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 “April, 2012”

Wanted: A New Publishing Model

The world is changing, and the publishing world perhaps faster than most other businesses. No one seems to be questioning the emergence of the ebook revolution (unlike global warming). It is now accepted that ebooks are providing an appealing purchasing option (and environmental sustainability) that is proving hugely attractive, both to young people (on techno-life support) and older people (who can either change the size of the font or listen to the book read to them).

The ease with which one can now ePublish a book, often without any financial investment whatsoever, has meant that anyone can throw up a book without honing their craft, or having their book suitably edited. Buoyed by the success of a few leading individuals, people are throwing together series’ that will hopefully build a following and declaring themselves authors.

 The problem with this ePublishing is that it is difficult to distinguish between those who have worked hard to create a good novel learning and respecting all the legitimate components and those who have not. Many books are riddled with spelling and grammar errors, plot issues, or flaws in character development. In fact, according to Penny C. Sansevieri (Get Published Now), only 1% of independent books published reach the industry editorial standards.

This model serves no one: not the reader, the serious author, or the fly-by-nighters. The reader, even when paying only $0.99 or $2.99, can feel that their money and time have been wasted. The genuine craftsman/craftswoman can’t get him/herself noticed among the mass of ebooks, and the fly-by-nighters get frustrated because they fail to build a following and rake in the royalties.

It is a lose:lose model when it should be exactly the opposite.

Most of those writers involved are not interested (or not good enough) to be picked up by agents and conventional publishers. The time span (often 18 months in production), the lack of marketing help, and the inevitable withdrawal of books that don’t reach performance level in a few short months, doesn’t make the conventional model any the more appealing. John Locke, in his must-read book, lays it out succinctly.

JOhn Locke

John Locke

We, the authors, need to set our own boundaries and standards, to ensure that readers retain faith in the model and are willing to invest their time and money in a new author.

 One way that this can be achieved is through author coops. Authors can join together within genres, edit each other’s work, and market within their niche as a group. Each coop establishes it’s level of craft and marketing. Perhaps the group tithes a percentage of their earnings towards marketing as a group.

If there is a holy trinity of website, blog and twitter as Locke advocates, how much more effective would this be if five authors were expanding this platform in a coordinated fashion?

It would be a tragedy if the ebook revolution faltered because of lack of quality. The technology is good for all readers (except those who read in the bathtub), for the planet, and may well force the conventional publishing world to change their own way of doing business.

Anyone out there writing political fiction and interested?

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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).

Gas Prices: Who’s to Blame? – Roger Ingalls

Often, filling stations take the heat for high gas prices but, in reality, your local pit stop doesn’t make much money from the fuel they sell. They make pennies per gallon. Most of their revenue comes from junk food sold out of the attached convenient store. Yes, stations do raise prices minutes after crude oil goes up and then lower the price weeks after oil decreases so they do take a little advantage but that has always been the case. Gas stations are not to blame for the current high price of fuel.

Are oil producing companies or middle-east countries to blame for high gas prices? For the most part, they run their output and let the market dictate the prices. They may vary production levels a little but it hasn’t been a market-driver since the 1970s. Oil suppliers are not to blame.

How about oil refineries, are they the evil ones? Back in 2008, oil peaked at $147 a barrel and gas prices rose to about $4.30 a gallon. Now, in early 2012, gas prices are again hitting the $4.30 range but oil is trading at approximately $105 a barrel. Something seems fishy. Oil is 30% less now than in 2008 but current gas prices are the same. Also, we now use 17% less gas than we did in 2008; it doesn’t add up. Demand is down, crude oil prices are lower but fuel prices are higher!

US oil refineries are to blame for the current increase in gas prices. They created an artificial shortage by reducing their refining capacity to 85% of what it was in 2008. The refineries say they had to close down some refineries because the crude oil quality has made some of their production capacity obsolete. It is unbelievable that companies making record billions in profits cannot keep up with the required technology in their own industry. I believe this excuse is a flat-out market manipulating lie. These big companies are not that stupid; they know what kind of oil they’re getting years in advance.

When gas hits $8 per gallon in a year or two, you can blame deregulating legislation that now allows reckless speculation (futures trading of oil) and the elimination of alternative energy programs by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. However, the current high price of gas falls squarely on shoulders of US oil refineries.

