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 “September, 2012”

My Target Audience – Who Are You?

I recently asked readers of my elfwriter blog to help me define a target audience, a cornerstone of any book marketing plan. It occurred to me, almost two years after The Accidental Activist was published and a few months before Unwanted Heroes is launched, I still fumble over what my genre is and to whom I am marketing. Transformational fiction is a good topic when I give talks, and social justice-themed novels is rather a mouthful, but the first reaction is, at best, an inquisitive frown.

Twitter has offered an interesting insight into this. When looking to grow your following, you check out people who your target audience is following. Given the content of both Left Coast Voices and my social justice orientated novels, I have looked into the Democratic Party, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. I have also followed a number of publishing gurus hoping to attract other writers and authors.

I once wrote an elevator pitch about my writing: I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can help create a better world.

If you read this ‘genre’ of novels, please take a minute and answer the following questions in the comments below:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in a novel?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. What examples have you read of social justice themed novels? Why do you remember them?

Thank you for taking the time to help me with this. Please pass it on to anyone that you think might be able to help. Have a great weekend,

Alon

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Advertisements

Irony: NFL vs. The Little Guy – Roger Ingalls

By now most sports fans have heard about the NFL scab-referee debacle. In case you haven’t, the NFL locked out the top-tier professional referees once the employment contract between the two parties ended before the start of this season. Replacement refs have been used during the pre-season and for the first three weeks of the regular games. It’s been disastrous.

This past week was particularly bad. Illegal hits and tackles were rampant due to players testing the limits of the scab-refs and finding they could get away with unsportsmanlike play. An Oakland Raider receiver was hospitalized with a brain injury because of a hit to the head. Another player had part of his ear-lobe ripped off when he was illegally hit on the side of his head. American professional football with the big and fast participants can get extremely brutal when the referees controlling the game are not respected.  And that’s now happening. The players don’t respect the authority of the replacement refs because they make bad calls and are indecisive.

Now, the NFL team owners are finally coming to the table and talking with the professional referees they locked out. What brought is all to a head was the last game of the week on Monday night when millions of people witnessed a final second play that gave the win to the wrong team due to bad decisions by the scab-refs. It was awful. Even members of the winning team said they were given a gift because replacements didn’t interpret the play correctly.

Why is this issue important? The NFL by itself is an $11 billion industry and if you consider gaming, food and beverage, fantasy football and other fringe markets, we’re talking about a $20 billion market. It’s a big part of our economy and integrity of the game is paramount.

I find two things ironic about what’s happened in the past few weeks. First, what brought the two parties back to the discussion table was the bad call that put the Green Bay Packers on the losing end of that Monday night game. There are 32 teams in the NFL and 31 of them are owned by very rich men and only one team is from a small market and is owned by the community… that team is the Packers. The little market “people’s team” pays the ultimate price because of the greedy rich.

The second ironic aspect of recent events is how the NFL parallels Big Business. The rich team owners locked out the real refs because they didn’t want to increase pay, wanted to have the ability to replace refs at will and wanted to stop paying into pensions. Keep in mind, NFL refs make anywhere from $25K to $100K which is peanuts compared to owners and players. The owners are bullying the little guys. See the parallel? Big Business pensions have been replaced with 401Ks which are cheaper for business and riskier for employees. They are also trying to make union bargaining illegal which minimizes worker rights and limits collective wage-benefit negotiations.

I’ve always said, “football emulates life” so I guess it’s not a stretch to say that NFL greed parallels the new American economy. What a bummer.

UPDATE: Owners and Referees come to an agreement Wednesday evening.

Business Mensch

On Monday, I wrote about taking the Mensch Pledge, a desire to see a new code of business ethics which, had they been in place, might have prevented the current, painful recession we are experiencing. The inspiration for this came from the founder of Noah’s Bagels – Noah Alper – and his book – Business Mensch.

What’s important is providing for your family, conducting yourself with integrity, and living a life of meaning. Noah Alper – Business Mensch.

I am somewhat skeptical when I read memoirs of successful businessmen sprouting ideals and values. Probably I feel a pang of jealousy. It’s easy to take a shot at people who have made it financially – they can afford to take the moral high ground.

