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 “Telegraph Avenue”

A Free Way To Support Public Libraries

If you have been donating books in bins that are popping up around California, you might discover that some of these books are being sold for profit. Berkeleyside ran a great article on this so I don’t want to repeat the story. Below is one quote to give you a flavor.

A donation bin outside Andronicos.

“They’re not being straightforward,” said Diane Davenport, president of Friends of the Berkeley Public Library. “TRM made $26 million last year from books that they’d gotten out of these blue bins.”

Ms. Davenport is worried that people could be donating books that are of a quality to resell to the Friends of the Public Libraries. Now I love the Berkeley Public Libraries and my family are avid users. I often remind my family that this is not a free service, but one we pay for out of our taxes.

I want to educate my children about the positive aspects of paying our taxes. I hate tax-dodgers as you well know from this blog. I can’t help feeling that if people paid their share (companies too), we might not even have a deficit, or even a recession (yeah I can’t prove this).

However, I am not against finding ways to lower our taxes without compromising key services. If we can find creative ways to finance such services, why not? According to Ms. Davenport, last year the Friends raised $128,000 for the Berkeley Public Libraries  through sales of books in their little stores.

“We depend on donations of salable books,” said Sayre Van Young, a volunteer with the Friends. “If people want to stick their 1983 encyclopedia in those damn blue bins, that’s okay.”

Almost 2/3 of donated books are not in a condition to sell and these are either given away for free or donated to  the non-profit DR3 recycling program run by St. Vincent de Paul. 

So if you enjoy the library as I do, I want to suggest two things:

1) next time you are at the library or near their store off Telegraph, pop in and buy a couple of books.

2) look for a couple of books that you have at home that are in good condition to donate, so that the Friends can help finance our excellent libraries.

Libraries are more than just book lenders

I believe the role of the library is even more important during an economic recession. I see people using the computers and Internet access to apply for jobs. I see children gaining a love for literature and this can’t be bad for the world (or specifically authors!) I am on the road right now, but pledge to donate three books that are collecting dust on my bookshelves when I return.

How about you?

Please Vote Today. Click Here.

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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/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Berkeley Bashing

Once again, the world is frustrated with Berkeley. I love the city, often agreeing with the political vibe that runs through certain parts of our population. I also reserve the right to take issue when I disagree. However, the difference between me and say those who publicly went on record with the following quotes, is that I am content to live in an arena where public debate and civil discourse can be debated at any of our fine coffee establishments or in any one of many creative ways.

“I have had it with Berkeley, California, that anti-American bastion of disloyalty to the values and existence of the United States of America,” Dr. Laura, the syndicated pop psychologist wrote on her website. “I am calling for Berkeley to secede from California and the United States and go form their own pathetic country.”

Fox Nation was blunter: “Berkeley Gives America the Middle Finger,” read the headline of one article.

And David Gewirtz, the executive director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute who not only went to Cal, but who teaches at UC Berkeley Extension, wrote that

“The Berkeley City Council, as a body, is nuts. Always has been. Probably always will be. I can say this both because I used to go to grad school and work in Berkeley, and because their actions support the label.

“The City of Berkeley thinks it’s a sovereign nation. It’s not, of course, but that’s never stopped Berkeley.”

So what is it that makes people so upset with Berkeley? Admittedly some of us are snobs, bigots, and/or hopeless dreamers, but they exist in the rest of the US as well. I often hear the phrase: “Well this is Berkeley, not America.” We even celebrate this with a How Berkeley Can You Be street festival.

I recently met two elder gentlemen and discovered how one of them was apparently the guy in the 60’s who had made and sold a passport for People’s Republic of Berkeley. I’m not convinced to this day whether they had been serious, given their rueful thoughts on the matter forty years later.

However, while I will man (or person) the barricades of free speech on Telegraph Avenue, I do understand one comment made by someone critical of the latest council motions.

Berkeley suffers from pockets of poverty, areas of high crime including homicide, and West Berkeley is an environmental mess. Perhaps we might serve the world better by being an example of solving these not exactly unique problems with sustainable, caring solutions.

However, just to show that I have no pretense at cultural equality, Jon Stewart is allowed to have his fun at our expense.