An Unsettling Conversation

It was not the setting where I would expect such a conversation. It was a Jewish philanthropy meeting and most of the people that I had addressed were there because they had money and were generous to the causes that moved them.

The meeting was over and we were drinking and eating around the buffet table when a well-dressed man approached me and asked whether students were involved with the Occupy movement.

What ensued was a discussion of the merits of the Occupy movement and the Tea Party. This man was a democrat and only used the Tea Party to illustrate a well-oiled machine – with money, a single message, and leadership.

But then he turned his attention to the Occupy movement. He talked about the need for leadership and a clearly defined agenda. I was not looking for such a discussion, we have covered it considerably on Left Coast Voices – search occupy in our search engine – and I was wary of my role at this meeting. But he caught my attention with his next thought.

The window of opportunity is closing he said. Once the weather improves, we will not be able to hide behind this excuse. Then he mentioned the upcoming elections. It would be inexcusable, he said, if the Occupy movement did anything that hurt the Democratic drive for Congress and the White House. I have offered my thoughts on this here.

But I want to finish with this thought. He spoke about the one achievement (not sure that it has been fully realized) is that the banks now understand that they serve the people and need the people.

The next step, he said, was to apply this accountability to the politicians. In his work, this man evaluates and promotes or fires his employees. Why are we not doing this with Congress? Why should they care that their rating is a pathetic 11%? They do not hold unique skills and there are many who would be happy to take their places.

He would like to see a credible forum that evaluates the politicians, decides whether they achieved the goals we voted them in to do (or at least made a serious effort to do so), and give them a public grade. Anyone who brings in a low grade gets fired. Unlike his business, we have a legitimate and open opportunity to send politicians who do not perform home every four years.

I asked him whether there was an organization that did this. He replied that the only people he knows are the Tea Party.

Can we not build a broader base that offers more objective data to the 99%. There might not be much in the way of equality these days, but if 99% vote according to a performance evaluation, we will see a lot of new faces on C-Span, and they will be more aware that we are carefully watching them.

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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).

Freeway Isolation and Gas Bag Inflation – Tom Rossi

California is an interesting place, politically I mean. Geographically, there is a whole lot more land area where conservatives are in the majority. It’s in the areas of concentrated population – the Bay Area, Los Angeles – where people tend to vote in their own favor (to whatever degree possible) rather than in favor of corporations and the super rich.

This week I drove deep into conservative territory – central California, where agriculture is king. All the radio stations change as you head into the San Joaquin Valley and there’s not so much variety. Faced with the total lack of any kind of jazz music, I found myself listening to none other than the big gas-bag himself – Rush Limbaugh.

It had been a while since I last was subjected to Rush (it really burns my butt that the name of one of my favorite rock bands is now synonymous with cretinous drivel) and I listened for most of an hour. I have to admit, I was smiling and laughing pretty much the entire time.

On this particular day, Limbaugh added the Center for Science in the Public Interest to his usual vilifying rants about President Obama and the terrible things he does to America. Debating the details of his blithering blather aren’t really important. It’s not important to have a long discussion with a four-year-old about why one plus one is two and not three.

But this was “call-in day” when listeners can call in and profess that they agree that one plus one is three. I wondered how the callers could take this stuff so seriously and even enjoy it – and not sarcastically, like me. Each caller started with something like, “I love your show” or “I’ve been a fan for years.”

While my mind drifted and I watched the cars around me, going down the freeway, I began to think about how cars tend to separate us from each other.

In most areas of California, people spend huge proportions of their lives in cars, much of that time alone. But it’s not just that they are alone; it’s that they are isolated. Their thoughts, sometimes spoken out loud to the empty seat beside them, are unchecked by any social interaction.

When you are isolated, you can easily go down a narrative path that is neither algorithmic nor logical, but there is no one to point that out.

During the 2008 election circus, if you were on the road, alone, and you heard some genius on AM radio say that Barack Obama is a terrorist, and you didn’t think of this question yourself, there would have been no one next to you to ask, “What does that mean? Do these people think that Obama would plant a bomb in the White House? Or on Capitol Hill? Is that really what these people think?”

I grew up in a car town, surrounded by other car towns. There was little public transportation and I almost never saw anyone walking. People drove their cars everywhere, all the time, then drove directly into their garages, never having to suffer the burden of actually talking to their neighbors.

