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 “July, 2013”

YA Epic Fantasy Readers & The Ebook Revolution

Elfwriter

Last week’s post, Sex and Swords, generated a lot of great comments and a sound discussion. In the post, I wondered whether the author I was comparing myself to was selling more books than me because his audience are adults. Given that both of us sell more ebooks than tree books, am I likely to sell less books because young adults do not have the access to ebook readers that adults enjoy? Wait a moment  I need to tell my sons to get off screens and go play…

I wrote a post on another blog a couple of years ago and have taken material from there for this. There are a number of authors who have become bestsellers riding the ebook revolution. Amanda HockingJ.A. Konrath, and my own marketing guru, John Locke. But none of these fine people write for young adults (10-18 year old) – my primary…

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Happy 60th Birthday to City Lights Bookstore

I find the death of the bookstore to be sad. I have found myself taking my sons to my local independent bookstores and even having pit stops when we are on the road at a Barnes and Noble. It makes sense – B&N have good bathrooms, passable coffee, and we can walk around.

I am as much to blame for the demise of the bookstore as anyone. I deny any connection to my first public author signing at a Borders and their announcement the next day that they were closing all stores.

Borders 0211I buy most of my books online and as ebooks. It is not just a matter of convenience or price: I genuinely believe in the environmental necessity of ebooks. As an author, my focus is on creating an online platform and this translates (outside the first week or so of a book launch) into consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.

But I realize that I am increasingly treating these trips to a bookstore like a visit to a museum. I will tell my children how you can make spontaneous choices this way, ask advice from staff who are always genuine book lovers (they would not work there I assume otherwise), and enjoy the smell of the bookstore.

My kids know that I am not exactly telling the truth. We rarely buy books on these visits, scouring the bargain bins perhaps, and I often resort to their please to purchase something that I will look it up used online.

I recently went to a book launch of a friend and bought her book at the store, standing in line to get her autograph. It is the actions of a good friend showing up for someone they care about. The book was one-third more expensive than it was new on Amazon. But this is a friend and, in a strange sense, I felt an appreciation for the staff of the bookstore for hosting her.

But one bookstore stands alone, at least in my stomping grounds. Last month City Lights celebrated its 60th birthday. There is a great article here and I don’t want to simply hash out the same story.

imgres-3When I first came to the US and told someone that I dreamed about using fiction as social activism and commentary on our society, they smiled: “You gonna be another Kerouac?”

I could see the disappointment on their face when I asked: “Who?” I looked around, half expecting the immigration police to appear, tear up my green card, and deport me to Canada.

Patriotically, I devoured On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and this began a long and wonderful journey into the beat movement. I feel privileged to still meet men and women who were beatniks. The sequel to Unwanted Heroes is a modern day tribute to the beat generation.

When I told someone of my new interest, they promptly sent me to City Lights (and the Jack Kerouac Alley, and the museum, and oh those delicious Italian pastries in North Beach!).

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I often return to City Lights and always buy a book. I stand in reverence on the top floor, which is dedicated to the beatniks who gathered there under Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote a scene in the sequel to Unwanted Heroes, which I really witnessed as an elderly couple came upstairs and were looking through a coffee table-type book of the beatniks in Paris. They found a photo that included the old man. We spent a wonderful hour together as he reminisced. It was a very special hour and one I will never forget.

That doesn’t happen at an online bookstore. Even if this gentleman had crafted a well-written article about his time in Paris, it could never compare to sitting and listening to him telling it in his own voice.

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It was a magical moment – so thank you to City Lights for still being around. I will bring my sons to the bookstore and they can buy any darn book they want!

Happy 60th birthday.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of GalbriethAlon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Stop the War on Stuff – Roger Ingalls

I’m writing this post as if I were king of the world. Basically I’m pretending to be President Obama except I’m putting political BS aside and being honest. However, I’m simplifying my tasks and only focusing on declaring war.

Most of us who engage our brains know that the USA declares war on stuff to stimulate the economy or to generate a new market that buys products or services from the military industrial complex. We’ve run out of natural markets to fuel the false notion of an infinite growth economy so we now create false enemies for the purpose of declaring war for economic prosperity.

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In my pretend world of being king, I want to be the nice king. I want to stop wars on false enemies for the sole purpose of propping up a doomed economic philosophy. Perpetual growth on a finite planet with finite resources is not sustainable. In my kingdom economies are created to improve human existence and enhance the experience of living.