I certainly have little time for Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) or Ray Kroc (McDonalds). Exploiting workers, abusing animals, destroying the world or creating unhealthy lifestyles just doesn’t cut it. Perhaps working in the non-profit world balances the lack of acquiring wealth with a healthy dose of narcissistic self-righteousness.

Noah Alper began and built up Noah’s Bagels from a single bagel shop in Berkeley. Having read his book, I think he is different. He instilled a code of values that begins with his own actions. Being an observant Jew, Alper anchors his moral business code in Judaism. This certainly excited me as a Jew. In a time when so many people’s lives were ruined by a greedy and unethical businessman who happened to be Jewish, it is important for a few Tzadikim (righteous men and women) to stand up in the business world.

Since coming to the US I have found my managerial style questioned on a number of occasions. Many times in this thin treatise, Business Mensch, I found myself nodding in agreement with his values and principles and remembering similar scenarios.

I found it strangely validating that Alper, an unapologetic entrepreneur, believes in living by such values in his daily practice. And values are only worth something if they are truly upheld on a daily basis.

——————————————————————————————————-

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com.

America – Spaced Out? – Tom Rossi

One of the things Mitt Romney and Republicans like to whine about, lately, concerning President Obama is the end of the space shuttle program. They claim that it’s just another example of how Obama just doesn’t care about the glory of America.

It’s interesting, because the Republicans, at the same time, seem to think that every “unnecessary” cent of government spending should be cut. The shuttle program has cost the United States taxpayers over $200 billion. And while this figure is dwarfed by our war habit, which costs somewhere between $1 billion and $2.7 billion per day and has gone on for years.

Nonetheless, $200 billion is a nothing to sneeze at – especially for a program that has little benefit for the typical, middle-class family.

Well, maybe. Just what could $200 billion get that might be better for the average person than a whole lotta’ “gee whiz” value? Republicans are always making noise about abortion, but don’t want to do anything but ban it. They don’t want to address the causes and the reasons that women have abortions at all – for one, the economic catastrophe that raising a small child can be for a family (or especially single mom) with limited income.

Child day-care costs around $250 per week, give or take $150 or so. $200 billion would pay for 800 million weeks of day care, at that rate, or about 35 weeks for every single child aged 0 to 5 years that currently lives in the United States. 

Want something more… concrete? As it stands, the U.S. annual highway repair bill is just over $70 billion per year. That falls way short of the $186 billion that would actually improve our highways to the point where we weren’t playing catch-up with aging and deterioration. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimate our infrastructure backlog (roads, water pipes, electrical systems, bridges, etc.) at $2.2 trillion.

Fixing these problems would mean jobs. I’m one who is fascinated by the space program, but I’d trade it right in for reliable systems on which American lives and livelihoods depend. This is one decision on which I agree with President Obama. $200 billion is too steep a price for gee-whiz value and some trickle-down technological advances that make things like a faster iPhone possible. As I always say, we need to prioritize.

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Take The Mensch Pledge

For Jews the 10 days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is one of introspection. We examine how we act, what the consequences of our actions are, and we make vows for the coming year. 

While preparing for the High Holidays at Hillel (SF Jewish Student Center), I have been dwelling on how this painful and devastating recession has been the consequence of actions by very greedy and selfish people. I am aware that some of the worse perpetrators come from my own tribe. Though I lead my life very differently from them, there remains a sense of responsibility. As a Jewish educator, I feel the collective guilt (and we Jews are very good at guilt).

I would like to share and encourage you to join me in taking the Mensch pledge, or at least adopting the principles that Bruna Martinuzzi, the author of The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow, advocates.

1.   Consistently act with honesty. Watch the small integrity slips. 

2.   When someone has wronged you, continue to treat them with civility.

3.   Are you in the habit of making hasty promises that you know, from experience, you are unable to keep? Think back on what promises you made, to whom, and see if you can fulfill some of these.

Bruna Martinuzzi

4.   Help someone who can be of absolutely no use to you.

5.   The next time something goes wrong on a project, suspend blame and ask: “What can we learn?”

6.   Hire people who are as smart or smarter than you are—whose talents surpass you—and give them opportunities for growth. Not only is it the smart thing to do but it is also a sign of high personal humility.

7.   Improve the way you communicate with people: don’t interrupt people; don’t dismiss their concerns offhand; don’t rush to give advice; don’t change the subject. Allow people their moment.

