for deductions for unused bullets, thereby providing an incentive for liquor store robbers to conduct their business without any unnecessary violence.

Also in Washington this week: DAI, (Domestic Abuse Incorporated) is attempting to push through a similar bill that would allow its subsidiaries to beat their wives and kids. Some Republicans in congress have questioned what they have called a “coattail bill”, as they had failed to see how it would increase the economic flow of capitalism. Their concerns were brushed aside, however, when DAI spoke of the inevitable increases in doctor visits, as well as the sale of bandages.

LSCA (Loan Shark Corporation of America) also plans similar political action soon.

-Tom Rossi (interim chief editor for A.S.S.)

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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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Obama and the Arc of Hopelessness – Norman Weekes

From Alon: I met Norman Weekes over the summer. He is a thoughtful, erudite man. I am very happy that he will write a  couple of posts a month for Left Coast Voices. Welcome aboard, Norm.

Norman Weekes

Norman Weekes

Obama and the Arc of Hopelessness

“He’s a nigga! Are you a nigga???”

I thought about my brief phone bank exchange with a voter from the Sunshine State while I watched Obama address the Grant Park crowd on election night at the Marriott in Oakland. I phone banked for Obama a few days before and thought about calling my Florida friend. It was a fleeting thought. This was a time for pride and promise.

I didn’t really know Obama then. I didn’t know his rhetoric concealed the fact that he has the guts of Urkel, the bravery of the Scarecrow and would lose a fist-fight to Betty White.

Why resort to name calling and personal insults you say? Why disrespect the man and the office like that? Don’t forget he inherited the Bush economy and the Republicans are bad people blah blah blah. Why? Because I have every right. I’ve been disrespected by Obama’s substitution for rhetoric over action. Name calling? I’d rather be called a punk than be called unemployed (which I am).

Personal? Long term unemployment is very personal. So don’t tell me about being too hard on the President. If you’re still hesitant to criticize the President you may believe OJ was set up and all the Jews working at the World Trade Center called in sick on 9/11. If so, I can’t dialogue with you. We can exchange food recipes but not talk politics.

A couple of weeks ago Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind started his book tour promoting Confidence Men, a behind the scenes look at the Obama Economic team. He had access to the team, interviewed the president and reported on the organizational interaction and leadership arc of Obama and his economic advisers. Suskind, a self proclaimed Democrat has been derided by the White House for his reporting and analysis. According to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner the book is filled with “sad little stories” that do not resemble the reality of the time.

Confidence Men

One sad little story is the response by Obama to the banking crisis. In the fear filled days of the crisis the Obama economic team debated as to how to deal with the banks. After listening to his team debate Obama concluded the government needed to take action to boost confidence, hold banks accountable and take control of toxic assets. To simplify, the choice was to act like the government of Japan in the 90’s or Sweden in the same decade. Obama choose a more Swedish like approach and decided to break-up Citibank, at that time the weakest of the” too big to fail banks”. He ordered Tim Geithner, who disagreed with the President to draft a plan to break up Citi.

A few weeks later Obama asks about the plan at a follow up economic meeting sans Geithner. He was told by Christina Romer, Chair of his Council on Economic Advisers there was no plan. Obama replied, “Well there’d better be!” (Goshdarnit!). Suskind says Geithner “slow walked” the policy. Washington is paralyzed but is still great at manufacturing euphemisms: slow-walking a policy, re-litigating policy, uneven policy implementation, etc. Here on Earth it’s called insubordination and regular folk get fired for it every day.

Last I checked Citibank is still Citibank, toxic assets are still on bank balance sheets and Tim Geithner is still treasury secretary. The banks and their investors have still not suffered the consequences of risky investment strategies. It’s mind-blowing Geithner has the balls to blow off the President of the United States. It’s even more amazing he’s still on the team. How arrogant do you have to be to ignore the President on a policy difference rather than resign? What does  that say for Geithner’s opinion of the President? How conflict adverse do you have to be to not fire someone who openly ignored your order?

I’m beginning to understand why single payer disappears, financial reform is weak, job stimulus is loaded with tax cuts (which don’t create jobs) serious job creation is ignored, Bush-based foreign policy continues and Obama gets rolled by Republicans on the debt, tax cuts for the rich and program cuts for the poor and middle class. Obama allows this by not fighting back. It’s that simple. My son asked me a couple of weeks ago why Obama’s getting all this heat. I told him, “Obama’s the guy on the basketball court you can push around and elbow all day long and nothing will happen. People just want to see him fight back.”

Is it his expression or the grey hair?