It’s easy, in these circumstances, to feel separate and dependent only upon yourself and your family. It’s easy to start thinking that the “others” are only competition for what you want: money and resources of various kinds. It’s easy to think of yourself as a downhill skier rather than a member of a hockey, basketball, or football team.

Something strange happens when you literally rub shoulders with your fellow astronauts on spaceship Earth – they actually begin to feel human.

It seems that isolation from a wide sample of people, whether in fact due to time spent in cars or something else, correlates better with voting habits than does any other factor except possibly wealth. If you look at the map, from the 2004 presidential election, of where people voted Democrat versus Republican, Democratic voters were located in places with high population density – New York City, San Francisco, Miami, Denver, Seattle, Baltimore, etc.

Ideas, opinions… thoughts of many kinds cry out for discussion. We are a gregarious species and we work better together.

-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.

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Business Dust Bowl – Norman Weekes

“On a scale from one to ten, how’s business been in the last year?” I asked.  I was a membership representative door to business door in San Mateo County for a small business lobby group. As part of the sales pitch I’d ask business owners about their business performance.

Based on the appearance of the business, the lack of employee’s or the silence in the business (no productivity) I would amend the question. “How’s business?” Awful, horrible, never seen anything like this in (pick one) 20, 30, 40 years of business was the frequent answer. More than I care to remember a business owner would tell me they were closing the doors, “retiring” or hoping to go back to work for “the man.”

Small business owners are the forgotten victims of the great recession. It’s easy to forget them. How many of us can relate to the backbone of our economy? How many of us have started or closed a business? How many of us have the inherent qualities (balls) to start a serious business? What’s a serious business? A business where the collateral backing the business is your house, property, cash, personal credit or other assets you’ve accumulated through honest hard work: a business where you haven’t taken a paycheck to keep the doors open. A business where you’ve laid off employees whose families attended the Christmas party months before. That’s serious business.

Two restaurants where I live in Castro Valley recently closed. One closure in particular caught many locals by surprise. JD’s was known for the best breakfast in town and has been family-owned since the seventies. “For lease” and “Available” signs dot the business landscape like tombstones marking the precise location of a deceased dream.  On a positive note people have come together to use social media to organize cash mobs but it will take more than feel good to stop this carnage.

Small business owners are the last heroes standing of capitalism. They take more risks, hire more people and contribute more to communities than big business ever will or care to. They are not people as defined by the Supreme Court, but people like you and me.

So the next time rich politicians debate or talk about the economy listen for what they’re doing for the people in the 99% who happen to own a business. Listen hard for the sound of silence.

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

Everyone Needs A Passover

Tonight, Jews all over the world will sit around the family table (possibly an extended table), recount the story of how our people were emancipated from slavery and eat a meal full of strange dishes. In case it sounds too hellish – we also drink four cups of wine.

While Others Are opressed, The Matzah Should Be Broken

Passover is all about freedom and, as such, has a universal message. It is difficult to celebrate your own freedom when you know that there are others who are still denied theirs. Though it seems to be happening in faraway lands, the interconnectedness of our world makes this premise inaccurate. Many of the clothes and shoes we wear, perhaps even the fancy electronics we need, are made by children, women and men who are little more than slave. Even close to home, human trafficking is happening in each of our cities.

This makes Passover a challenge. It is bittersweet, like the Hillel sandwich that we will eat (a sweet charoseth mix of fruits and honey together with bitter horseradish between two pieces of matzo), and we must strike a balance, remembering those who still strive for the victory and emancipation that we celebrate while enjoying the family-orientated festival with joy, appreciation and laughter. Here is my offering:

Every year, as Passover approaches, we Jews promise not to buy too much matzo. We have to eat it for a week, we don’t want any left over. And every year as Passover comes to a close, we stare at several unopened boxes that sit on the shelf taunting us.

There are, however, plenty of creative solutions. Don’t believe me? Ask talented singer, Michelle Citrin:

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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).

Give Global Warming a Hug – Roger Ingalls

We, the believers, need to embrace global warming; we need to wrap our arms around it and give it a big hug.  It’s here to stay.  We should no longer waste time on climate deniers in hopes of creating a cooperative effort to reduce the activities that are causing the change.

picture from: careforchildrennow.wordpress.com

The deniers are obstructionists that fall in to two categories.  Group One subscribes to an authoritarian ideology and follows the rhetoric of the second group without question.  Group Two deniers are the leaders and the devious ones.  They are corporate-hired guns typically from the political and special-interest arena on a mission to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt – or what we call FUD in the business world.

