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 “December, 2011”

What Inspired The Accidental Activist?

I was asked this question at the Book Review site: Rainy Days & Mondays and want to share my response with you.

Every novel I write begins with a personal catalyst. The Accidental Activist was inspired by a chance meeting with an old friend from my childhood in England, who I met in the desert in the Middle East, and that I wrote about here in the US.

I was a tour guide and the group leader turned out to have attended a youth center I had worked at in London, ten years before. He remembered how passionate I was about grassroots activism.

“I’ve been working on something you have to see,” he said, whipping out his laptop and bringing up a website.

I was enthralled, since in the early ’90’s, both a laptop and a website were cutting edge! But this guy had something more important to show me. He explained how a multinational corporation (McDonald’s) was suing two friends of his for distributing leaflets highlighting many of McDonald’s’ practices. There was no legal aid for libel (this has changed now because of this case) and so they were defending themselves.

This guy and some friends had built a website to help garner support and information. I was fascinated. At that time, I used the Internet to write emails and get soccer results (I am British). I didn’t know then of the potential the Internet had. Few people did, McSpotlight.org was, I believe, the first interactive advocacy website.

The McSpotlight Website

As word spread, the website began to receive evidence from as far as experts working in the rainforests in South America and trade unionists in Australia.

I was fascinated by the impact of the Internet as a tool for social change. As the case unfolded, a number of amazing incidents that highlight the behavior of multinational corporations kept my attention. I won’t mention them here because they are in my book.

I became intrigued by the transformation of a number of individuals impacted by the case. I decided to write a fictional account, not for the sensationalism because almost everything in the book is based upon something that really happened, but because I wanted to highlight the role of the website and the role of an empowered individual.

Most of us can identify with my protagonist, Matt. He is the guy you work with, have a drink with and watch the football games with. But he is also a guy who is personally affronted by the bullying tactics of big business when it challenges a close friend, and he is galvanized into action when he discovers he has the skills to fight back.

Steel and Morris showing the website

I loved writing The Accidental Activist because I was excited by the court case, the potential of the Internet and eventually the trials and tribulations of my characters, who became good friends.

But I have also become enthralled by the idea of Transformational Fiction, where ordinary people are drawn into fighting a social injustice and in doing so experience a life-shifting internal change.

I want my writing to inspire people to stand up for what they believe in. I want it to be an empowering experience. One of my favorite quotes is from Richard Wright: “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.”

Using the form of novels enable me to try and inspire, not though political speeches, but identifying with characters who are similar to you and me.

I have written three other manuscripts and, in each, the protagonist goes through a transformative process. In A Gardener’s Tale, the protagonist helps a young outcast become a meaningful and respected member of the community. In The Accidental Activist, as mentioned, a self absorbed computer programmer takes up the struggle against a multinational corporation who is trying to silence protestors in order to get laid (well kind of), but discovers he can harness his talents to help improve the world.

Unwanted Heroes will be released in the spring of 2012  and tells the story of a young man who befriends a mentally disturbed war veteran and uses his talents to help the old man come to terms with his past and rebuild his life.

I never consciously wrote these novels with this common theme until The Accidental Activist was being critiqued. But now I feel very comfortable and inspired to follow this path. And if it can inspire a few readers along the way, I will feel I am doing my part in creating a better world.

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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).

What Ever Happened to the Golden Rule? – Roger Ingalls

Nothing infuriates me more than religious intolerance. It’s hypocrisy at its worst.

American religious fanaticism is becoming pandemic and worrisome because most groups and pursuing an agenda of intolerance. This is a path to trouble. Someone once told me that the two most fanatically religious places in the world were the Middle East (Islam) and the United States (Christianity) and being young and naïve at the time, I said, “that’s crazy”. Now I know better – that old man was right.

Most faiths have an “Ethic of Reciprocity” or what’s commonly known as “The Golden Rule”.

Christianity: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.”

Judaism: “…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”, Leviticus19:18 

Brahmanism: “This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you”. Mahabharata, 5:1517 ”

Buddhism: “…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta NIkaya v. 353 

Confucianism: “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.” Mencius VII.A.4

Shinto: The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form.

Roman Pagan Religion: “The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves.”

Native American Spirituality: “All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One.” Black Elk

Ancient Egyptian: “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.” The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109 – 110 Translated by R.B. Parkinson. The original dates to 1970 to 1640 BCE and may be the earliest written Golden Rule.