8.   Resolve to do no harm in anything you undertake. If you are certain that you don’t have the competence to take on something that is offered, consider that you might be doing harm to someone by accepting it anyway.

9.   Become aware of your stance at business meetings. Are you known as the devil’s advocate—the one who is quick to shoot down others’ ideas? Jumping in too quickly to negate an idea can derail the creative process for others. Often, valuable ideas are the result of the initial “crazy” thought.

10. Resolve to become a philanthropist of know-how. What knowledge, expertise or best practices can you share with colleagues, customers and other stakeholders as a way to enrich them?

11. At the end of each day, when you clear your desk before you head home, take a few minutes to mentally go over your day. Think about significant conversations you had, meetings you attended, emails you sent, and other actions you undertook. Are you proud? Could you have done better? Getting into this habit of introspection will pay dividends in the long run.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Exclusive Interview: The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC

The following interview is with The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC, the fictional judge of The Accidental Activist. Last Friday, we heard from Suzie Thornton and the week before from Matt Fielding – all of whom agreed to sit with me for coffee, even though none of them really exist.

 

—–

Henry Wilkins QC: Let me make it clear before we even begin this interview. I will not answer any question specific to the ruling of the Oilspill Libel case, as it is now known. I am a judge, a Queen’s Councilor, and proud to serve at Her Majesty’s Royal Courts of Justice. I am somewhat suspicious of blogs, of what one can or cannot write, and I am anxious to read this book by Alon Shalev – The Accidental Activist – I’ve read his other book and, frankly, I’m perturbed.

Interviewer: Let us begin with this aspect of the court case. Did you ever imagine when the two sides stood before you that first day in court that the case would last for so many years and become the longest trial in British history? Or that it would attract such a high-profile?

HW: Certainly not. The mere notion that two amateurs could take on a legal heavyweight like Jeffery Sithers and fathom their way through the complex framework of British libel laws is baffling. Of course, no one imagined that the websiteOilspill.com, would have such a profound effect or such worldwide appeal. It was the first of its kind and possibly the most impactful element when history looks back on this trial.

Interviewer: Did you ever feel that you wanted to help or advise the defendants because of this blatant inequality?

HW: Hmm, a tough question. With regard to the actual issues, I never felt a desire to support either side. I am most comfortable with the gown and wig that I wear and understand my role of objectivity, of ensuring that the law is respected.

But then I sat there for two years seeing two exhausted and frustrated young people, clearly committed to what they perceive as a better business and world model, but always outflanked, out-resourced and, certainly out-briefed – not that such a word exists.

Then at the other table sat Jeffery Sithers, the most famous libel lawyer in Britain, with seven legal aides, all dressed up in their pin-striped suits, and always prepared for what was unfolding. Did you know that the company actually provided Jeffery with a young caddie, whose sole responsibility was wheeling all their documents in and out of the courtroom every day? It made me appreciate the lad at my golf club.

Interviewer: What was groundbreaking about this case?

HW: Hmmm, I think there are two significant aspects. Clearly, it exposed the need to update the British libel laws, which, I believe, have been left untouched for 500-600 years. Second, the whole aspect of the growing role of the Internet: that such a global informational conduit could be leveraged in such a fashion, well let me tell you, it was fascinating. And, between you and me, I have tried to stay abreast of these technological advances.

McSpotlight, possibly the first interactive advocacy website was the game changer.

Interviewer: How did you feel when you saw your old nemesis, Professor McGoughen enter the fray?

HW: Ha! That old cad! I think the only time I allowed my emotions to show was the first time I saw the old fox sitting up in the galley grinning. I never thought he could be lured out of his academic palace at Oxford. He might seem eccentric to some, but let me tell you, he was a legal titan in his day. He pursued the multinationals and big businesses with a vengeance. I clashed with him many times during our careers and I hold him in the highest esteem. Still, I can’t say I was too happy with him when he pulled that stunt on me at the end of the trial.

Interviewer: Without getting into the court case itself: what lessons can we all learn from what transpired in your courthouse?

HW: Hmm. First, that the law makes everyone accountable, no matter how powerful or wealthy they might be. It must fulfill this role. Second, that the Internet has an important role of keeping things in the open, so that we all make informed choices and have the information at our fingertips.

