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 “November, 2013”

Putting the THANKS in Thanksgiving

Elfwriter

Last week Amazon held a KDP 3-Day Promotion of At The Walls Of Galbrieth. I put a lot of work into this and hoped you enjoyed the blog posts, the tweets, and the messages .  I received a lot of requests to share results, especially from the amazing friends, many of whom I have never met, but who sent out emails, retweets, +1’s (Google+), and spread the word on Facebook.

I wish to thank over 4,300 people who downloaded At The Walls Of Galbrieth – surely it couldn’t all have been my mother? My author rank broke into the top 10,000 and, for a short while, I held the top rank in three fantasy categories.

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If you have enjoyed the read, please check out The First Decree and Ashbar. Also take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon. I am learning how important…

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I’m Tired – Tom Rossi

I’m tired of politics. I’m so tired. There are people (and more importantly money) out there that think that making sure all Americans can get health care is a bad thing. They say that curtailing Iran’s nuclear capabilities instead of just bombing them into oblivion is a bad thing. They think that helping needy people, including the veterans of our bullshit mercenary wars and their families, to get a little food is a bad thing.

How can we progress as a nation when so many people (and so much power) really want to go backwards? It’s depressing. But, there are so many good things in life. And for all the bad things that I’ve been through, I have to say that I’m one of the lucky ones. There is a whole lot of good in my life, and most of that good is the best kind of good – the people that are near and dear to me.

In fact (and this may come as a surprise) we, as a nation, have set aside a whole day to celebrate just what I’m talking about! It’s called (are you ready for this?) Thanksgiving.

Now the history of Thanksgiving has probably been just a tad distorted (ahem). But Thanksgiving, unlike Christmas, has actually improved over the past two-and-a-half centuries. Instead of becoming a commercial orgy of excess, it’s more about family and loved ones than ever. So, with this week’s post, I’m just going to relax and think about my favorite subject…

Food.

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If this were the "Restaurant at the End of the Universe", the sign would say, "Please Eat Me."

If this were the “Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, the sign would say, “Please Eat Me.”

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Happy Thanksgiving.

-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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Left-Right Nihilism – Tom Rossi

There’s something in the way politics is discussed on TV, online, and even in person with many people that I find really aggravating. It’s the “left-right” thing.

A little too vague? which left-right thing, Tom??? You’re right. There are thousands of ways that could be taken, but I think this is the Emperor of them all. What I’m talking about is the way that the positioning of a person or an issue on the left-right spectrum completely dominates not only any political discussion on the matter, but that it seems to have taken over many people’s (and the entire media’s) thinking on the person or issue.

People often seem to care not about the workings of an issue, nor the meaning of a politician’s position on an issue, but only where they are told the issue or the person falls on the left-right spectrum.

Sometimes there are direct contradictions in people’s opinions, based on this left-right weirdness. A case in point is Elizabeth Warren. Many conservatives, like most liberals, want Wall Street masterminds held accountable, that is they want them to face criminal charges, for the decisions and actions that led to the decimation of the U.S. economy that started to become apparent in 2007. And yet, even though that is exactly Elizabeth Warren’s mission on this Earth, conservatives show little except hatred for her.

This is because the now well-known conservative “echo-chamber” tells its followers, over and over, that Elizabeth Warren is a “liberal”, and therefore worthy of contempt. The reason that the conservative power structure wants people to have this opinion is clear – they are really afraid of her. That’s okay, but what bothers me is that people are so willing to buy into this line of thinking.

This phenomenon is certainly not limited to the United States, either. Some woman actually phoned in a message of support for the “Crack-Smoking Mayor of Toronto”, Rob Ford, essentially excusing him for whatever he had done because he “deals with those liberals on the city council”. Yikes.

The same kind of thinking leads people to think that Sarah Palin should be president. These people only care that she’s conservative and they don’t care that she’s hardly educated and shows many signs of being an epsilon minus, semi-moron. But then, I suppose it’s not all that different from people supporting Hillary Clinton because they want “a” woman to be president. I wonder if those people would vote for Palin if she ended up being the only woman in the race?