FUD is a powerful tactic when your audience is an authoritarian-minded followship that doesn’t use intellectual reasoning.  This is why Republican leaders started using FUD twenty years ago; it’s a perfect vice for the members of their party.

It’s important to understand that deniers are a strong coalition of obstructionists not wanting to engage in any activity which is disruptive to the current power structure.  It is not in the best interest of the corporations to endorse environmentally friendly regulations or innovative technologies that could substitute and obsolete their market position.

The current power base controls most of the world’s wealth.  They own the politicians, a majority of the Supreme Court Justices, and have an army of drones.  They can not be beaten so let’s not waste our time. 

A warmer planet and the activities that are creating it are here to stay.  We need to spend our intellectual energy creating an economy that allows us to survive and prosper in the chaos of a warmer world.

Endorse the reality – we need to adapt.  Extinction is the alternative.

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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.

Focus On The Real Issue

What is it with the American press, politicians and the rest of us! Why are we able to discuss every aspect of an issue except the core problem or conflict. I am guilty too. On Monday, I chose to focus on Congressman Rush getting kicked out of the House and even turned to my most trusted source, John Stewart on the The Daily Show.

Congressman Bobby Rush in the House

Mr. Stewart actually isn’t as guilty as the rest of us. He makes his living though satire (and does it exceedingly well, I might add). He is permitted to comb any situation and find a humorous angle to highlight. The rest of us shouldn’t.

It sometimes needs a quality journalist or social commentator to remind us of this. Thank you, Gail Collins for reminding us. Her op-ed in the New York Times, More Guns Less Hoodies, was excellent, and though I am going to lift a few choice paragraphs, her article is worth reading right through.

This is not about the right to wear a hoodie. The hoodie is nothing more than a symbol for racial profiling. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum,” a hooded Congressman Rush stated before being served a double technical and sent for an early showers.

Ms. Collins: “This is pretty much par for the course. Whenever there is a terrible shooting incident somewhere in America, our politicians talk about everything except whether the tragedy could have been avoided if the gunman had not been allowed to carry a firearm.

“You would think that this would be a great time to address the question of handgun proliferation, but it has hardly come up in Washington at all. This is because most politicians are terrified of the National Rifle Association. Also, the small band of gun control advocates are busy with slightly less sweeping issues, such as their ongoing but still utterly futile effort to make it illegal to sell a weapon to anyone on the terror watch list.”

But there is little discussion about gun control. Ms. Collins has argued gun control in the past and admits to feeling jaded. Many people just accept that there are certain interest groups that are untouchable. They are so well funded, so well organized, that they are simply impervious.

Ms. Collins chooses to highlight the discussion on carrying guns legally between states. If you have a license in one state, you can take it into many others. Ms. Collins concedes that anyone can walk with his gun around Time Square and many other vulnerable sites packed with citizens. In a country that has instituted many laws curbing citizen’s rights in the name of Homeland Security, this is patently absurd.

I am new to the topic of gun law. There is something far deeper in the American psyche that I, as a relative outsider, am having trouble  grappling with. As left as my politics go, I am keenly aware of the danger of terrorism and willing to have some of my rights curbed for what is, ultimately, the protection of my family, community and myself. 

But this is the same reasoning that doesn’t want almost anyone to walk around thinking he has the right to take a life in anything but the clearest scenario of self defense. We have one police force. They are trained and clearly defined by uniform and procedures. They might not be perfect and we might want to demand improvements and more policemen and policewomen on the streets, but this is the nature of democracy.

No one has a right to walk around with a gun and play God. And everyone has a right to walk the streets without fear of fellow man or woman, regardless of a person’s gender, race, or sexual orientation. This is what makes America great, not the false fear that a gun on your hip makes for a safer society.

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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’s One Thing Wrong With Our Government? Geography. – Tom Rossi

Once again, I’m going to key off of one of Roger Ingall’s posts. If you’re thinking that this is only because he continues to have interesting ideas while I’m all dried up and can’t do anything but copy… um, I can’t think of a response right now. 