And one effect I would like to share that this case had on me, personally. We only have one world and we are all responsible for what happens to it. It is a fragile world and getting frailer everyday.

Interviewer: Do I detect a value judgment of the court case?

HW: Good Heavens! No! Strike that from the record!

Justice Rodger Bell presided over the McLibel trial almost from the beginning. He has never offered a personal opinion on the case.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at h and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Apple, $700 per Share – Roger Ingalls

This week Apple Inc. hit $700 for a single share of common stock and, as a whole, the company is now valued at $656 billion which places them at the top of the market valuation list. These dollar figures are incomprehensible.

The company has been very successful over the past fifteen years and the employees should be proud of their accomplishments but I wonder what the success of Apple says about our society. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but for all intent and purposes, Apple supplies entertainment products. If all the company’s products were to suddenly disappear, the human population would not go extinct and other companies could supply similar gadgets.

As a species, we need food, water, shelter, care (love, nurturing and healthcare) and external energy. These five needs are essential to our existence yet the most valued company in our society is one that provides a luxury product. To be fair, ExxonMobil is an external energy company and very similar to Apple in market valuation. As much as I hate fossil fuel based companies, it is much more justifiable, in my mind, for an oil company to have a higher market value than a company providing a non-essential product such as Apple.

It agitates me that a company selling luxury products sits at the top of the value list when a significant portion of our nation does not have access to healthy food, are an event away from homelessness and can’t get adequate healthcare.

I know connecting Apple with the basics for human existence is not a legitimate discussion but it would make more sense if companies that helped us with essential survival were at the top of the valuation list.

Ironic observation: The Occupy Movement protested against corporate greed while having Apple earbuds stuffed in their ears.

Imagine No Religion

I am writing this post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a festive occasion, but I am having trouble getting in the mood, despite the beautiful service, music and wise words of our leaders.

 Last week was a shitty week. While addressing a group of students on Friday night at Hillel (SF Jewish student center where I work), I found myself talking about the violent events that were still going on as I spoke.

We have enough to worry about in this world – overpopulation, global warming, violence, hunger, natural disasters… do we really need to intentionally add any?

That  a few people made a movie that they knew would be deeply offensive to a large group of the population is plain stupid. It is okay to be controversial if you have a point that needs to be made, but there are some lines that don’t get crossed.  Anyone associated with this movie and intentionally knew of its controversial nature have blood on their hands. I hope they are not sleeping at night. 

I understand that many of those involved did not know what they were participating in. Here is a link to a statement made by actress, Anna Gurji on Neil Gaiman’s website (thanks to reader Christopher Wright).

It is natural to be angry when your religion has been deeply offended and to express that anger in demonstrations, but to take the steps needed to violently attack and kill a fellow person, innocent bystanders who are there to create bridges of understanding with your people, shows a woeful lack of comprehension of your own religion’s teachings. Where were the religious teachers teaching the sin of violence and murder? If religious men were leaving their mosques in an angry and violent mood, bent on murder, what were their Imams preaching? And if they were preaching peace, understanding and taking the higher moral road, why weren’t they being listened to?

Finally, the rumor, no – the lie – that this movie was produced and funded by Jews was not only baseless, but anti-Semitic. It traveled around the Internet at an intense speed, and took a long time to be disclaimed. It was too easy.

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

In times like this, John Lennon’s lyrics make sense, but it doesn’t have to be like this. I want to live in a world where we celebrate diversity and without everyone being the same. I want to celebrate Chanukah, and join my neighbors for Diwali, and my good friends around their Christmas tree, secure in my own religions identity. I want my Israeli-born son to continue sitting at the same school table with the Palestinian child, and I would prefer that child bring his own food to my son’s birthday party, rather than not come at all because his parents fear offending me.

Last week, Muslims were offended, Christians murdered, and Jews blamed. It is not a question of moving on: we must learn the lessons that have haunted and tainted all our histories.

There is no religious justification for hate, violence and murder.

Wishing everyone of all races and religions, a peaceful and hate-free new year.

Shana Tova L’Kol Bnei Adam.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

 

Obama – Socialist? Or Conservative? – Tom Rossi

By my estimation, Barrack Obama is the second most conservative American president, at least since WWII. You could say he’s tied for second with Bill Clinton, both following George W. Bush, but leading the conservative icon, Ronald Reagan, by a longshot.

