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 tag “freedom”

Shi Tao Released

I have kept quiet about this for a few months to respect the desire of the victim/hero for privacy.

For the last three years, I have dedicated one of my Freedom Hanukkah posts to Shi Tao who was jailed for 10 years for leaking information about Chinese government restrictions to the west, via Yahoo who gave that information to the government to use as evidence in his trial. Here is a 30-second explanation from Amnesty International.

Tao was convicted when he tried to lift the reporting restrictions from coverage of the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre where the army opened fire on unarmed civilians. The Chinese government claimed that 241 people were killed in the demonstration and subsequent crack-down. Human Rights groups claimed thousands were killed.

If your memories of the uprising have become blurry, perhaps this amazing footage will jog your memory. It is an unforgettable moment in  history.

Yahoo aside, and they really should be put aside for this, Shi Tao became a symbol of writers who are persecuted for wanted freedom and struggle to bring down censorship. Shi Tao  is a member of Independent Chinese PEN Center, which advocates for freedom of speech and in 2007 won the Golden Pen for Freedom Award.

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Shi Tao is now released and at home, after serving time for almost eight years. He is recuperating and not giving interviews, perhaps a condition for his early release. While we must respect his wish for privacy, now is a good time to celebrate, during the festival of freedom, that for those living in darkness, there is always hope.

You are not Jewish Mr. Tao, but Happy Hanukkah anyway.

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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).

 

 

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+

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).

Rape is a Crime. So is Silence.

Disclaimer: I am writing about a topic I know nothing about. I am a man. I have never forced myself upon a woman, never been forced, and it is a topic that I feel no one is talking about. I live in the progressive San Francisco Bay Area and I am experiencing a wave of shock at the three incidents I have heard about recently.

This is America…California…San Francisco…and it feels like I am living in a primitive or totalitarian society.

All three incidents (as much as I was told) involved women who reached a point where during the attack they went still, played dead, from fear that they could not stand more physical abuse and pain, or maybe for fear of their lives. They tried to mentally detach, to distance themselves from what was being done to them.

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As far as I understand, this desperate survival act, compromised their ability to have the criminals who did this to them brought to justice. The fact that the physical evidence could have been from just having ‘rough (consensual) sex’ means that they are not believed that they were raped, and are often treated as sluts, liars, or unstable.

The fact that the women I spoke with were apprehensive about reporting the crime to the police is a terrible reflection of our police force. Why are they having to report this to a man, in a uniform, who symbolizes ‘power-over’? Do we not have enough women in the police force that it is standard procedure for a woman police officer to interview the (female) victim?

So this is a man’s world. Maybe, but here is California we are blessed with some amazing women in leadership. Where the fuck is Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and the other strong women leaders I look up to and admire? In my work, and the activism part of my life, I meet such incredibly strong, empowered women. Why the silence? Where are the men in power who have the responsibility to protect all citizens?

When I first came to California, a gay friend was explaining the fight to crush DOMA here. He said something like: It has to start here. California is a start-up nation, not only in hi-tech, but in social policy. If it can be done anywhere, California must lead the way to change.

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That a person must walk around for the rest of his/her life with this crime eating away inside, constantly in a  state of hyper-vigilance, being a painful reminder every time someone close tries to be intimate with them, is a life sentence.

Bringing the rapist to justice will never erase what they did to the victim, but it might go some way to closure. At least there is not that haunting feeling that the assailant is still walking free.

If we are to suggest that America has any claim to moral and social leadership, if we are to preach freedom to the world, then we must eradicate this criminal act and the damaging silence that surrounds it.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, Ashbar – 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).

Crossing The Line

I realize that this post is not going to sit well with the audience of Left Coast Voices, and Roger, who already pointed towards the fact that big business is probably salivating at the prospect of making big bucks from another war, presents a scary scenario of those most motivated to crank up the war machine.

I get it and I am pretty sure he is right. But I am not sure that is reason enough to prevent intervention to not step in and stop the Syrian dictatorship from using chemical weapons again on anyone.

In the 1990’s I walked around with a gas mask in Tel Aviv, sealed up a room, participated in the drills, and sat in a shelter wondering if my family and friends were alright – if the missiles landing around us were regular scud missiles or tipped with chemicals.

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As a soldier, I trained with gas mask and in gas released scenarios. I will never forget the labored breathing and the sweat that gathered on the gas mask making it so difficult to see. I remember the sarcastic jokes – no wonder Darth Vader turned to the dark side!

I am not even sure I believe in the – It’s an internal matter, we shouldn’t get involved – excuse. Countries are very artificial entities, especially those carved out by colonialist interests. But people are human beings, whether Syrians, Afghans, Africans or Tibetans. The only thing that seems to differentiate is who sits in a country with oil.

With regard to Syria, I’m not even convinced that the line was not crossed long before the chemical attack.

But I’m also astounded at the United Nations. How we find ourselves in a situation whereby the world movement refuses to do anything but shake its head and wag a finger is beyond me. If the world expects America to police the world, a frightening prospect, why are we pumping money into the United Nations? If the US were to pull out, would the United Nations even exist?

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Brett D. Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom claims that “the U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and more than 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget” – source. If chemical warfare is a red line that has been crossed why is the US not giving 22% of a UN coalition?

Finally, the fact that President Obama felt he needed more than one man (namely himself) to makes the decision whether the US would strike Syria should not be construed as weakness … rather it is DEMOCRACY. I’m not sure how many 2nd-term presidents would take such a step. I doubt many and I support the President and his decision.

I care less for countries and more for the people who live in them. No one should have to live through a war, whether internal or not. If we truly treasure our freedom, we must understand that we are never free while others are not.

At what point in a war has a country (or faction) crossed the line? Probably when the first bullet is fired. What is clear: once you have fired chemical weapons, you are way past the line and must be stopped.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

Pussyfoot Politics – Roger Ingalls

To the battlefields, it’s time for war…again.  It’s no big surprise; the banking community needs their year over year growth and profit margins. There’s no real growth markets so they need to be artificially created. War material is expensive and if the inventory sitting on the shelves can be turned, it can then be replaced. All the big publicly traded military contractors will again make the big bucks, keeping Wall Street, aka The Banks, happy. We’re just looking for an excuse to make war happen.

Good for Wall Street, bad for Americans.

Good for Wall Street, bad for Americans.

Unfortunately, this is the economic path that’s been crafted through systematic flipping of freedom. Personal freedoms have been greatly regulated since the 1970s while corporate freedoms have experienced supernovas through deregulation. It’s a freedom inversion; taken away from the masses and given to big corporations and financial industries.

It is what it is; money buys power and brainwashing spin. It will not change until the system collapses under its own weight and corruption. People will react when the pain gets too great. We are not there yet.

Back to the war effort. We need to quit the pussyfooting, the posturing and all the fakeness related to our war efforts. We need to be honest with ourselves and come clean with the international community. We need to proclaim our true war policy.

Proclamation of War

We, corporate America and financial controlling partners, in order to maintain our monetary growth charter find it necessary to create a constant state of war. We steadfastly ascribe to maintaining leadership in weapons technology and will create war to deplete previous generations of war-product inventory which further enhances our ability to finance war sciences. We resolve to make transparent, through period notice, our intent to make war on nations deemed obstructionist to economic exploitation. We further resolve to align militarily and financially with all for profit entities engaged in economic exploitation.

It’s no longer about a free world; it’s only about a free market for the select few. Maybe it’s always been and the enlightened Voltaire, Locke and American Founding Fathers, such as Jefferson, Paine and Franklin were just fictional characters.