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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 www.alonshalev.com

Small Business Saturday

I’ve just returned from my Black Friday Shopping foray. Mrs. Blog and I rose at 4am (Friday at the time of writing) and made some new friends outside the Office Max in Oxnard. Having secured our new treasure – a laptop for the lady – I came home and saw an email sent to remind me that Saturday (today) is Small Business Saturday. In a recent post, I wrote about the challenges of the endangered species – the small, independent business.

Today’s initiative is a great response to Black Friday. It is interesting that the day is being sponsored by American Express Credit Card Company – yes you read that correctly I went online to check it when I was told. Here is the Facebook page so it must be true!

Though I am 300 miles away, here are a few of my favorite local businesses in Berkeley.

1. Manhattan Bagels is over on 4th Street. There isn’t a lot to say – they have the best bagels in town, a great variety (check out the Cranberry Orange), and the service and parking is smooth.

2. East Bay Vivarium – when you’ve finished your bagel, why not pop over to the East Bay Vivarium. Okay, this is for reptile lovers, but I want to point them out because they care about their pets, even after you have purchased and taken the little critters home. As nervous new parents, my sons and I have often returned for advice from the staff, and they have always been happy to dispense from their wealth of experience. I am particularly impressed when someone says: “I’m not sure. Let me check with the others.”

Meet the beautiful, latest addition to our family – Nanchuk, a Crested Gecko.

3. The Bread Workshop – I realize I’m pushing the carbs here, but this a great place to eat, to hang out for coffee, and to feel good with a vendor using a fair amount of local products and organic ingredients.  I might be biased since they hosted the book launch of my previous incarnation of The Accidental Activist, but this really is an excellent example of a business that aims to be sustainable. You can find The Bread Workshop at 1398 University Avenue.

4. Out of the Closet – This is a thrift store (there are a few around the Bay Area) on University. The thing about this place is that there always seems to be something to surprise you and this probably explains why it is a favorite venue in the run up to Halloween. It also helps to know that Out of the Closet supports AIDS projects and was set up by one of the all-time basketball greats – Magic Johnson.

5. Rasputin Music – is an icon up on Telegraph Avenue. They have a great stock of discs at affordable prices. I’ve also picked up several movies here.

So while you plan your day, here is the latest offering from my favorite musician, Lloyd Cole. I can’t think of any reason to link the song to the article, I’m just excited that he has a new disc out!

And while you are here, why not list below in the comments your favorite local, small business, and give them a plug.

Happy Small Business Saturday.

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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 www.alonshalev.com

Pat Cody, co-founder of Cody’s Books, dies

I just saw this announcement and wanted to share it before running off to work. I have taken a few paragraphs from the Berkeleyside edition (please click on the link for the full article) by Frances Dinkelspiel.

Pat Cody, who along with her husband Fred, built one of Berkeley’s most beloved institutions, Cody’s Books, died Thursday, Sept. 30 at 87.

Pat, who was born in New London, Connecticut in 1923, was getting her master’s degree in economics at Columbia College when she met her husband, Fred. The pair married in 1946 and lived in England and Mexico City, where they were part of a lively expatriate community.

“They attended social gatherings at the home of Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and met luminaries like Pablo Neruda, who declared that Pat’s lemon meringue pie was the best he ever had!” according to her son, Anthony Cody.

The couple moved to Berkeley in 1956 and opened Cody’s Books in a small storefront on the north side of campus. They later moved it to a gleaming modern store on Telegraph and Haste on the south side of campus. Cody’s, along with Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, was one of the first bookstores to carry a large selection of affordable paperbacks. Most stores at the time only held expensive hardcover books. Cody’s became immensely popular with students and grew into an informal cultural center that brought together authors, activists, cutting-edge speakers and readers.

When the National Guard clubbed and tear-gassed UC Berkeley students protesting the Vietnam War in 1968, Cody’s served as a first aid station for the injured.

Cody’s Book can be purchased at Powells Books. The first time I saw the book was when I went one evening to the store on 4th Street just before it closed down. We weren’t planning on buying, rather it was a pilgrimage, an opportunity to pay our respects to an icon of literary streets of Berkeley.

Cody’s Books, and all that it grew to optimize is sadly missed. So will those who pioneered their way. There will be a public memorial service Saturday, Oct. 30, at 2 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way.

Perhaps another way to pay tribute to Pat’s work and vision might be to go to your local independent bookstore and buy a book on October 30. Think of Pat when you do. Please click here for a list of independent bookstores in the Bay Area.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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.

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