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 “internet”

Interview with Professor McGoughen

The following post is a post by Professor McGoughen, a fictional Scottish law professor who plays an important role in The Accidental Activist. On Sunday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s on which the story is loosely based.

I would like to say that what follows are the words and opinions of the writer himself and his alone. Given that he is a product of my imagination, I’ll skip it. Over to you, Professor.

Steel & Morris demonstrating at the McLibel Trial

—–

“I’m really excited tae be com’g tae California for the book launch of The Accidental Activist  in a co’ple o’ weeks. Once I finish the semester teaching law at Oxford, I had planned tae visit ma wee grandchildren in Edinboro’, but I could nae resist seeing the book o’ the trial an’ how yoo Americans perceive such a shenanigan.

Ma role in the trial was a wee one. I can nae believe that computer wiz kid got me soo wound up as tae bring me out of retirement. I spent ma whole life fightin’ the multinationals. As an Oxford University law professor, I still can nae imagine how two young scrufs could have pulled it off.

Certainly the Internet was a powerful tool that I nae had in ma day. But the way that laddie harnessed it to involve so many people from all o’er the world was amazing. He deserves all the credit that this wee book gives him.

The real McSpotlight website

An’ I hope it gives a new generation o’ lasses ’n lads the inspiration tae fight for what’s right in a way that’s relevant for them. Your President, Mr. Obama, understood this ’n that’s why soo many people got involved in his campaign that had nae done soo before. I hear he still sends out updates to his supporters, still keeps them informed via the Internet.

I want this t’ be the message that y’ people will take from The Accidental Activist: that it’s possible to effect change, that y’ can influence what is happening. Ya need to know what is going on. When them corporate types know som’n is watching them, they might think twice ’bout their actions. I hear that in America, they don’t even pay any taxes.

An’ remember: this trial mae have happen’d in England, but many o’ these multinationals operate outta the US. This is as relevant for yoo as it is for Britain, Africa or Asia. Our world is connected now an’ we noo got much time. This Internet might just be the tool to change everything – an’ this is what young Shalev is tryin’ t’ tell us in his book.

Read the book. I reckon that you’ nae look at the Internet in the same wae again.

Alistair McGoughen
Professor at Law, Oxford University

——————————————————————————————————

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

The Right to Respond

The world is changing. The Internet allows anyone to comment on anything, anytime, anywhere.  Last month, a blogger wrote a negative review of The Greek Seaman by Jacqueline Howett.
The short side of this story is that the blogger was extremely critical, Ms. Howett took offense and there followed an extended argument over the Internet and blogosphere that has captivated the writing world and many others.

As a disclaimer, I wish to say that I do not know the blogger, Big Al, or the author, and have never read her novels. I have no desire to join the debate of whether he is right, she is right, or they are both wrong.
I also have to admit, that I am uncomfortable with the reaction of the writing community (or much of it, I should say). It feels like one of those afternoon TV shows where they bring together people who have hurt each other to ‘discuss it’ and the audience gets off on their pain, anger and tears.

The question I want to dwell on is: should an author have the right to respond or defend themselves when a critic takes them to task?  In the past, polished reviewers gave polished reviews, giving little digs and comments, perhaps, but all within the boundaries of good taste. Today, anyone can write anything … and they do.

Having received one harsh review, I have to say that it hurts. You put so much into writing a book. You are ready for some people to put it down after a few pages because it is not their scene. But to see cutting criticism in black and white (or whatever color those pixels are) is tough. Been there, done that, and I feel for you Ms. Howett.

But I question whether we, as authors, have the right to argue with someone who hates our work? I think we do, but we need to keep it professional and short. We need to stay dignified and always seem magnanimous in the eyes of those who are reading it.

Thousands of people have read Ms. Howett’s responses. It might have given her book sales a boost, but I have my doubts. If this was a ruse, and the possibility did cross my mind, it is a hard road to travel. I think I will settle for fewer people reading The Accidental Activist, but reading it for the right reasons.
Have you ever had a bad review? How did you react?
——————————————————————————————————

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

The Psychology of Money

I recently attended a workshop on personal finance facilitated by a man who had transitioned into the profession of Personal Finance Coach from being a psychologist. He feels that one of the reasons that he can help his clients is that he understands the psychology of money.

However, he warned, there are those who understand this field far better than the personal finance coach. Top of their field are the credit card companies, followed by the retail industry. They are the experts at persuading you that you have the desire and the ability to purchase something. You need it and you can afford it.


When my parents visited last year from the olde countrye, I gave them our ‘spare’ cell phone. “Why do we need this?” they asked. I suggested that they could call me whenever they had a question. “But we see you every evening after you finish work.” True. But they wouldn’t have to wait for me in the hotel lobby, not sure how long it would take me to negotiate the commute from San Francisco to the East Bay. I could call them when I was near. “We can wait in the lobby. It’s comfortable. We paid to use it.”