Back to Elizabeth Warren… She is one of my heroes, and I’m not sure why it would be any different for anyone who isn’t the CEO of a Wall Street investment/banking firm. She’s not a hero for what she’s accomplished; she’s a hero for what she fights for. At least find out what she stands for before you go trashing her. Please.

Automatic, robotic thinking won’t get this country anywhere but into a permanent state of recession/depression. These days, there’s no excuse for failing to even do a quick internet search and here’s a hint… you have to go beyond your favorite, partisan site. Find out what the person actually says. Find out what’s actually at stake with an issue. Think. Please.

-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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Why Do Adults Gravitate To Young Adult Fiction?

This post generated interesting responses on the elfwriter blog. What is your take?
Have a great weekend,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com

Elfwriter

I believe that more adults are reading the epic fantasy Wycaan Master series than young adults. I know there is a fair proportion of teenagers and even pre-teens reading, but judging by the emails, blog comments, and twitter responses, it is predominately adults. This is all despite the books being written for and with my children, which I describe here. It begs the question why are adults drawn to Young Adult (YA) books?

imgresI found this article by Kelly Johnson. In her post, she debunks the following statements (her words):

1. Our culture encourages an unnatural and prolonged adolescence 

2. YA books are escapist since you don’t have to look beneath the surface of them. They are easier to grasp.

3. Adults read YA because they aren’t able to read past a middle school or high school level because adults are getting dumber and dumber.

4. YA books are…

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48 Hours After Veteran’s Day

Two days have passed since Veteran’s Day. It is a well-meaning attempt to show those who put their lives at risk to defend our freedom that we care and appreciate their sacrifice. Perhaps it moves a few, most likely those who have better adjusted to their past and control their present. But for those still fighting a war inside their heads, those who struggle because of a physical wound, who are denied the benefits and help they deserve, it might just be another day full of hollow rhetoric.

We are a society that believes in the need to defend itself, that we must be the biggest, best armed, and one of the better trained. We define this concept of defense in our own way. One key strategy is that we keep the field of conflict far away from mainland America. Whether you agree or not, it defines the 1st and 2nd World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. We fought our enemies far away from here. As a Brit whose father fought the Germans, and whose mother carries the scars of the Blitz, I can understand that. Hitler was on our doorstep even if he never crossed the English Channel.

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I can live with this principle and am willing to pay my share of the bill for financing our defense (taxes). But this social contract, which is held with those who serves, demands that we take care of them when they return and cannot smoothly reabsorb into society.

I have written a number of times about this embarrassing and inexplicable injustice, both in this blog and in my novel, Unwanted Heroes. In Israel, a country that lives under a far greater (proportionally) financial commitment to pay for its military, everyone serves in the army. This fact is probably why it is a given that a soldier, wounded inside or out, will receive whatever help s/he needs. It is, quite frankly, not an issue, and this is probably why I was so shocked when I came to live in the US and found homeless war veterans on too many street corners.

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A country that refuses to take care of those citizens, who have most earned that care, cannot be expected to build a moral and principled society. If we give our young people the message that it becomes everyone for themselves, then that is how they will behave. The consequences are fewer taxes gathered, more crime (street and white-collar), and a general erosion in respect and self-respect.

Our soldiers must be held up as the first line of defense for a society that is under attack…from itself. I don’t believe, in this technological age, that there is any rational explanation why a veteran must wait up to two years and more for their claims to be dealt with.

It is the result of a selfish society that doesn’t care, and has become numb to the needs of anyone outside of their social circle. We are failing our soldiers and failing the millennial generation who are watching, learning and judging.

We reap what we sow and we need to become responsible farmers before it is too late. It is 48 hours after Veteran’s Day and time is running out.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Healthcare.gov, Oh my! – Tom Rossi

The launch of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ACA, aka Obamacare) has gone pretty poorly. This has been due to website malfunctions and the resulting (and predictable) media frenzy.