The Many Faces of Terrorism – Tom Rossi

Terrorism is defined in Webster’s as, “The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.” But Google provides the definition that is closer to the common, popular understanding that also seems to dominate our legal landscape: “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

The term “terrorism” is now haphazardly applied to anyone and everything whose activities are disliked by those in power, either in governmental or corporate settings. As a result, the term itself is used as a form of terrorism against those who would dissent, including the brave souls who have exposed extreme animal cruelty at factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Meanwhile, things that might justifiably be called terrorism are ignored, or even praised and rewarded. To illustrate this point, let’s look at a disturbing contrast…

The now infamous Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, performed an act of classic terrorism. They set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring more than 250 – some seriously. They apparently did this as some sort of political statement that they were dissatisfied with America. What they hoped to accomplish I cannot imagine. Whatever their goal may have been, they most certainly (and predictably) failed.

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After the Tsarnaevs were identified as the prime suspects, the city of Boston went to war, eventually “locking down” a huge area of the city and occupying it with all types of police vehicles, including some that resembled military tanks. The expense of this operation in democratic, financial, and economic terms, was immense.

As a result of an act committed by two inept, misguided clowns, we have given up even more of our freedom (both in the short and the long run), we have paid a large bill, and we have embarked on even more spending on security that will live on into the foreseeable future.

But what about the other, more insidious acts of terrorism that affect millions of Americans? What about the pollution of our drinking water and soil with substances that, among other impacts, have negative effects on fetal and child development? If a “terrorist” did that, if a person did it, it would be an outrage. There would be 24-hour television coverage for a week. There would be special logos and titles created by all the major news networks: “Terror at Your Kitchen Sink,” “Are You Safe in Your Own Home?” etc., etc., etc.

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The truth is that the acts of terrorism I’m describing go on every day, have gone on for many years, and are rapidly accelerating. Under the guise (or justification) of increasing or cheapening our food supply or providing ever more cheap energy, untested (or sham-tested) chemicals have been dumped into our environment in incredible amounts. Weird and completely unnecessary chemical ingredients have also been added to our food, and toxic gases have been released into our air.

Regulations have been fought, tooth and nail, by the very terrorists committing these acts. We have been told, many times over, that regulating chemicals or even labeling our foods properly would raise prices or bring about shortages. The people of California were told that labeling genetically modified ingredients in processed foods would raise their grocery bills by $400 per year – a lie, but an effective lie.

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How much does every American man, woman, and child pay each year for the “War on Terror?” It’s a difficult question to answer accurately, but a study from Brown University puts the figure at around $1,000 per year. That seems a conservative estimate. How much will our collective acts of terrorism cost in lost resources and lost health? That’s much more difficult, but you can bet it’s a whole lot more.

As a country, we are apparently more than willing to swallow almost limitless costs to fight one type of terrorism but downright intolerant of the very idea of stemming the type that can do far more damage to many more people. The Tsarnaev brothers certainly should have been pursued, caught, and punished (Tamerlan actually got killed trying to get away) for their cruel and idiotically pointless crime. Should we not also pursue and punish, as a society, what could be called “slow terrorism?”

It seems that if terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers had been motivated by profit rather than making a political statement, instead of being hunted down like dogs, they would have been featured in business television shows and magazines. Maybe they would even have a commercial about how cool they are, narrated by a smart-looking woman in a white pants-suit.

-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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When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 

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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.

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.

Satire Is Part Of Freedom

“Without Bassem Youssef and the journalists who took to Tahrir Square in protest, President Morsi would not be in a position to repress them.”

Jon Stewart – Morsi

I’m not sure that I can add anything to what Jon Stewart said in the above  clip – when he gets serious, it is very powerful (even if still funny). Freedom and democracy is a double-edged sword. Taking power, even through a legitimate vote, doesn’t make you a democratic state. Democracy is a marathon not a sprint.

Do the right thing, President Morsi. Egypt and Islam are strong enough to deal with satire. Are you?

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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 At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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