Hard to beat the logic. And yet we have decided that cell phones are a necessity. We need to be able to be contacted 24/7 except when we turn it off. But then who does that? Not only this, but we seem to need an awful lot of things that come with the cell phone – internet, email, e-reader, navigator, music, camera, espresso machine. Spoiler! That comes with the iPhone 8, which incidentally will be so fast that you can talk to someone by just thinking of them.

So now we are not just paying $10-$20 for a carry-around phone. We are paying $60-$70 per phone as a national average. Families are easily paying $200. When did we decide that we had to have all this? When did it become a necessity?

What would you think of someone who interviewed for a job in your company and when you said you would call their cell, they told you they didn’t have one? Maybe they tell you that they don’t see the need. I bet you would think twice about hiring them.

Now I am not against cell phones. If my better half is stuck in traffic or delayed for whatever reason, I worry and call her cell. I probably would talk more to my parents if they lived in the US because of my cell phone (regardless of whether they had one too).

Back to the credit card companies: how are they able to persuade us to rack up debt so easily? Sure you don’t feel the pain when sliding that plastic like handing over bank notes. There is a connection between credit card companies and retail. One thrives on the slickness of the other.

The only ones who suffer are the consumers. By the way; the average credit card debt per family is in the region of $15,000. With the absurd rates of interest, it is a hole that is so difficult to climb out of, never mind building  nest egg for the future.

——————————————————————————————————

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

 

72 Hours

Every year when I am volunteering in New Orleans, I vow to prepare my family for a disaster scenario. Living in California, we are threatened by earthquakes, and now superstorms.

72hours.org is a no nonsense guide to prepare your family in the eventuality of a natural disaster. I don’t really have much to add other than … well, read it now because we might not have the Internet after it happens.

Are you prepared for the big one?

Or for those aliens from outer space?


——————————————————————————————————

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

 

 

Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen,

I have spent a while trying to decide what I want to write about these major upheavals. It would be easy to say that they are far away from our Left Coast by the Pacific and ignore what is happening. This never stopped me commenting on the Nobel Prize debacle and other political prisoners in December. But something is gnawing away inside and I am feeling threatened by what I see as a rise in extremist ideology.

Let me begin by stating that I value my freedom and my democracy very highly. I have never lived in a country where this has been seriously challenged (though I did campaign against the rise of the British National Party – a fascist movement – back in the 70’s), but I would like to think that I would be out there on the streets, shouting, demonstrating and, well, blogging.

I have campaigned to free Jews from the Soviet Union, to bring down apartheid in South Africa, and to free Tibet from Chinese oppression.

But I feel equally threatened by extremists, whether from the left, the right, or from religious fundamentalists. If I value my freedom of choice and expression, I should be trying to stop the advance of such political movements.

But what happens when a nation supports an extremist ideology? What right do I have to prop up an equally or more oppressive regime? Do I even have a right to try to impose my democratic doctrines on another country?

The problem is that no country is an island, no ideology limited to a single country. When the Internet defined itself as a world-wide web, they meant world-wide. It doesn’t take much for an ideology to spread across continents.

What is missing from public debate is what is the best environment to avoid extremism and violent change? When such symptoms as low education and poverty are prolific, there is an easy framework to influence or stir people to fight for vague hopes or instant solutions.

When revolution was spreading through Europe in the early 1800’s, journalist William Cobbett said: “I defy you to stir a man on a full stomach.”

I would add to that. Give a person an education, a meaningful job, and respect, and s/he will seek a middle path. We badly need more middle paths today and no one is discussing how to really create such an environment through education, health, professional skills, and sustainable infrastructures.

People shouldn’t need to take to the streets to seek their own dignity, and to provide for their families. And they shouldn’t need to break their country’s laws when expressing their desire for freedom.

——————————————————————————————————

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

 

The Morning After…

Did you wake up this morning the proud, or maybe confused/intimidated owner of something small, electrical, and vaguely rectangular? Did you smile meekly while your loved ones looked on with baited breath as you pulled 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 brandy 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 dispite hardly using the gadget’s predecessor.

Have another sip of brandy. Oh, I forgot it’s 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 via our loved ones desire to pull us along with them. 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 e-book reader. The world (at least those of us who don’t need to worry about 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 use 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 the house I share with my family.

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. Remember how hard it was to drive a car when we were learning?

Finally: Have another brandy. 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!).

——————————————————————————————————-

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

 

Shi Tao – Journalist, 10 Years in Prison

My novel, The Accidental Activist, illustrates the empowerment of the Internet in the face of great power. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Though the two individuals who stood up to McDonald’s in England (the real story that The Accidental Activist is based on) were able to use the Internet to defend themselves, it can be a double edged sword.