Zoroastrianism (The oldest one-God religion and the foundation for Judaism, Christianity and Islam): “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself”. Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5 and “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

These religions, and many others, promote the basic idea of reciprocal fair treatment. If this is so, why are we so intolerant of other’s beliefs?

Perhaps we need to do a little self-examination. Do we truly practice the teachings of our religions or are we just hypocrites?

Special thanks to thesynthesizer.com for the various golden rules.

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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.

Trying to Move the Climate Stalemate

Neil Goldberg’s excellent post on Monday frustrated me.Millions of people displaced by rising water isn’t a major world issue? I started to do my own search and while more is appearing on the Internet, it seemed either too scientific (for me at least), too confusing or politically vague. One site that did stand out is Planet Change.

I did find this interview helpful and have included it here. Listen to the Good Cop, Bad Cop question (or rather the answer).

Despite Miles Austin’s optimism (not the Dallas Cowboys player), I can’t help wondering why there is no sense of urgency. Does it dull people’s senses to discuss 2020 or 2050? The reality is that the problem is so huge in magnitude that we have very little time and just reaching a global consensus seems too difficult to reach.

Have I missed anything? Anyone out there in the blogosphere have a ray of optimism to glean from the crumbs thrown down by the UN Climate Conference?

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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).

Why Aren’t You in Better Shape? – Tom Rossi

I used to be in great physical condition. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago – just a few years. I used to work out with weights, play hockey, run, hike, play tennis, all sorts of things. At the time, I used to look at overweight people and think, “Gland problem? Genetics? My ass. Laziness and a lack of self-control with food – that’s your problem.”

Before

But at times in my life, including recently, I’ve had things go wrong… things that have interfered with my conditioning. I’ve had a lot of semi-serious injuries. Most recently, I injured my Achilles tendon and despite doctors’ visits, physical therapy, and endless stretching and coddling, it just won’t stop hurting. I’ve also injured several other joints over the years – shoulders, knees, etc.

Work is another insult to physical training. In a couple of jobs I’ve had, I worked about 55 hours per week, sometimes more. Coming home from this, exhausted, I certainly didn’t feel like going running or anything, even though that’s probably exactly what I needed. Instead, I collapsed on the couch with a bag of chips while “dinner” was warming up in the microwave.

While working at stressful jobs, I also ate a lot of “convenience” food… in other words, crap you wouldn’t feed your dog. Fatty, sugary junk – that’s what I had time for. My mid-section started to grow.

After

I’m not lazy – at least not physically. So why was I getting fat? Why am I about 25 pounds overweight now? Circumstances. Maybe my own stupidity contributed to these circumstances at times, but some could not have been changed.

This got me to thinking about the way that people with jobs, people with their finances more or less under control, look at the unemployed and the ones of us that are having serious money troubles. It’s so easy to think, “I guess I’m just smarter than those people. I’ve made better decisions and I adapt to changing circumstances.”

Before

I don’t really believe in luck. I often say, “It’s bad luck to be superstitious.” But look at the example of a good friend of mine. Let’s call him “Jim” to avoid bringing any unwanted attention to him. Jim joined another friend’s successful flooring business (tile, wood, carpet, etc.) and built a franchise in a new location. This was during the housing frenzy somewhere around 2004, if I remember correctly.

Jim is an incredibly hard worker and a very energetic person. He leased a small warehouse, bought a forklift and a good-sized van and hired a few workers. He got up at 4:30 in the morning and was in the office before 5:30 every day, where he stayed until late in the evening if he wasn’t out supervising, estimating, etc. He researched his business every day and did his best (he’s also a very smart guy, with an MBA) to make good decisions in running his business.

To make a long story short, when the housing market crashed, so did his business. Now, he’s deep in debt and selling everything at a huge loss. Could you look Jim in the eye and say, “You were stupid and/or lazy, and that’s why you failed?”

Circumstances. They can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time. So when you see someone in trouble, maybe you can’t afford to give them the money to get back on their feet, but don’t judge. You don’t know what went into their situation. Maybe their business partner embezzled all of their money. Maybe he or she has a kid with an expensive disease. Maybe a family member was in a terrible accident and medical care and physical therapy went well beyond any medical coverage that had been in place.