Erudite criticism is ignored. Criticism from people who use oligarch in everyday conversation is not working. When he has an opportunity to acknowledge he tells the Congressional Black Congress to “stop whining.” There’s no fight in this guy. It’s as if he never had to turn back and fight the bully at school than take an ass-whipping at home. I’m past frustrated and angry.

Hopelessness in Obama is on the horizon. I cried the night Obama was elected. I’m still crying now.

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

Getting Creative

This week, as part of my virtual book tour, I stopped by Richard in Anderson, South Carolina.  His blog is Bound & Determined (to find a good read). Richard reviewed The Accidental Activist (he is the first person to hug my book … at least who admitted to doing so!). He also posted a short article that he requested I wrote on The Creative Process.

Thank you, Richard.  

The Creative Process
I was recently asked in a workshop how I find time to write. I had surprised the audience when I asserted the ability to write a 90,000 novel in 100 days. I write at this pace while holding down a challenging full-time job and being an active and involved husband, father, and community member. In fact, I have done this twice in 2011 and could keep writing if I didn’t have to attend to marketing and promotion.

I can write anywhere - even in a redwood forest.

Many authors have their own personal framework: the sacred space in their house, listening to certain music, the writer’s retreat, and many more. Whatever works for you is right, but my desk in our kitchen. I swivel my chair around and I am at the dinner table. I can write in coffee shops, on the train ride as I commute, or while several boys enjoy a rambunctious play-date in our tiny house.

Writing has always been a natural process for me and I rarely need to spend much time deliberating what my plot is going to be or developing my characters. From what I hear, this is not typical.

It is a state of mind. When I am writing a novel, I am in an intimate relationship with my characters. Since I do not plan my novels before writing, I am absorbed in the plot, sharing the thrill of what might happen next, just as my readers and characters experience it.

I am able to switch off, to leave my characters and focus at work or home, and switch back on when I have an hour to write. What I do think is important is that I am writing consistently. When I am in the creation process, I must write every day. In fact, I am pretty sure that I become quite insufferable when I am not keeping up with my characters.

The Accidental Activist, a political courtroom drama in which two young individuals are sued by a multinational corporation and need to defend themselves in court, is based upon a real court case. The food giant, McDonalds, sued two activists in England in the 1990’s and the archaic legal system did not allow legal aid to be granted in a libel trial (they have since overhauled these laws because of this case). Try to blow up the Queen’s Corgis (her dogs) and the state provided you with a lawyer, but not for libel. So the plot was pretty much laid out for me. With what happened there, I didn’t need to embellish.

The Real Heroes - Helen Steel & Dave Morris

But even when I do not base a novel on something that really transpired the story has always quickly taken shape. For example, A Gardener’s Tale is a reflection on the fast-disappearing rural life in England and the magic of the Pagan religion that still permeates village society, or Unwanted Heroes (release Spring 2012) which is a critical view of how we in America treat our war veterans, as seen though the eyes of a young English Kerouac-wannabe in San Francisco. The first draft to both these novels were each written in a quick and intensive period of time.

New Cover, New Edition

It is an amazing thrill, a rush, to see the novel come to life under my fingertips. It is what makes the periods between writing so frustrating, and what keeps me always coming back for more.

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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).

The Power of Paolini – Thank You Christopher

Last week, Christopher Paolini released the fourth book in the Inheritance Trilogy (sorry Christopher – even though we (fantasy readers) are all thrilled there are another 800 pages of Eragon, we all remember the moment somewhere in the third book when we realized it was not going to end here.

Our copy of Inheritance arrived in the next couple of days and my 12-year-old is devouring it, hopefully passing it on to me to read during the Thanksgiving vacation. The Inheritance series has been a wonderful bonding experience. Whether it is Harry Potter to Eragon (or most likely both) who are responsible for his leap in reading ability and desire is immaterial, I am eternally grateful to both Paolini and J.K. Rowling.

My son and I spent endless hours reading the books, listening to the audio version, watching the (only!!!!) movie, and discussing how it will end in Brisingr, the third and not final book of the trilogy, and then doing the same for Inheritance.

When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, literally falling asleep on his feet as the clock approached midnight. I remember the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed.

Fan For Life

Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

Paolini has proved a number of important points:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

The Master

Two years later, my son and I wrote our first 90,000-word fantasy novel. The seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man

As the excitement grew for my eldest son and I as the release date for Inheritance neared, my youngest son, eight-years-old, has quietly read more than 250 pages of Eragon.

The Complete Trilogy

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father.

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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).

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