As king and the proponent of real CHANGE, I would declare war. I would declare war on war.

1)      I declare war on the war on drugs. The war on drugs has done nothing positive in the past 40 years. It has put hundreds of thousands of people in jail for doing what humans just naturally do. We spend more money on policing common human behavior than we do on uncommon but globally recognize criminal activities, such as rape, murder, institutional wealth transfer, slavery and stealing of natural resources.

2)      I declare war on the war on poverty. Instead stealing a third world country’s natural resources to prop up an unsustainable infinite growth free market economy that creates localized poverty, why don’t we  just let local economies sustainably flourish without exploitation. There wouldn’t be starving people in Africa and Asia if they weren’t stripped of local cultural activities and resources in the first places. Modern free market greed creates poverty, not thousands of years of cultural evolution.

3)      I declare war on the war on terror. Twelve years and three trillion dollars later, politicians are still pounding the fear of Muslim terrorism in our heads. Iraq wasn’t a terrorist nation; it was an easy Wall Street casualty…just a speed bump in the path of profiteering military contractors and the oil industry. If the “free market” western oil industry needs to rely on the US military to get access to foreign oil reserves, then these companies should be nationalized or pay for the service. The tax payers who financed the stealing of a foreign natural resource are entitled to spoils of war, not a free-loading Wall Street banking community.

4)      I declare war on…

Ding, ding, ding…damn, the alarm clock spoils my dream of kingdom. And crap, we are still at war too.

Morsi and Obama: A Tale of Two Presidents

I recently drove past a demonstration outside the Federal building in Los Angeles. A red stoplight had my car idling next to maybe fifty Egyptians and their allies. They were supportive of the army’s ouster of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their signs showed their anger with President Obama who has called on the army to honor the democratic process. 

I have to admit that I am very torn here. The Egyptians did hold a democratic election. Sure, it might have been flawed with voter fraud, intimidation and other dirty tricks, and this should be condemned, but it was probably no worse than most other countries. Egypt has only just begun to walk the path of democracy. There will be bumps along the way. 

imagesOn the other hand, Morsi has done little to address the major problems facing Egypt such as poverty and the terrible violence on the streets, in particular directed at women, who are then shamed publicly after being raped and beaten. NPR have reported that more than 100 women who were at the demonstrations were attacked and many raped in public. 

President Morsi leads the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Muslim organization that threatens all who fear religious extremisms and desire to live in a secular country.

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The fundamental question is whether the people (in this case led by the military) can justifiably remove a democratically elected leader if he is not doing his job. President Obama has weighed in and emphatically said no.

I understand his belief that only the democratic process can remove a leader. I think those who suggest that he is supporting a Muslim movement because of his past are being absurd and demeaning.

Many of us are frustrated that countries in Africa, Europe, and most recently in Syria, can destroy and massacre its people, without outside intervention. We draw red lines that are already baffling to the victims and then move those lines when it suits us.

I am not happy with religious extremism in any religion. I am deeply uncomfortable when a religious movement takes control of a country (in any way) and encroaches on the rights of those who do not follow that religion or are not as religious. 

But I am also uncomfortable with our government intervening with the internal affairs of other countries up to a point. I believe the United Nations (I know – I am referring to a fictitious effective organization) should set red lines and intervene when any government crosses that line.

Democracy is important and I believe I would take up arms to protect it. But a democratic government must protect its citizens and allow them to live in freedom, without intimidation or fear.

images-2President Morsi was democratically elected but he failed his people. And this is why he must be replaced. President Obama, who I unequivocally support, should make this distinction. Perhaps there is simply too much gray for us even to get involved.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Fracking Psycho Judy – Tom Rossi

The new movie, “Gasland part II” premiered last night on HBO and it repeats this afternoon, July 9, 2013 at different times, depending on time zone. Of course I didn’t see it last night because we don’t have HBO. But I’ll see Gasland 2 soon enough, even if I have to wait till it comes out on Netflix.

Video: Gasland Trailer

 I just recently (finally) saw the first Gasland movie. In case you’re wondering, it’s really good and mostly interview-based, with real people really affected by fracking. If you haven’t seen the movie, you may have seen some of the scenes where people take a lighter to their garden hose or their kitchen faucet and start a flame-thrower.