In Roger’s post on March 22, 2012, “Void the Senate,” he calls for the elimination of the Senate, leaving only the House of Representatives in the legislative branch of the federal government. Roger knows very well that this is an intellectual exercise and that eliminating the Senate would be pretty much impossible, but his post brings up some worthy issues.

I agree that the Senate is not a good part of our government. Hmmmm…. What are the good parts? I’ll have to get back to you on that. But I think the main problem that the Senate has is the same problem that the House of Representatives has, only on a different scale… and this time I’m not talking about the influence of big money. What I’m talking about is real estate.

No, not this kind of real estate:

This kind:

There are several reasons that representing geographical areas is not the best way for a government to operate. For one thing, if 51% of the people in an area vote in a particular direction, then that’s a majority and their will will rule. That leaves 49% of those people essentially unrepresented, as if they just don’t count.

Another reason the Senate is an inappropriate part of our government was actually a subject of debate during the Continental Congress which created our constitution in the first place. Senators literally represent pieces of land with political/administrative boundaries – states. That means that Wyoming has just as much say in the Senate as does California.

The population of the state of California was 37,253,956 in 2010, making it the most populous state in the nation. The population of Wyoming in 2010 was 563,626, (36,690,330 fewer people than California) and is the 50th most populous state.

You might think I have something against Wyoming, but I certainly don’t. With the notable exeption of Dick Cheney, Wyoming is largely full of friendly, polite, good natured people. Driving through southern Wyoming one time, I discovered that people actually wave to you through the windshields of their cars. And at the time I had Colorado plates on my car! I must have seemed like a rude jerk to the first few people, before I caught on.

No, it has nothing to do with who is represented in the Senate. My complaint is that the land area that is defined as Wyoming has two Senators, as does the land area defined as California. Therefore, in the Senate, the people of Wyoming are vastly overrepresented while the people of California are vastly underrepresented.

However, even if we did (somehow) eliminate the Senate, another real estate problem would still exist. Congressional Districts are based on population, but are still a specific area on the map. So, what Representatives are motivated to do is to bring money (which ostensibly brings jobs as well) into that area.

That sounds great, but it is exactly what has led to our incredible national debt. Representatives vote for almost anything that will bring money into their districts. A good example is the B2 bomber, one of the worst spending fiascos in U.S. History.

The B2 bomber is built from components manufactured in every U.S. state, including many different Congressional districts. This dissemination of the manufacturing and the money that went with it served as a lure to get the votes of Representatives and Senators alike, who are always thinking about the next campaign.

The constituents largely voted for the incumbent because he or she brought money and jobs to their district, and the U.S. got a shiny new $45 billion plane project. These days, that doesn’t sound like so much, at least compared to the epic waste of the Iraq war. But think of all the teachers’ jobs that could be saved with that money.

What’s my version of the impossible dream of reorganizing the U.S. government? Since geography, appropriate in the 19th century, is now obsolete, let’s instead elect on ideology. An example is the farmer’s party in Denmark. This party was organized in 1923 to represent the interests of farmers across the small nation.

If we got rid of our “winner take all” mentality and our addictiton to geography, people would have more choices and opportunities to express themselves politically. The semi-monopoly of our current two dominant parties could be obliterated and people could truly vote the way they would choose, instead of being held hostage to a sometimes ridiculous and self contradictory package.

The U.S. Green Party advocates a system that addresses some of the problems I listed here known as “proportional representation.” It would mean that the 49% (or less) would be represented by 49% of the government instead of being shut out entirely. It’s worth thinking about.

-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.

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Bobby Rush – Technical Foul But Great Respect

Last week, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democratic Congressman, was ordered to leave the House chamber because he was dressed inappropriately. Rush was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in honor of Trayvon Martin.

The Congressman stood and commenced his speech in a suit jacket, but removed it revealing a hoodie underneath. “Racial profiling has to stop,” Rush said. “Just because someone wears a hoodie, [it] does not make them a hoodlum.”

It’s against House rules to wear headgear in the chamber.

Rush (CSPAN)

I want to tip my hat (or other headgear) at Congressman Rush – he had a point to make and the use of props (not unknown in the house) made it all the more prominent – hit the TV shows and even gave the Congressman his deserved debut slot on Left Coast Voices.

Check out the clip from The Daily Show – sometimes satire is work a thousand blog posts.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/mon-march-26-2012-shaquille-o-neal

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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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