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, 2012”

The Three R’s – Adopt An Author

‘Tis the season of goodwill and I’m thinking we should share the love. 

In Judaism, the teacher Maimonides offered eight levels of giving – the highest being to help a person find a sustainable way to lift themselves out of poverty. I have written numerous times about micro-lending, which I think is an amazing solution, but I want to focus on the world of writers. There are many new authors out there and they need a lift up to be noticed.

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I want to invite you to adopt the three R’s and adopt an author for a few months. Disclaimer – you are about to discover I am dyslexic!

R – Read the work of the author. There is no bigger compliment for someone who has spent years writing a novel than to have others read it. Believe me – when I receive a tweet or email from someone I don’t know and they tell me they are reading my books, I get so excited. 

R – Rite about the person. No put away that athame (Pagan ritual dagger) away, but make your computer your sacred space. (W)rite to friends recommending the author, blog about her/him, or comment on other people’s blogs, take to the twitterverse – it works!

R – Review. Despite the controversy surrounding paid reviews, it is still one of the most powerful tools that helps a person perusing amazon, smashwords, B&N, goodreads, etc.

 

Here are a few other ways to help a struggling author (I couldn’t find an R to begin the sentence!): 

1.     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?

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

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

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

This is my final post for the year. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few moments each day and sharing our blog posts, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and sighing. Thank you to Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls for offering different voices and enriching the discussion.

Wishing everyone a year of peace and meaning.

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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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Love Actually – Roger Ingalls

Christmas is a crazy stressful punctuation to the close of a year. Like most, I turn more and more cynical with each passing holiday season. It’s truly a high pressure economic season spun, puffed and sold as a religious event. But…if you look closely, there does seem to be light shining from the hearts of many.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas chores, my wife arm-twisted me into watching one of those sappy holiday chic-flicks, Love Actually.

The opening dialogue by the leading man, Hugh Grant, really stuck in my head. So much so that I had to go online to find the text:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

(picture from fanpop.com)

(picture from fanpop.com)

As a blogging activist, the natural tendency is to focus on the world’s wrongs while putting the good in the back pocket. The more I thought about the opening lines in Love Actually, the more I realized that there is a lot of kindness amongst us. Within the past week I’ve seen a policeman roll down his patrol car window to hand a dollar bill to a guy holding a cardboard sign on a corner, a middle-eastern woman take a white homeless-looking kid hanging around the front door of McDonalds inside for a meal, and I a saw a young girl let go of her mother’s hand to run back to a store’s door in an attempt to hold it open for a handicapped elder.

If you look, love is actually all around us. I guess it is my holiday duty to keep a happy heart for, at least, another week or so. And I must thank my wife for making me watch that sappy Christmas love story. Actually, it was a pretty good movie.

Happy Holidays.

Dragged into the 21st Century

Did you wake up this morning the proud/confused/intimidated owner of something small, electrical, and vaguely rectangular? Did you smile meekly last night while your loved ones looked on with bated breath as you apprehensively ripped open the packaging and did they cheer and clap their hands welcoming you into the technological age?

And did they notice when you reached for that glass of single malt and took a gulp instead of a sip? Thousands of years in the future, archeologists will discover that man had a propensity to collect random items and leave them in their boxes. Often, they will claim to skeptical crowds, these gifts ran off of some obtuse energy source which was, no doubt very rare, since these gadgets seem to be hardly used.

Furthermore, they will note, primitive humans had a propensity to acquire the same gadget with slightly better features despite barely understanding the gadget’s predecessor.

Have another sip of scotch. Oh, I forgot it is the morning after. Well you can always lace your cereal if you do it discreetly.

We are all entering the technological age, whether through brave adventurism, or without choice. You might as well take a deep breath and plunge in. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

Such things as cell phones and iPods seem to be accepted by all but a brazen few, even if the desire for the latest phone has nothing to do with actually making a call. The battle, for now, is over the tablet. The world (at least those of us who don’t need to worry about the little things like a roof over our heads, food at our next meal, or what’s in the water supply) is divided into three groups.

1. Embracing the technology. These people don’t just read on their iPad, Kindle or Nook, they embrace it, often with an annoying missionary zest. They don’t take it out of their bag at the coffee shop or on the bus, they brandish it, like a mighty sword from days long past.

They are liable to chastise you, often in a smug, sympathetic way, as you balance your hardcover on your lap. “Oh,” they whine in true Bob Dylan style, “How many trees does a Luddite reader fell…” When dealing with these people, it can be advantageous to note that the hefty hardcover has a distinct advantage over the light, sleek screen – it is far more effective when you take a swing at aforementioned annoying individual.

2. Luddite Conviction. No way! We are already spending too much time on screens. A book is more than just words on paper. You can smell it, feel the page crackle as you move through the novel, feel the weight of the author’s perseverance as you hold his/her masterpiece in your hand… And then the classic, yet oft-doomed line: It will never catch on.

3. Dithering in the Middle. There is some middle ground. I have to admit that I love my Kindle. It is light, convenient, and I get a kick about the environmental aspects. I am also a confirmed Star Trek fan. However, I do also miss the feel and smell of the book. I love the art of a well thought out book cover, and I also love reading while soaking in a hot bath. My bookshelves are an important part of my identity in our house and I hope sets a certain tone with my family.

So, some Advice for The Morning After:

Firstly: Don’t Panic! Take a deep breath and slowly unwrap the gadget and take it out of its box.

Then: Go on your computer and find either the website for the company or go to You Tube. There are some really good, simple, step-by-step videos for people like us. I know, half of my readers are men and we read instruction manuals like we ask people for directions (btw – you might have a GPS navigator on your tablet).

Finally: Have another whisky. It is the holiday season after all. And take note: if you are reading this blog, then you have already embraced the blogosphere: the cutting edge of the Internet. You are already firmly in the 21st century, dude. YOU CAN DO THIS!

Oh, and if you did receive a Kindle, iPad, or whatever, this might be a good first book to read on your gadget (couldn’t resist!).

Happy Hols’

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

May You Have a Peaceful Christmas – Tom Rossi

Danish for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Danish for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Whether you believe that Jesus was the son of God or not, or whether you think that God even exists or not, or wonder if He has a form not described well at all by our religious dogmata (my own head has been full of blasphemous questions on these subjects since I was 5), I think it’s hard not to agree that Jesus had some pretty good things to say.

Today, we celebrate the birthday of that ancestral hippie who has had so much effect on our world. One of the many things that has made me admire him quite a bit was his, let’s just call it “advocacy,” for peace at various scales.

leojpeace1

On the website christiansforpeace.org is their statement: “It is inconceivable that Jesus would support war.” This is followed by several Bible citations which support the general idea that Jesus was a man of peace, and wanted us all to be, as well.

I’m not really a hardcore pacifist. As I’ve written before, I think that military action is necessary when someone like Adolf Hitler is wreaking havoc on an entire continent. I also think there is nothing wrong with defending yourself or another person against an attacker.

Even this might be inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ, but might line up OK with the part that matches part of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

I don’t want to get all preachy, here, about the hypocrisy of Christians who favor bombing people in faraway lands or executing criminals, but I ask all of you out there – please let today be a day where peace lives in your hearts.

At least for today, if that’s all we can muster, let’s imagine a world where Jesus gets his way. At least for today, let’s only grant permission in our heads to thoughts of love, inclusion, and community.

Merry Christmas. And to all of you out there who celebrate some other holiday, my most sincere best wishes for the holiday season.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'” (Luke 2:13, 14).

-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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Veterans Village – A Story for the Season of Goodwill

My novel, Unwanted Heroes, offered a solution for one PTSD war veteran, but what if we had a model that could help many, across the country. In Los Vegas, not exactly the city with the image of community and volunteerism. But an army of wonderful individuals, supported by the Home Depot Foundation, created a village that can answer the special needs of war veterans, totally renovating an old dilapidated motel. 

Got 7 minutes? Check out this video. This is the season of goodwill – these amazing people are showing the way, reaching out a hand to amazing people who served their country. And let’s not forget the support of a corporation – Home Depot

There is a way to change America. 

Veterans Village

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Vincent J. Coates: Passing of a Mentor – Roger Ingalls

Monday was a sad day. A former co-work informed me via text message that my professional mentor passed away last week.

Vincent J. Coates founded several high-technology companies including Nanometrics, in 1975, which would grow into one of the most recognizable names in the semiconductor capital equipment industry. He was awarded more than 20 patents, had pioneering products in spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy. One of the products he developed is responsible for a market segment that now generates $500 million a year. The technologies Mr. Coates developed are difficult to explain to those not involved in the industry but without his contributions, computers, cell phones and iPods would run much slower than they do today.

Vince

Vince was a dichotomy, you either loved him, hated him or, more than likely, both depending on the minute. On any given day he could be an absolute hard ass and on the following day he was your best friend sharing a funny joke or discussing last night’s football game. Once you had the opportunity to get know Vince, it was obvious he was a kind person. His fist pounding demands for excellence scared most people into avoidance so they never got to see the true man.

He was always teaching, offering advice and sharing his experiences that brought success. Over time, once mutual respect was achieved, you could talk to Vince about anything. Many years ago when I was a young marketing manager, Vince and I were eating lunch in the company cafeteria and he started talking about politics. He noticed I was uncomfortable and asked why. Telling him I was conflicted because my liberal political views were not conducive to growth into corporate management, he proceeded to set me straight. Vince cited example after example of Silicon Valley leaders that were Democrats and explained that an overwhelming number of entrepreneurs are liberal and they’re successful because their minds are open. Over the years I’ve come to realize that he was correct. Progressive free thinking entrepreneurs develop new markets and industries. Conservatives move in later to milk and stagnant setting the stage for a new wave of liberals to come in and obsolete the stagnation. This is especially true in high technology.

The above is just one example of Vince’s teachings, there are many more I could share. Like most of us, Vince wasn’t perfect but he was brilliant and willing to teach if you willing to learn. He demanded perfection and would let you know, in no uncertain terms, when you fell short. At the end of the day, when the dust settled, he always tried to do the right thing.

Knowing Vince made me a better person.

Adopt an author for the holiday season

It’s quick. You don’t need to battle frantic store crowds.  It’s environmental. It’s not expensive … and it helps a struggling author.

Did you know you can buy an e-book and send it directly to a friend as a gift? They usually range from $0.99 – $9.99. Any Kindle book available for purchase in the Kindle Store can be given as a gift to anyone with an e-mail address. You do not need a Kindle device to send or receive Kindle book gifts, and the recipient can read their gift on a registered Kindle device or any free Kindle reading application. All you need to know is that person’s email.  You can add a personal message as well. For more details, click here.

So here’s my idea: Apart from giving a meaningful gift, you are also helping a struggling author. For less than $20 you can buy five ebooks for five different friends and introduce them to an author you know or follow. Be honest – tell them that you want to help promote this author and why – it adds something personal to the exchange.

Adopting an author has five advantages over a pet:

1) We are (generally) toilet-trained.

2) You don’t need to take us out for walks in the rain. In fact, we prefer to sit in front of a keyboard with headphone on.

3) Your guests won’t be allergic to us.

4) We don’t fight with or try to hump every author we pass in the streets. The few of us who do tend to be locked up.

5) When you bring someone home, we don’t bark at them or try and leave a mat of our fur all over them – we just conspire how to work them into that next novel.

Since you are in the mood – here are 10 other ways to help a friend who is an author.

Happy Holidays.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Goodbye to a Jazz Legend

Pre-post note: I wrote most of this post before the tragedy happened in Connecticut. I thought about letting out some of the ideas that have been haunting me on this type of subject, but we’re seen something amazing, out of this dip into hell: people, pundits, and even the President are finally, finally talking seriously about what amounts to this: What is an acceptable compromise between the right to bear arms and the right not to be shot. Like everyone, I’m just sick that it took the murder of a bunch of kindergarteners to accomplish this. But everyone, everywhere is saying that. I’ll just add my vote to that super-majority, for now.

On with a smaller tragedy…

This blog isn’t really supposed to be about music, and specifically jazz, but I’m compelled to return to the subject. We lost a great jazz artist, this past week. Dave Brubeck has passed away at the age of 91, after giving us a lifetime of cool creativity.

Brubeck was born in Concord, California in 1920. He kept playing and entertaining pretty much right to the end, but his “golden period” was mostly in the 50’s and 60’s. Well after that, though, he had notable appearances with heads of state and religion.

Video: Stardust

But I don’t want to do a life story here. Let’s talk about Dave Brubeck’s music, and what made it unique. Often to the consternation of the critics, Brubeck just couldn’t bring himself so stick, clearly and permanently, to an identifiable genre. He was a well-educated musician who mixed in techniques and theme structures from various types of what we now lump together as classical music. He used fascinating time signatures that often made his pieces (or those of his various bands) extremely difficult for others to play.

Blue Rondo a la Turk video:

Brubeck’s jazz was actually criticized as not being jazz at all, but basically classical music. I saw an interview of him, years ago, in which he told the interviewer that people use to say to him, “you don’t swing.” Then, he said, after a few years, people said, “You swing, but your band doesn’t swing.” And, of course, he laughed. But Brubeck’s jazz has stood the test of time. Some of his pieces have even become somewhat iconic.

Video: Take Five

Dave Brubeck was, in fact, my first jazz discovery, although somewhat late. Growing up, I never heard anything in my house except classical music. I took piano lessons for a few years and I was even somewhat talented. But I soon realized that I would never be nearly good enough to perform the only music that I knew. In classical music performance the standard is perfection, and I was never going to be perfect, so I quit.

Video: Strange Meadowlark

I certainly wish I had discovered Brubeck and jazz piano earlier. I would have been inspired to enter a whole new world. In jazz, the players are highly skilled, to be sure. But they are allowed and even expected to experiment, to try new things, to play a piece differently every time, and to make it up as they go along. This is part of why jazz is so inspiring. It takes you places that you never thought of before. It’s like your French fry falls into your curry sauce by accident, and you eat it and say, “Wow! I never would have thought of that!”

Video: In Your Own Sweet Way

Dave Brubeck and other jazz musicians (especially pianists) have opened up parts of my imagination that might otherwise never have been awakened. I owe a debt of gratitude to Brubeck. Thanks, Dave, for helping me discover so much.

-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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Happy Birthday, Brad Pitt and Pele

Today is my oldest son’s birthday. He is fourteen and definitely a teenager. He wouldn’t want me to write a blog about him, though I am guilty of this and this. However it doesn’t seem right to wish Brad Pitt a happy birthday (his is tomorrow) and ignore my son ‘n heir, as we Brits are wont to say. So happy birthday, Pele.

Heralding from the olde countrye I am royally 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 floodwaters. 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 purchase 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!

Happy Birthday, Brad & Pele.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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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