Shi Tao, a journalist in China discovered that and is still paying the price. Here is his story in 30 seconds.

In 2004, he sent details of government plans to restrict the activities commemorating the 15th anniversary of the pro-democracy rally in Tienanmen Square. Apparently he sent the information through his Yahoo email account, and Yahoo gave the information to the Chinese security forces. Shi Tao is now in prison for 10 years.

In 2007 he received the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of Newspapers. Tao’s family is apparently suing Yahoo and they are not the first. While I wish to condemn Yahoo, we do need to focus our attention on China and freeing Shi Tao.

Suggestions of how to help can be found at Shi Tao’s Amnesty International page.
——————————————————————————————————

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

Accusing From Afar

Living in England, you learn that the British Empire was something positive. It brought roads, education, medicine, and culture to the masses. You see movies of the aristocratic class in India, Africa, and just about everywhere else. “The sun never set of the British Empire,” was said as an expression of pride, if not wistfulness, as I grew up.

One of the biggest shocks to my social conscience occurred when I began studying sociology at London University. I had been political as a teenager, advocating for human rights in the Soviet Union, Tibet and South Africa. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

I arrived late to university as the semester opened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The class was discussing a book, A Savage Culture, by Remi Kapo. A black, English sociologist was describing how many of the violent, classist, and racist facets of British society, were entrenched as part of the psyche of the British Empire, even though the British Empire was now a largely inactive Commonwealth.

I thought I was just missing something. I raised my hand and asked whether his premise was that the British Empire was wrong and evil. You could have cut the tension with a chainsaw.

The professor looked at me for a moment trying to decide, I imagine, whether I was being a smartass. Seeing that I was trying to disappear from embarrassment, he took pity and explained everything, feeding off my willingness to be honest about what I had learned growing up.

I remember wanting to tell him and the other students how I considered myself a political activist and brag about the campaigns I had participated in. This was a group of very politically aware students and it was a while before they accepted me as a friend.

It is easy and convenient to see evils from afar and confer rapid judgment on what others are doing. Here on the Left Coast we are especially good at doing this. However, are we doing this to feel good with ourselves because we are unable to solve the injustices in our own backyard? Does it not feel more righteous to accuse others (usually well-deserving), rather than admit when we fail to achieve the values and ideologies that we preach?

The age of the Internet has made it possible to help others in any part of the world. My novel,  The Accidental Activist, tells this very story, highlighting how the Internet was utilized by a small group of activists to fight a multinational corporation in court (It is based on the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s).

But while today there is no excuse for being uninformed about world events, it also makes it easier to avoid injustice on our own doorstep. It is simply more convenient to go online than onto the streets.

When I look at the inequalities here in California and the potential that we have to correct them, I wonder whether we can perhaps teach the greatest lesson by being the greatest example. ——————————————————————————————————-

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

 

 

 

Guest Blogger: Professor McGoughen

I’m really excited tae be com’g tae California for the book launch of Oilspill dotcom in a co’ple o’ weeks. Once I finished teaching law at Oxford, I had planned tae visit ma wee grandchildren in Edinboro’, but I could nae resist seeing the book o’ the trial an’ how y’ Americans perceive such a shenanigan.

Ma role was a wee one. I canna nae believe that computer wiz kid got me soo wound up tae get back intae the ring. I spent ma whole life fightin’ the multinationals. Me an Oxford law professor, an’ I still can nae imagine how two yo’ng rebels could have pulled it off.

Certainly the Internet was a powerf’l tool that I nae had in ma day. But the way that laddie harnessed it to involve so many people from all o’er the world, he deserves all the credit that this wee book gives him.

An’ I hope it gives a new generation o’ lasses ’n ladies t’ aspire an’ fight for what’s right inna way that’s relevant f’ them. Your President understood this ’n that’s why soo many people got involved in his campaign that had nae done soo before. I hear he still sends out updates to his supporters, still keeps them informed.

I want this t’ be the message that y’ people will take from Oilspill dotcom, that it’s possible to effect change, that y’ can influence what is happening. Ya need to know what is happening. When them corporate types know som’n is watching them, they might think twice ’bout their actions.

An’ remember: this trial mae have happen’d in England, but many o’ these multi nationals operate outta the US. This is as relevant f’ yoo as it is f’ Britain, Africa or Asia. Our world is all connected an’ we noo got much time. This Internet might jus’ bee the tool f’ change – an’ this is what young Shalev is tryin’ t’ tell us.

Read the book. Y’ nae look at the web in the same wae again.

Alistair McGoughen
Professor at Law, Oxford University

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: