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 “social activism”

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.

Occupy Corvair – Roger Ingalls

If you read the blog last week, you probably understand the meaning of the title for this post. My plan is to rebuild and slightly reengineer a 50 year old Chevy Corvair as a protest against California’s crazy smog laws and the kissy-cozy relationship between Big Oil, auto manufacturers and their lobbyists. To understand why rebuilding an old car is a protest, read the previous post.

I did receive a few emails about last week’s post asking why the Corvair was selected for the rebuild protest project. The following few paragraphs explain the technical reasons. Keep in mind that this project is focused on creating a high performance hypermiling vehicle. In this case, high performance does not mean massive horsepower or super speed. It means long distance traveled per gallon of gas consumed or high performing efficiency.

Corvair

The Corvair is a rear wheel drive, rear engine vehicle. Since the engine is in the back and connected to the rear wheels, there is no heavy transmission and driveshaft running the length of the car. Less weight means more miles per gallon. The elimination of a long heavy spinning driveshaft is important. A pound of rotating mass, in automotive engineering terms, is equivalent to seven pounds of static weight. Again, reducing weight improves mpg because the engine doesn’t work as hard per distance traveled. With the engine in the rear, the Corvair is lighter in the front. The reduced forward weight means less down force on the front tires so turning takes less physical force. The Corvair’s easy steering eliminated the need for power assistance. Most cars have parasitic power steering that takes energy from the engine which should be used to propel the car.

The Corvair has an air-cooled aluminum engine that is lightweight, again, less weight more mpg. Air cooling is also important. No radiator, water pump, hoses or heavy coolant is needed making the vehicle lighter. In addition, the water pump is a parasitic device that must be powered by the engine which further robs energy that could be used to propel the car. One of the engineering modifications I will make is to the air intake that feeds the motor. The new intake will take hot air coming off the motor which is expanded and carrying less oxygen. This has the effect of making the engine smaller. To maintain the proper fuel to air mixture required to burn, less gas is used. This will reduce the horsepower but the project is designed to increase mpg and not for racing at a track.

The Corvair has four wheel independent suspension. Most cars sold in America have their suspension adjust with a toe-out (front wheel slightly pointed outward on the leading edge) to make them easier to handle for novice drivers. This creates rolling resistance which robs power. Since the Corvair has independent suspension, I will be able to precisely adjust all four wheels so they are pointed forward decreasing roll resistance all the way around. As an example of this resistance, try pushing a car with the wheels pointed straight and with them turned; you’ll instantly feel the difference.

The Corvair will be turned into a pseudo hybrid. Multiple car batteries will be put is the trunk (located in the front of the car). These will be used to operate all parasitic devices such as, air conditioning, heater, and engine cooling fan which are normally powered by the gas engine. In addition, the alternator/generator that normally charges the single car battery will be modified. It will be present in the car but not engaged and, if needed, a lever will engage it (an alternator/generator is a parasitic device). Lastly, I will make aerodynamic and overall weight reduction changes to improve fuel efficiency.

This will be a fun project that proves we’ve had the technology to increase gas mileage for over fifty years.

My Dream Protest – Roger Ingalls

My wife’s family is big into vintage American cars; they collect and restore the classics. My brother in-law builds hotrods, ratrods and some of his work has shown up in automotive magazines. I’m a car nut too so I fit right in.

Rat Rod

Prior to meeting my wife and her family, I would frequently hit some of California’s famous road course tracks with my 200mph Viper GTS ACR to release the pressures of corporate life. Later, thanks to my wife, I was introduced to dirt oval track racing and got hooked. I raced in the local series for about five years until a turn three incident at Antioch Speedway put me headfirst into the wall at speed, I survived but the car didn’t. The mangled mess still sits in the trailer exactly where it was dumped two years ago. She’s a sad sight; the only working piece was the battery which now starts my brother in-laws racer.

Finances don’t allow the rebuilding of my racecar and, realistically, I’m too old to compete with the young bucks that don’t give a hoot about destroying theirs or another’s equipment. But I still get the automotive urge to get my hands dirty.

Like my in-laws, I want to rebuild a classic. When talking about the make and model of vintage car I desire, everyone scratches their head and laughs as if I were crazy. But, what they don’t understand, there’s a reason for my apparent lack of coolness. I have a dream. A dream project that incorporates many of the things that I enjoy: cars, engineering and social activism.