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In addition to bringing home flame-throwers to America, the various implements of fracking (the proper name is “hydraulic fracturing“) – drilling rigs and wells, storage tanks, etc., leak a lot of gas and toxic chemicals into the air and into and onto the ground. When I saw this in the movie, I was instantly reminded of a very interesting landlady I once had, who shall forever be known as… Psycho Judy.

 I won’t give Psycho Judy’s last name because she would just love the chance to sue me – with or without merit. I would win the case, but it would still be a big pain. I also won’t go into all the reasons that I, my friends, and many people who have met her called her “psycho,” even before the incident I’m about to describe, because they are irrelevant to the comparison to fracking, which is the topic of the day.

 Psycho Judy, long after I had moved out of a room I had been renting in her house, started up a silicon wafer manufacturing operation. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the operation was at her tract house, in the garage and the side yard, with neighboring houses only a few feet away.

 She got herself a hardware store gas-mask, some new big garbage bags, emptied out some of the trash cans (that she had stolen from neighbors), and apparently had other equipment in the garage. Then she set up a web page with some semi-impressive pictures that she had just dredged from the net, it looked like. The picture were mostly nondescript, but somehow implying high-tech.

 A friend of mine who lives within eye-shot of Psycho Judy’s house saw her wearing a gas mask and handling garbage cans full of chemicals out in her yard. My friend called the police and they brought the haz-mat (hazardous materials) team. Soon, Psycho Judy’s yard and house looked like a seen from the Sean Connery movie, “Outland.”

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Psycho Judy was arrested, convicted, and went to jail.

 The question is… Why? Okay, the question’s not too hard to answer. She had endangered her neighbors by bringing in and handling hazardous chemicals in a residential neighborhood. These chemicals give off toxic fumes, some of which hug the ground and spread because they are heavier than “normal” air. The fumes that are not heavier than air simply take to the wind and, depending on weather conditions, might go visit near-neighbors or another neighborhood, blocks or even miles away.

 Psycho Judy had put the health of ordinary citizens in jeopardy, and for that, she went to jail. Frackers do the same thing. Fracking operations spread toxic clouds of chemicals, contaminate groundwater, use up and contaminate trucked-in water by the billions of gallons, and pollute an area and the general atmosphere in several other ways, all of which are shocking in their scale. But do frackers get arrested? Do they go to jail? Not a chance.

 The question is… Why not? Unfortunately, that question’s not hard to answer, either.

 Fracking has been “exempted”. Exempted from complying with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. This happened because rich, powerful fracking companies have incredible influence over our government. These companies always have several of their former employees working at regulatory agencies. They also have several current employees who were once elected representatives or senators and, at the time of this exemption, an inside man at nearly the top – Dick Cheney, then Vice-President of the United States.

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 Dick Cheney was the key facilitator in getting fracking companies exempted from environmental laws. Asking if Cheney is pro-energy industry is precisely akin to asking if the Pope is Catholic. Before he became Vice President, he had been CEO of Halliburton, which some would say is the ultimate energy and war profiteering corporation on Earth.

 What are environmental regulations for? What good are they if the worst polluters are simply exempted? It’s not that different from many situations we face here in America where issues of legality or justice are concerned – little crimes get punished, sometimes severely, while huge crimes are ignored.

 I’m glad Psycho Judy was punished. She was a menace to her neighbors in several ways, including some which were very serious. But frackers are endangering us all, and some people are suffering direct, immediate, and very harsh consequences from fracker’s actions. And like Wall Street criminals, they are not considered criminals at all by the U.S. Department of Justice. Frackers can’t even be found in violation of Environmental Protection Agency rules – they are above the law.

 But don’t let this make you think you can sneak into a ball game or smoke in a restaurant or something. You’ll probably go to jail for that. You’ll at least be fined.

-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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America: July 4th For All

I realize that I, like many of my fellow social commentators, spend a lot of time highlighting what is wrong in this country. This is important and even patriotic because it feeds from a desire to create a better and more just society. Today, however, should not be such a day. Allow me to share a post I wrote for a previous July 4th and in the afterglow of the historic Supreme Court human rights decision just a week ago.

I am sitting in my local coffee shop and two men have just walked in together. They are deep in conversation and I see that one insists on paying for both coffees while the other protests and then gratefully accepts. I sense they exchange this ritual regularly.  One man is black and the other is white. This shouldn’t stand out to me living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, but it does.

These two men, though they walk straight and fluidly, are both old. They must be in their late 70’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in their 80’s. They grew up in a different time, another age, when this scene would have drawn everyone’s attention in the coffee shop. Now, I suspect, it is just me.

These two men lived through segregation, the civil rights movement, and the general drive by mainstream American to create a non-racist, civil society. I know there are extremists out there, and I am aware that black people still face institutional racism, but when spotlighted, there is a strong consensus that such behavior is unacceptable.

I am writing this post a couple of days before the 4th of July. I am still not a citizen of the US, but I feel a part of this society because I believe in what it stands for: freedom and democracy for all. I know our country is not perfect, but we are moving forward. I know that not everyone is on board, or swimming in the same direction, but I believe there is a determined majority who embrace these principles. Jewish proverbs teach us that “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.”

My blog often criticizes members of our society, organizations and politicians. But today, July 4th, while we fire up the barbecue and chill the bud (really, the only reason I haven’t applied for citizenship is I am expected to drink my beer cold!), lets focus on what we share in common.

I’ll leave you with Janis Ian who spells it out in black and white.  Happy 4th everyone.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Early July 4th Post – The Right To Fly The Flag

Found this old post – really enjoyed it then. There is a HUGE flag flying opposite where I am right now in SoCal. Enjoy the post.

Left Coast Voices

Larry Murphree is a US Army war veteran and taxpaying citizen. But his Homeowner’s Association decided he had stepped out of line and fined him, with the fine growing every day. This problematic troublemaker had the audacity to fly the U.S. flag in a flowerpot outside his home – in full view of the children!!! Not only that, but he was banned from the neighborhood clubhouse.

In true American fashion, Murphree filed a lawsuit against the HOA, “When I saw state and federal law was on my side, I knew it should be taken care of,” he said. 

The HOA saw the errors of its way and agreed to pay Murphree’s attorney fees, restore his rights at the clubhouse, and most importantly… fly his flag.

“I can display the American flag, which is exactly and the only thing I want,” he said. 

When another man was told by his Homeowners Association that he could not fly the American Flag in…

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Have you Been to Church? – Tom Rossi

Have you been to church lately? Have you worshiped the almighty Jobs? Have you read The Book of Jobs? Have you attended services to celebrate the resurrection of Jobs?

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 Steve Jobs was, as far as I know, the first CEO who was enough of an egomaniac to call big press conferences to announce a new device that his company had produced – even if that device was, many times, just the latest version.

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 Now, press conferences to announce new toys or versions of electronic toys or versions of softwares are de rigueur, and reporters and “enthusiasts” (people whose lives revolve around having the latest iPhone or whatever) flock to them like kids to ice cream trucks on a hot day. We still have press conferences for Apple, but also Samsung, Facebook, and a host of other companies who have CEOs anxious to play the court jester. I think they all want to stick their success in the faces of the jocks who kicked their asses in high school and the girls who made barfing sounds when they asked them out.

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 Yes, these press conferences are attended by throngs of reporters because the release of a new device version is what, today, passes for news. In between a few reports of shootings in east Oakland, this weeks big party parade across San Francisco, traffic reports, and horse-race political reporting, there is always “news” of some company releasing an iblender4.3, or something. “Apple announced, at its big event today, that iPhones will now be available in blue.” Very exciting news.

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 What really gets me about these press conferences is that they are purely for the purposes of publicity, and the media are complicit in the scheme. Every tech-head nerd-geek knows better than to take what is said at these release orgies too seriously. Anyone with more sense than dollars waits to hear from the reviewers who take the thing back to the office and work it over like Muhammad Ali beating up on Cleveland Williams. That’s why we hear so quickly about defects with things like map apps.

 But this is our new church. We, or our representatives, sit in the pews, waiting and hoping for a glimpse of our savior – whoever is the latest to promise us safe passage into heaven… or to heavenly FaceSpaceTumbling and Twitstagramming, anyway.

 I have an iPhone. It’s kind of a nice thing to have. I use the map a lot – that’s really what I bought it for. My iPhone is something like two years old. It still works well enough. I also have a hammer and a pair of vice-grips that I like. They’re all pretty useful tools.

 -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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