After

There are “losers” in this world. But don’t assume that those who have lost “deserved” to have lost. I’m now one of those overweight people, and I’ll never again think it’s easy to stay thin.

-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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Denying The Denial in Durban – Neil Goldberg (Guest Blogger)

You would think that when high level delegations from 200 countries, as well as thousands of civic organizations (NGOs), and countless scientists descend on a conference to inform, discuss, propose and negotiate factors widely believed to be a threat to human existence, it would be newsworthy. Thousands of people gathering to build social and intellectual networks so that they can be prepared with proposals for solutions – in policy, funding, infrastructure, technology and programs to deal with the threat.

Such a gathering is in fact going on at this very moment at the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa,   and has been for over a week. The shocker is, I can barely find mention of it anywhere in the MSM (main stream media), let alone screaming from banner leading headlines as I would expect it to be.

After all, whether one agrees that global warming is human caused or not, even most rabid right wingers and deniers are coming around to accept the evidence that the earth is in fact warming up. And to such a degree that it appear almost inevitable that it will cause major disruptions in the world economy and possibly an epochal shift in human culture.

I’ve been looking around for coverage, and finding very little. Certainly no screaming headlines in the vein “LARGEST THREAT TO HUMAN SURVIVAL SINCE NOAH RODE OUT THE FLOOD”. or, “OOPS”.

Not a single mention in my Yahoo newsfeed, which includes an AP feed (10 stories), NPR (5 stories), USA Today (5 stories), SFGate (5 stories) and The (British) Guardian (8 stories). And when I clicked through to the home pages of each of these venerable media outlets, I found – you guessed it, not a single mention of the conference. Not a single mention of global warming. Not a single tear jerking human interest profile of people struggling and winning against adversity. Not a single hero story. Not a single story about the massive amounts of money to be made on climate change generated business opportunities.

Of course there is room for stories of earth shattering import like “With His Past an Issue, Gingrich Spars and Parries” (NPR), and “Megachurch’s Future Uncertain After Pastor Leaves” (AP) and “Cain Accuser Bialek Say She Feels Vindicated” in the “Nation and World” headlines on USA Today. It’s such a busy newsday that important discussion about the imminent upending of human society just can’t make the cut.

I did a Google search for “Coverage of  climate conference, Durban”. Top item is an Adword (paid advertisement) for “Knowledge.Allianz.com”, the blog site of a major insurance company with extensive coverage on things like “Climate”, “Energy”, Mobility”, “Microfinance”, etc. But not a major journalistic organization.

Second was a piece called “What can Durban Climate Conference Achieve?” from ABC Online (their blog); a piece from Reuters India, one from Environment and Energy Publishing and another from a Canadian blog site called rabble.ca – News For the Rest of Us.

The first major news forum represented in my search is a story from LA Times who are reporting on…oh wait a minute. They’re reporting on what NPR previously reported in a story titled “NPR reports Kyoto Protocol in trouble in Durban”. I guess LA Times didn’t see fit to actually send their own reporter to Durban. What I particularly love about this story is in the opening paragraph, which sort it all:

“You may have noticed that news coverage of the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, has been minimal, at best, and that’s clearly because -– just like in Copenhagen last year -– there has been almost no mention of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was put in place to set reduction targets for important greenhouse gases. Without a big, juicy target, the conference lacks the drama to merit mention on even the eco-blogs.”

So there you have it. Not worth reporting on because nothing is happening there. But I would guess, nothing much is happening there because by now, everybody believes the issue has gone away due to, well, lack of attention in the main stream media.

How DO you spell D-E-N-I-A-L!

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Neil Goldberg developed his political perspective growing up in apartheid South Africa which he left in 1982 when it seemed that democratic change was impossible. He is a designer of a wide array of products, environments and services. This experience has taught him that the limitations of imagination are the only thing standing in the way of just about any problem. Since becoming a father 12 year ago he has become convinced that a loving heart is the ultimate spur to imagination.

Meet Me Today?

Yesterday was the first of a 2-day CWC Fremont Branch’s Holiday Book Fair. Today we will continue to meet readers and other writers between 1-4pm, at the Union City Public Library, 34007 Alvarado-Niles Road.

Fremont CWC Holiday Book Fair

It was a lot of fun to meet friends, readers, people who follow my blog. Best-selling author, Ellen Sussman, made an appearance and addressed the gathering. I met Charlotte Cook, from Komenar Publishing, and my friend Karin Ireland, author of The Job Survival Instruction Book and many others.   

I also met Geraldine Solon, author of a series of succesful romance novels including Chocolicious and Love Letters. Geraldine organized the Book Fair – so thank you, Geraldine for all your hard work.

Chocolocious - Geraldine Solon

If you are around the East Bay today, please drop in and chat. It’s a great way to find a few more gifts for the holidays and support local authors. 

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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).

 

Fremont Holiday Book Fair This Weekend

If anyone is in the Fremont area this Saturday or Sunday between 1-4pm, I will be at the CWC Fremont Branch’s Holiday Book Fair with other local authors. The event is at the Union City Public Library, 34007 Alvarado-Niles Road.

Come chat with authors, pick up a few personalized holiday gifts while supporting our local literati.

Hope to see you there.

Alon

ALON SHALEV
NEW – A Gardener’s Tale & The Accidental Activist – now on Kindle.
More info at http://www.alonshalev.com/

Help A Struggling Author

Left Coast Voices takes great pride in championing the poor, the downtrodden and the exploited. We try and keep it positive by emphasizing organizations and individual who are trying to make a difference and help create a better world.

This post is not one of them. But since it is the season of good will and many of us are considering what gifts we want to buy friends and how to put some good out in to the world, I am going to allow myself a mild dose of narcissism. Actually, I would like you to consider helping a struggling author. It doesn’t have to be me, but if you insist…

Here are 10 ways to help a struggling author:

1.     Post a review of their book on Amazon.com. This is very important and influential. Add some helpful tags or add them to your listamania.

2.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

3.     Mention the author’s website or blog on whatever social networking sites you are active. Spotlight them on your blog.

4.     Go to the public library. If their book isn’t there, request it. If it is there, take it out. Even better – reserve it. Why? Libraries track book movement. If a book is in demand in Northern California, the libraries in Southern California etc. might order some copies.  

5.     Mention their book on Goodreads.

6.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

7.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

8.     Attend their book readings. Ask questions that make them look good and/or authoritative. Answering questions from someone you know helps the author relax and build confidence.

9.     Link your website and their website. Subscribe to their blog.

10.  Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This list took me less than 10 minutes. I’m sure there are many other ways that I haven’t thought of. If you can think of any, please add them in the comments below. This is all about win:win. In the middle of a recession, and a ruthless industry that is in involuntary transformation, win:win is something we could all do with in the season of good will.

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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 Republican Freak Show – Roger Ingalls

Is it just me or do others view the 2012 Republican presidential candidates as a bunch of creepy clowns interviewing for a gig at a neighborhood carnival?

Looks at these freaks. I can’t believe this is the best the Republican Party has to offer. It’s an embarrassment not only to the nation’s right leaning folks but all people of this great country.

Newt Gingrich, really? The morals-trumpeting hypocrite went after President Clinton with impeachment for having an affair and it turns out Newt is an adulterer himself. Not to mention, he’s a Jabba the Hut look-alike.

The Godfather of pizza, Herman Cain, couldn’t find Libya on a map if a fourth-grader was pointing at it. He may have more out-of-court sexual harassment settlements than Sarah Jessica Parker has shoes. At least he’s smart enough to keep himself out of jail.

Rick Perry is the crazy cowboy Ronald Reagan always wanted to be. Visions of mass pray-ins at Texas-sized stadiums are dancing in my head. Rick can be seen waving the Bible in one hand and shooting a gun in the other while praying with his snake charming buddies (click for video).

My favorite sideshow is Michele “pray-out-the-gay” Bachmann. She can’t open her mouth without tripping over the fake American history that drools out. A fourth-grader should be hired to proof her speeches.

Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann

Mitt Romney seems somewhat normal but he does more flip-flops than a trapeze artist in a three-ring tent. The conservative marketing machine – Fox News – doesn’t like Romney so he doesn’t have a chance. Maybe Rupert Murdock doesn’t like Mormons.

 

These clowns are freakish enough on their own but now there’s a ring master. Donald Trump is moderating a Republican debate in late December. Can this conservative carnival get any loonier?

I know this post sounds a little mean-spirited but let’s get serious; we need greatness in the Whitehouse not laughable personalities best suited for a 19th century traveling circus.

We deserve better.

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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.

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).

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