Now I don’t want to discount the possibility (and even probability) of incompetence on the part of the healthcare.gov website designers, but is this really such a surprise? Are these failures really so rare? I think not.

The ACA website is probably the first in history to have such an intense debut. Of course, the designers knew that it would be intense all along but, unlike Facebook, Google, or Amazon, the first day the website was up, it was flooded with “hits“. Other major websites built up gradually as they got more popular.

But even so, are other websites really all that great? I think not. I’ve had problems with almost every website I’ve visited more than once. And some I had problems with the first time and that’s exactly why I didn’t go back! I’ve filled out forms, clicked “send” or “done” or whatever, only to have my work wiped out with no way to get it back.

Unhappy Customers are not Engaged Visitors

On Hotels.com my wife and I were searching for a room, the site screwed up somehow, and we had to start over. For some reason, when we started over, the calendar on the site set itself a year forward, so we ended up booking a room for a year later than we wanted. To their credit, one of their reps stayed on the phone with us for a half an hour until it was fixed. But even THAT went wrong! I was on my cell phone with a rep, our call got “dropped”, and we had to call back and… start all over with another rep.

Anyone who has visited the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” website knows how bad it is. They’ve only recently figured out how to stream their videos without a bunch of fits and starts interrupting you. Great show. Crappy website.

Have you tried to search for a topic on Dr. Oz’s website? Good luck. Dr. Oz is great, his web designers? Aaaaah, not so much. And although things have eventually improved at Expedia.com, at least twice I’ve been at the airport and the numbers they gave us for out itinerary didn’t match the numbers that the airlines expected. The result? About a half-hour delay as one of the now rare ticket agents got my situation straightened out.

I’ve had hours and hours worth of frustrations on websites. Amazon once decided to ship something I ordered to an address that I moved out of ten years earlier. Believe it or not, fixing that took incredible effort. And just try to get something done like contacting Hewlett-Packard support through their website. Here’s a hint – where it says “contact HP” does not lead to the actual ability to contact anyone, just to search their FAQs for the same issue. I tried various methods for almost an hour and finally got ahold of a person… through the phone.

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Unfortunately, Hewlett-Packard doesn’t stand out as a tech company with a bad website. Apple, Dell, Microsoft, almost anybody you can name has a clunky, ridiculously overblown website where it’s incredibly difficult to solve an actual problem. To a lesser degree, even Google’s basic search engine seems to go on vacation, once in a while.

Web sites have problems. They also almost universally have bad designs at their core. And most of these websites have had years to improve. How many times have I entered some serial number or something on a website and it comes back with an error: “You must enter a serial number”? How many times has a website crashed on me, just as I thought I was getting through all the steps to accomplish something?

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The ACA website, healthcare.gov’s problems are not that big a surprise to me at all, not after trying to change my address on the California DMV website – another winner. The healthcare.gov problems simply make news because any failure associated with the ACA is automatically news. And the pundits are using their usual “I’m not saying this, I’m just asking” method to “ask” if this all means that the ACA is a failure. That’s sensationalism, and that’s today’s pathetic excuse for journalism. End of story.

I hope everybody will calm down, ride out the problems, and get themselves some high quality health coverage. I’m going to do just that. Website problems aside, next year I’ll finally be able to afford going to the doctor, if I need to.

-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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Personal PTSD Story Before Veteran’s Day

This is an old blog post, but the subject is very much on my mind as we near Veteran’s Day. I often wonder the wisdom of a whole weekend just before the day. That’s a whole lot of downtime away from the everyday pressure that crowds out the memories. When I wrote Unwanted Heroes it was with me 24/7.

I left my office late that damp, foggy San Francisco night. I drove my car onto Junipero Serra, a main street, and then pulled over, needing to wipe the windows for safe visibility. As I worked my way round the back of the car, wheels screeched around the corner behind me. I instantly crouched down low behind my car and my whole body tensed. I was ready. I could feel my heart thumping.