At this point, you may be asking, “what the hell does social activism have to do with rebuilding an old jalopy?” The project will show how big business conspires to keep the demand for oil high by not engineering cars that can easily get 50 plus mph. It will also protest California’s draconian smog laws by avoiding the issue altogether due to the old age of the car. I’m all for clear air but anti-smog regulations should be based on actual engine emissions and not on tactics truly meant to raise revenue for the state (don’t mask a revenue generating tax under the veil of smog reducing propaganda).

Corvair

The desired car for my project that brings laughter to friends and family is…wait for it…a Corvair, the car that put Ralph Nader on the radar. The Chevy Corvair only had a ten year production run due to bad press, some deserved but most of it was hyped misinformation. The car was a technological marvel that was years ahead of its time. A list of design elements for a 1960 Corvair family car and the world famous Porsche 911 sports car, first introduced in 1965, are almost identical.

It’s my belief that with some engineering, this 50 year old car will get more than 40 mpg proving that technology has existed for many years to make automobiles more efficient. The only roadblock to improved mpg has been oil and automotive lobbyist. Since the Corvair was manufactured before 1975, it is exempt from CA smog requirements allowing me to give a big FU to the crazy smog regulation that have nothing to do with exhaust emissions.

This is my dream project, my dream protest. It combines cars, engineering and a little activism…fun stuff.

Special note: For those interested in knowing why the Corvair was selected for this project, leave a comment and I will explain the technical benefits of the car.

My Worlds Collide

So there I was, just after concluding what I hoped was a passionate speech (probably more of a speechella since I was sharing the stage) for literature as a tool for social activism. Some people came up to the panel and shared their view, asked a few questions, and then this tall man leaned in.

“English right? Which team?”

I never batted an eyelid. He nodded approvingly as I espoused  my affinity for Arsenal, the soccer team I have passionately followed since my Uncle George, may he rest in peace, took a wide-eyed six-year-old to his first game in 1970. We won 4-0 and I, totally absorbing everything around me, missed every goal. But undeterred, I followed in the family footsteps (one cousin aside, but we don’t discuss that) and became a Gunner-for-life.

Every day, I drink my morning coffee reading the New York Times and the daily offering of Arseblog. I am often moved to tears of joy or anger, or burst out laughing, and I also think the New York Times is a good read.

But this left me thinking. Why do we, primarily though not exclusively, 21st century men, need to find connections over sports? I wear a Golden State Warriors pin on my jacket, and I admit, the pin serves a purpose as I work the room making contact with donors for my non-profit, or to promote my books.

Then, yesterday morning, as I worked out on the elliptical at the gym, I came across an article in Men’s Health (issue – November 2010) by Lee Child called “Get Your Head in the Game”. He took my thoughts one stage further. Why do we, grown men and women all, insist on wearing our lucky shirts for the game? Why do I get up at 4 or 7 am on a Saturday to watch my team play live in the UK, because if I record the game we might lose?

We all know that, though these players need our support, their winning a game probably depends more on hours of training, planning strategy and individual and team preparation. My old Arsenal shirt (commemorating our last year at Highbury before moving stadium), worn 5,371 miles away (I looked it up) from where the game is taking place, at 4 am in the morning Pacific time, probably does not tip the scales.

The answer lies perhaps in the fact that our lives, particularly in the digital age, are becoming so predictable. Sure, shit happens (nice surprises too), but we generally know how our life is playing out, hour-by-hour, backed up by electronic reminders. We even pay most of our bills automatically and can buy our groceries without leaving home.

What is left is the uncertainty of 90 minutes of soccer, when giants can be humbled. The Warriors (NBA) have just reeled off 7 of 9 victories, including winning against teams that will make the playoffs. My own team Arsenal just beat the team considered by most football fans to be the best in the world, even having to come from behind to win 2-1.

This is what makes our blood pulsate. It connects us to the excitement of the hunt. Even if we are not the one to throw the spear, score the goal, or shoot the game-winning basket, even if our team will not be champions at the end of the game or season, for a few moments we allow ourselves to revel in the world of unpredictability. Perhaps this helps to set us apart from the onslaught of technology. Perhaps it is one the few ways to maintain our humanity in the 21st Century.

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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/

Left Coast Voices

Alon Shalev is a left coast, social activist and fiction writer. His second socially conscious novel, Oilspill dotcom, addresses the power of multinational corporations and their power and abuses of individuals. This bi-weekly blog tracks the authors, organizations and events that are shaping the left coast culture, with an emphasis on the San Francisco Bay Area.


For more on Alon and his books, please visit http://www.alonshalev.com/
WARNING! This author believes that writing can help change the world.
To life and literature!

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