Republicans have seized on President Obama’s three-legged horse of a health program and the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to label him as a liberal or even a “socialist.” And the idea that Americans actually deserve access to decent health care even if they aren’t too well off, financially, is certainly a radical one. I can easily see why Tea partiers compare Obama to Hitler (why isn’t there a text treatment, along the lines of underlining or italicizing, to denote sarcasm?).

Obama went along with the bank bailout. He has nixed any prosecution of the corporate criminals in the banking and finance industries whose fraudulent con-artistry landed us in this economy. He has pushed “NAFTA on Steroids,” also know as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He’s increased the secrecy of the government. He’s visciously persecuted “whistle-blowers.” He’s deported many thousands of immigrants. He has renewed the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy. His economic policies are clearly designed to put the train back on the tracks that lead over a cliff – the same tracks George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had us on.

And when it comes to war… where do I start? He “ended” (sort of) the war in Iraq, while greatly stepping up the war in Afghanistan. He has employed the use of drone aircraft, basically to assassinate our enemies, along with anyone who happened to be standing around in the vicinity. All while curtailing attempts to get our war on the environment under control. He’s also allowed more oil drilling than ever in our history, allowed the insane patent-mania to continue and get worse, and allowed completely reckless genetic engineering to go even further. 

Liberal? Socialist??? Ha! This is why (and I’ve said this before) I’m voting for Dennis Kucinich. Or maybe Elizabeth Warren. Or maybe Bernie Sanders. Someone who actually wants to bring about some sense of balance to this country and not simply to let money determine our fate – as a nation and for every individual.

When I tell people of my little scheme, the reaction is often uproar, indignation, or disdain. “Think of what will happen if Mitt Romney is elected!” They say. “Think of how much worse things will be – for economics, for the environment, for women, for minorities…” To all of you who say these things to me, you… are right. The next four years would be even worse if Romney becomes president. And the effects could go on much longer.

Obama is clearly the lesser of two evils. It’s really a matter of how fast do you want to drive to hell? So am I giving up and saying, “Let’s just hurry up and get there?” No.

The time has come for drastic action. No, I’m not talking about any kind of violence. I’m saying that we need to convince the Democratic party that, if they keep just towing the corporate line (just a little less that the Republicans) then they will lose. If they continue to leave those of us who see a little further into the future, who actually care about the health and well-being of our grandchildren (or other people’s grandchildren), and who can actually imagine a world where war doesn’t take so many lives and take up so many resources completely unrepresented, they will lose.

There is little or no hope for a third party that will change things. The democrats need to know, beyond any doubt, that they lost by neglecting a huge part of their base. The Republicans and thinly-disguised Republicans, who go by various code names, will always stop their whining and unite. We’ve heard, over and over, about how disatisfied some Republicans and all Tea partiers are with Mitt Romney. But every single one of these people will still vote for him.

We need to stop voting for second-worst. We need for the Democrats to have the guts to say, “We want less war, more human well-being, and more justice. And if that makes us “liberals,” then we will live with it.”

These are the principles that liberals stand for. Not equal outcomes. Not rewarding laziness. Not government takeover. Those are all idiotic labels that the other side finds useful.

I want President Obama to come very close to losing because people voted for true progressives. If he actually loses, that’s fine. We must be willing to sacrifice four years for our long term future.

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

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.

___________________________________________________________________________

Happy New Year Everyone

Last night and today, Jews all over the world come together to welcome in our new year – Rosh Hashanah. People seem to dig out all kinds of ritual and traditions. It is both a time of introspection (the 10 days leading up to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur) and a tine of hope.

We need both.

Five  years ago, we began a new tradition (can a tradition be new?) that has become a part of the SF Hillel Jewish Student Center year. We meet for a festive dinner and then many students take advantage of the generosity of local synagogues who have offered students free tickets for services. Others stay at the Hillel House for an alternative ceremony one that focuses on goals and aspirations for the new year.

By nature, I am an introspective person all year round.  So I think this is why I am drawn towards the need to set new goals, dream new dreams, hope for a better future for all.

Like Michelle Citrin, I love Rosh Hashanah

Wishing all my Jewish friends a Shana Tova (a good year), and to everyone a year of health, happiness and peace.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: