Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Twitter: A Tool for Writers to Create Community

After a week of twitter articles and how they can be used or prevented from using for social change, I thought I would offer a more author-directed post for the weekend. Today’s authors and aspiring authors (a few hundred A-listers notwithstanding) rely heavily on creating a social media platform, a ‘presence in the Force,’ to quote Darth Vader, who was known for his sociability across the galaxy (kind of puts world-wide web into proportion, no?).

A year ago, I wrote a coupe of posts, one of which began: “I am still struggling with how to use Twitter.” I had actually splurged $1 for a pocket-size Twitter for Dummies book at Office Depot (didn’t even write it off as a tax deduction) but never really started until December. 150 days later and I have over 10,000 followers for @alonshalevsf (and over 8,000 for @elfwriter which feed my epic fantasy blog at www.elfwriter.com).

Now I admit, I have not sat down for coffee with each of these people personally. This is only in part because i am already worried about my caffeine addicti0n. But I am having some great conversations, in a format that allows us to keep it short and tight.

Twitter is, she says, not about selling books, but provides  an excellent way to build your networks and reputation. We all know that we  sell books when people meet us, whether face-to-face or online. Here are a few of the tips that Ms. Smith recommends. To read all ten, click here.

  1. Help others by sharing information, while you gain a reputation as an expert. You can post links to helpful articles, recommend resources, offer tips and discuss other books that you enjoy.
  2. Stay on top of news and trends in your field or genre, and get ideas for your articles and blog by reading the tweets of the people you follow.
  3. Ask for help and get instant responses – things like feedback on your book title, cover design or website. It’s amazing how helpful folks are.
  4. Spread goodwill by helping your peers. Introduce people to one another, recommend other related books, or re-tweet interesting posts from people you follow.

What I like about Ms. Smith’s article is the principle: we make friends online by asking for help and helping others. This seems to be something very cozy and intimate in what is otherwise often a virtual and detached world.

I still believe in meeting over a cup of coffee to help someone who asks for your advice. But time and geographical restraints means we can reach and be reached more efficiently in the age of the Internet. We can still, however, leverage this medium to create a supportive community.

Dana Lynn Smith, by the way, is a nationally recognized book marketing coach and author of The Savvy Book Marketing Guide.

In the spirit of this article: please share your best Twitter practices in the comments below. Have a great weekend.

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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).

Bankrupt Earth – Roger Ingalls

Today, humanity is using 50% more resources than the earth can sustainably provide. By 2030, the world will require the equivalent of two Earths to sustain current levels of population growth and resource use. Even more shocking, if all countries consumed like the U.S., we would need four Earths to sustain current levels of resource burn.

World economies emulate the U.S. system which is based on infinite growth and consumption. Earth is a finite planet floating through space; therefore, the infinite growth scenario is an inevitable dead-end street.

picture from animal.discovery.com

There is no magical American bullet or militant-might that will fix this problem. There are no leaders stepping forward to forge a new path. We are now a government of, by and for the corporation and corporations are judged and rewarded on their ability to grow, consume and hoard. Power lies in the hands of big Wall Street massaged corporations and they will not deviate from their current path because doing so means a transfer of power. Why would these corporate Gods give up their power? They will never do so willingly.

Shamefully, history defines humanity’s quest for greed, power and eventual destructive fall. Given this, there is only one true solution; we must bankrupt the earth and deplete it of all economically viable resources as fast as possible. Let’s join forces with the current power structure and fast track the death of a balanced planet. When Earth dies – as we know it – so will the power that killed it.

This is not a sad ending; it is a rebirth. From the ashes a smarter humanity will rise.

Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt. 2

On Monday we delved into the potential of Twitter as an effective tool for social change and the legal measures that some regimes have taken to curb twitter in their country. Twitter complies with any legal demand that is not restricted to unrest but covers in this country copyright infringement and child pornography.

Twitter does seek to maintain an open trail. It shares all requests for removal though a website called Chilling Effects. This website was created to advocate for freedom on the Internet and, in fact, members of Twitter’s staff are active on the website. In fact, Alexander Macgillivray, a former Google lawyer, and now Twitter’s general counsel, helped create the chillingeffects.org website while at Harvard, as well as crafting Twitter’s censorship policies.

 Twitter stated in a recent post: “One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t.”

Twitter has received praise from a number of free-speech activists who suggest that Twitter’s attempts at transparency have helped them. One such activist, Zeynep Tufekci, who is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, was surprised to find herself praising, not condemning, the policies of an Internet company.

“Twitter is setting the bar as high as it can,” Tufekci said. “It does not deserve the reaction it’s getting.”

Jillian York, who is director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agrees with Tufekci. “Once people see how Twitter is implementing this, they will calm down.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland credited Twitter with being transparent about its approach to censorship but said it was too early to tell if policy would harm users.

However, many remain angry with Twitter for what they clearly define as censorship and are demanding that the new policy is dropped.

Twitter’s executive chairman received a letter from Reporters Without Borders who summed up the sentiment on the street: “Twitter is depriving cyber dissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.”

And this is why Twitter’s actions, which curtail instant self-expression and communication, have led to political protests throughout the 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).

Is the Tea Party Taking Over… Again???? – Tom Rossi

Here we go again. The press is all excited about the Tea Party because they ousted Richard Lugar as the Republican candidate for the Senatorial race in one of America’s reddest states, Indiana.

The Tea Party has garnered support from plenty of everyday Americans. These are mostly the people who look at their paychecks and see the amounts subtracted for various taxes and get extremely upset. All they can see is money being taken away from them and this is their primary concern.

What if, just for the sake of argument, we were to grant the idea that taxes are good for nothing and simply represent a “taking” by a government that is totally detached from the people? Then, what if taxes suddenly disappeared, with no measurable effects on daily life (somehow). Would people keep that money that had once gone to taxes?

The answer is no. Labor (whether it be skilled, unskilled, blue-collar, white-collar, or whatever) is a rare example of a principle of conventional economics that actually describes the truth. Labor works on supply and demand.

To keep the numbers simple, let’s just say that Joe the software engineer gets a salary of $100,000 per year. Under the “old” way, he paid $25,000 in taxes, after taking a few deductions, and so takes home $75,000. But now, after taxes have been done away with, he gets to keep the whole $100,000, right?

Wrong. Why would Joe’s company, Frustrating User Interface Incorporated, continue to pay him $100,000 when he used to be willing to work for $75,000 in take-home pay? They wouldn’t because they wouldn’t have to.

Companies pay the minimum that they can to get the labor that they need. It would be incredibly foolish to do otherwise. Workers determine the level at which they will accept a job by their calculated take-home pay – the net, not the gross. That’s the “supply” price for a worker’s labor.

Because of this, if taxes were eliminated, corporations would use the usual tricks, eliminating (then re-creating) positions, claiming hardship, etc., to knock their workers salaries down to the same old, “willing to work” levels. Joe used to take home $75,000, and now, without taxes, it’s the same.

Of course, the real story would be much worse than this. If taxes are significantly decreased, lots of people who work in the kinds of services that would be poorly provided by purely private enterprise would lose their jobs. This would flood the market with available labor (the REAL plan of the corporate masters) and salary levels would be pushed down even further than in the previous example.

And we would have no libraries, a lot fewer schools, little fire protection, and so many other deficits in our way of life.

If you’re proud to be an American, proudly pay your taxes. You are contributing to something imperfect but great.

-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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Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt 1

I have been getting into Twitter over the past month, thanks to a workshop at a local brewery (always the best kind) by fellow Left Coast Voices blogger, Roger Ingalls. In a few months, I have steadily attracted more than 10,000 twitter followers and stream this blog to them (@alonshalevsf). In addition, I have gathered more than 8,000 followers for my @elfwriter twitter and blog.

I had originally dismissed Twitter as a platform claiming that it lacked depth. How can you have a conversation with 140 characters? I really began to reevaluate Twitter while watching its role and impact  in the Arab Spring. Suddenly this tool, as a focus for freedom of speech,  became particularly inspiring.

Twitter are well aware of this. Chief Executive Officer, Dick Costolo, refers to it as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” and Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, even named one of their conference rooms “Tahrir Square” as a point of pride at the role that Twitter played in the Egyptian uprising.

So I became somewhat disillusioned to read that Twitter are considering curbing our freedom. In what many view as an about-face, Twitter now says it has the power to block tweets in a specific country if the government legally requires it to do so, triggering outrage around the world, especially in Arab countries.

Dissidents and activists fear the new policy will stifle free speech and thousands of users are threatening to boycott Twitter.

“Is it safe to say that Twitter is selling us out?” asked Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem.

Twitter isn’t alone in its struggle to find a way of maintaining its economic goals while considering itself the free speech platform. Facebook, Google and Yahoo all tentatively try and work around complex laws and state-imposed restrictions used to suppress dissident voices and spread the party line.

All these companies have taken down material posted through their sites because a regime felt threatened by the content or deemed it illegal.

However, Twitter insists that it remains fully committed to free speech. When Twitter removes a tweet, it no longer vanishes from the Web, like it used to. In other words, when a tweet violates the law in one country, it will  still be on the Internet in other countries.

The company will only remove tweets when there is sound legal standing in the specific country and claim this will happen only after an internal review. They will also post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed.

This creates an interesting dilemma. Tweets have a very short lifetime. They are soon buried under an avalanche of other tweets, whether from the same person or others in their following. This can often happen in under a minute and I am guessing that in a situation such as we saw unfold in Tahrir Square, it is a matter of seconds. How effective and timely can an internal review be?

More on Internet censorship on 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).

Books For Writers and Bibliophiles

A colleague recently posted on our LinkedIn forum and asked what books writers read to learn and improve their craft. I would like to offer a few.

On Writing – Stephen King

I have the paperback, but once a year I check the audio book out of the library and listen to Stephen himself read it. Now I understand that he has been criticizing for reading one of his novels (never heard it myself), but since this is so personal, it is very intense. I feel as if he is a teacher.

But beware – he is the tough no-nonsense teacher. He lays out how it should be and brooks no dissent. There is no fluff, and no feel-good. This is a small book but packed with tips and direction.

 A must read – probably annually.

How I Write – Janet Evanovitch

I had never met Stephanie Plum (Janet’s protagonist) before I read this writing book, but she is a good friend now. Janet’s book is geared to e a reference. Much is presented in Q&A form (it is co-written with Ina Yalof) and there are lists and summaries.

I particularly learned a lot about writing a series and character development beyond one book.

Warning -You may find yourself reading a Stephanie Plum novel or twenty. Be prepared to set a summer reading space aside and get ready to laugh.

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

It is considered one of the classics. I haven’t read it in years and it doesn’t sit on my shelf to quickly check. But I remember it had a big influence on me and was mentioned in the LinkedIn list as often as any other book.

Sometimes The Magic Works – Terry Brooks

While fantasy writers will get more out of this than those who write in other genres there is a lot of fundamental stuff. However, such topics as creating a whole world are more unique to fantasy and SF.

Whatever you decide – the first chapter is unforgettable. If you have ever been where Terry takes you, you will understand what I mean!

Writing Down to the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

Natalie has written a number of inspirational books on writing (with plenty of practical tips. She writes from the perspective of one deeply in Zen practice. Her latest is about memoir writing.

Finally books mentioned by other writers:

Story – Robert McKee

This Year You Write Your Novel – Walter Mosley

Writing Basics for Beginners by Jeanne Marie Leach

The Weekend Novelist – a Writer’s Digest book

I want to share that I believe it is important to choose a couple of authors and read everything they wrote. This includes their novels, their how-to books, their blogs, interviews etc.

This is important for your own level of craft and how you market your work and present yourself.  We all write as individuals, but we can learn a lot from those whose company we strive to share.

Good Writing,

Alon

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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 Lawn Dilemma – Roger Ingalls

The season has finally turned and California’s dry heat has arrived. The lawn in front of our house has not tasted a deep drink for several weeks and it’s starting to show. Frankly, the grass looks like crap. We are rapidly becoming the scourge of our suburban neighborhood; the lawn cancer of picturesque Yupsterville.

This lawn-thing has me conflicted. Should I waste water and fossil fuels to keep the hood uniform and neighbors happy by maintaining a useless lawn? Or…do I color outside the suburbia sidewalks and transform the yard into an eco-friendly oasis of indigenous plant life along with an edible garden? Basically it comes down to fitting in or doing the right thing.

What is America’s fascination with two-inch tall carpet-like grass? Do we feel so culturally inferior that we must emulate manicured croquet gardens of eighteenth century aristocrats? Let’s get real…Marie Antoinette isn’t going to walk out my front door and say, “let them eat cake.”

There are 76 million home owners in the United States and that distribution of property sets our culture apart from every other civilization. Widespread land ownership should not be taken for granted; it is a historic anomaly. We should set our own lofty examples of how to use and protect it by saying no to home lawns that are environmentally disastrous and a huge resource waste (water, oil for pesticides and natural gas for fertilizer).

Let’s look at this differently. The U.S. lawn and yard market represents close to $30 billion a year. If we spent the same amount on growing edible gardens and returning indigenous plants to our yards, less water would be consumed and our waterways would be less polluted.

More importantly, hunger would be wiped off the planet.

The lawn dilemma has been resolved…let the transformation begin!

Brad Pitt – Jon Stewart has a crush too

So I gushed about Brad Pitt. Guys can do that and, frankly he deserves it. Still, it is nice to know that I am not the only one. Jon Stewart had his say too. I couldn’t embed the clip, so please click here.

Interview 2 – this is the one regarding his work in New Orleans. The other is just cute and funny.

Both are worth it and you can donate to the work at Making It Right.

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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).

Can Government Make the Gay Go Away? – Tom Rossi

Or teen sex? Or recreational drug use? Or wild dancing? Or people dressing weird? Or people choosing to change religious denomination or even drop out altogether?

No. These are elements of our ever-changing culture and are not under the influence of government. They are not the fault of “liberals” nor pseudo-liberals nor fake liberals nor accused liberals who were really conservative like Bill Clinton.

Neither Presidents, Senators, Representatives, nor Supreme Court Justices have anything to do with the choices that people make, nor certainly with things like homosexuality that are evidently not choices at all.

But returning our culture to the fifties (or at least the false images of the fifties that many hold) will not happen under ANY president. Not Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, nor Rick Santorum.

But this is what social conservatives talk about – in campaign speeches, in town forums, and all over TV. I can’t imagine what makes people believe this line of horse-hockey.

I wish I had saved the web-page, but I was reading the comments (back in the middle of the Obama – McCain election silly-season in 2008) for a political piece and someone had written that America needed to return to a small-town feel with old-fashioned values or something and that McCain and Palin would return us to just that. Huh? How, exactly, would this be accomplished?

I don’t know if the majority of social conservatives have leaked out as many marbles as this person had, but this comment still served as a window into the thought patterns that have become evident through so many channels.

There are things happening in our culture that I like, and things that I could live without. But I entertain no fantasies about a president standing up and saying, “From now on, no one will talk on their cell-phone while paying for their groceries.”

-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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I Love Brad Pitt

Heralding from the olde countrye I am not amused with the whims and ways of actors and actresses. Living in California, I can’t help but note the amount of time people spend talking about them, and not necessarily their artistic achievements either.

We have family in SoCal which brings me, a few times a year, closer to Hollywood, duly noted by the fact that the stories often contain personal anecdotes: I met xxxx at the supermarket, I swam in yyyy’s pool.

But I do have a crush on Brad Pitt. I don’t think it is because of his devilish good looks and I am not even sure in what movies I have seen him. The crush was preceded by admiration. Upset with the failure of our government to come to the aid of those who lost their houses to Hurricane Katrina and the levee debacle, Pitt got some like-minded friends together and went to work, creating an organization called Make It Right.

But Pitt isn’t just about building houses. He wanted to make an environmental statement. People in the area talk about their houses being too cold in the winter and an oven in the summer. Heaters and air conditioners work around the clock for those who can, and often those who can’t afford them (I’m talking about the inhabitants and the environment).

Pitt’s houses are environmentally suited to the climate of New Orleans and some can even elevate in times of emergency to rise above the floodwater. Critics will tell you that it looks like these houses have landed from another planet and do not reflect the culture of New Orleans. This is correct, but not necessarily a bad thing. It is okay to move with the times, to acknowledge that we can improve on the past and to seize an opportunity when a visionary comes to town.

Finally, these houses are not donated. The residents receive help obtaining a mortgage and buy their homes. There is no charity involved. These are not Brad Pitt’s houses. They belong to the people who  live there.

Brad Pitt has not only helped restore a neighborhood, he has helped restore pride. You can’t put a price on that. And I hear he’s a pretty good actor too!

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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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