When I saw the joy riders speed past me, their music blaring, I leaped back into my car, pulled out and followed them. I think my wheels actually screeched. They would stop at the traffic lights a half-mile away and I could ram my car into theirs. I would teach them a lesson they would never forget. I could clearly imagine the crunching sound from the impact of the two cars and the terror they would feel, similar to the terror that I had just felt.

I pulled up behind them, images of my wife and children instantly grounding me. I breathed heavily and scrambled for some familiar radio station as I followed them to the Daly City exit where I would turn off.

When I had served in the army, I drove plain-clothed deep into enemy territory. My role was to protect someone who received information. There were three guards: one entered with the person, the other two stood outside guarding the car and the entrance.

We were undercover, but wore our army boots and carried our distinct semi-automatic rifles. In short, we were sitting ducks for a sniper, or a drive by. When any car approached, either too slow or too fast, we would take defensive postures. When a car’s wheels screeched to accelerate, we hit the ground, in one well-practiced movement.

My hands remained clenched tightly around my Saab’s steering wheel for the whole 45-minute trip home to the East Bay. When I stepped through the door to our apartment in Berkeley, it was time for dinner, kid’s homework, and to hear stories from the schoolyard.

I had made it home today …  but only just.

But there are friends who were not so fortunate. They never made it home. They never got the opportunity to open the door to a loving, if somewhat crazy, family. It’s the difference between choosing to hit the gas or the brake.

As simple as that.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

A Fair Currency – Roger Ingalls

There’s been a lot of news about Bitcoins and their success as a currency over the past several months. Prior to recent news, I wouldn’t even have known about them if it wasn’t for a friend that is really in to the digital mining of these coins.

This geeky digital money has gotten my mind churning about creating another currency that could parallel the dollar but would be a FAIR currency for main street working-class peoples. With the success and high public interest in the Bitcoin, it does seem likely that the creation of other useable forms of currency is possibly.

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It’s a worthy experiment to emulate, where appropriate, the implementation of the Bitcoin but this proposed new currency would be based on a basic human necessity instead of a precious metal like gold or a fiat currency ,such as, the US Dollar which is tied to the whims of the Federal Reserve and Wall Street Banks. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s call this new currency a FAIR. I would suggest the FAIR be based on food and more specifically, a fast and easily grown food such as lettuce. Again, food is needed by all so it is inherently precious.

Through the centuries, kings, warlords and religious leaders accumulated ornate elements to show proof of their powerful position. Over time, one of the elements – gold – would become the standard for commercial transactions. Until the 1970s, regional currencies were proportionally tied to gold; for example, the US Dollar was worth about 1/20th of an ounce and the Sterling Pound was equivalent to ¼ ounce. Here’s the point: today’s currencies are rooted in an ornate metal hoarded and controlled by the rich and powerful which has little to no life-sustaining value.

A currency tied to food has real value. It would solve many problems including hunger, obesity, wealth disparity, global warming and other aspects of an ailing society. Over the next several weeks I will justify the benefits of a food based currency, discuss implementation and earning participation.

Your Letter Counts!

This post has been inspired by some great news I received about someone imprisoned by his oppressive government. I can’t wait to share the news, but have been asked to wait.

Often you feel powerless when a government arrests a person seeking freedom, democracy, education for women (or even the right to drive). It might be a tribe or people denied clean water or medicine, or any one of a thousand values that we take for granted every day.

We throw up our arms and give in. We get burnt out and buried in the stress of our own lives. But what if we each took 20 minutes a week or a month and wrote a letter to a political prisoner. Would it work?

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When I was a teenager, I lost my political virginity campaigning to free Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Sharansky. I wrote letters, asked people to sign petitions, and went to demonstrations. Neither of these great men are free because of an English teenager’s attempts, but maybe I was a snowflake in the avalanche.

Bu Dongwei thinks so. He believes it worked for him. If nothing else take 2mins 21sec and listen to his story.

And Morgan Freeman agrees.

Amnesty International offers a list of prisoners and there are other organizations like PEN who advocate for writers who are jailed for standing up for freedom of speech in their own countries.

So how about it? Let’s all commit to just one letter a week/month. Put it in your calendar and let’s make a start.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

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