Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reason Foundation's screening of The Lottery

Last night Reason Foundation had a screening of Madeleine Sackler's documentary The Lottery. The film follows a few families as their children apply to Harlem Success Academy, a charter school which can only accept a minority of its applicants.

Heartbreaking is watching the lottery results being read publicly. You see the small faces of those children of those not accepted fall as they realize that they failed to get in.

Worse is the comments from politicians and union representatives as they try to hinder the charter school's efforts to better educate poor children.

Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success Academy's founder describes to a city counsel panel how the schools in Harlem were failing back when she was growing up and haven't gotten better in 35 years. The kids not testing at grade level ranges across schools but can be as low as 20%.

The panel that followed highlighted some exceptional people who are making an impact on educating in the United States. Reason's Lisa Snell moderated the panel. It included Richard Riordan, Frank Baxter, Ben Austin and Larry Sand.

I recommend the move to all and urge you to forward it on.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rep. Cohen, Nazi's, the GOP and Al Jazeera

Anderson Cooper “tears apart” Rep. Steve Cohen for comparing Republicans to Nazis? Shame on you, Anderson.

Rep. Cohen is using one of the most effective and widespread political techniques available to push his agenda - propaganda. And one can (hopefully safely) assume that the voters who elected him to office know that he is a democrat and will advocate for that position, using his discretion with how best to do so. Who determines what is true? And doesn’t truth sometimes depend on your ideology or perspective? We live in the age of attack politics and sound bites.

Goebbel’s tactic of repeating a lie over and over works. The technique is simple, effective and ubiquitous. Who is the “Great Satan”? Is Sarah Palin less able to govern because Katie Couric embarrassed her on national television or she spent too much on clothes? Did we all really need to hear over and over again Mel Gibson, likely drunk, threaten to beat up his estranged girlfriend? Does Al Jazeera need to show violent and gory pictures of war to support their oftentimes inflammatory and sometimes deliberately misleading viewpoint?

Sex, violence, addiction, scandals and abuse. Berlusconi and prostitutes. Weapons of mass destruction that are never found. Ann Coulter and the ACLU. Who knows what’s really true? In our end justifies the means political environment does it matter? If so many are repeating lies over and over again to persuade how can you call out one Representative and make him the villain?

Suddenly the media seems to be trying to change political rhetoric. A domestic assassination (Gifford) attempt will do that. Meanwhile, in Pakistan demonstrations are being held in support of Salmaan Taseer’s assassin. Taseer, remember, stood up to Islamists and lost his life for doing so. My message has been that religions don’t kill people; people do. How can you demonstrate in favor of an assassin? And the Pakistani lawyers group that fought government repression has even backed the assassin. Repeating the same lie over and over that Taseer was against the word of God. Who heard Allah speak?

And let’s not forget that Anderson Cooper has a vested interest as well. He has gotten a lot of press coverage for his attack. But has anyone questioned the validity of Rep Cohen’s point? Are the Republicans really like Goebbel’s in their methods? That sort of depends on your political beliefs doesn’t it? Why are we all angry, suddenly, that a politician in our country used inflammatory language? What if Cooper is just repeating the same lie?

“All art is propaganda,” asserted George Orwell. I’ve been open that Captive was written as a story and not a non-fiction book because doing so makes the issue of terrorism more accessible and understandable to a broader range of people.

Propaganda works. It works especially well if a short and simple message is repeated over and over again. The truth of that message sometimes depends on your ideology or who wins. Who determines what is true when those with a vested interest carefully craft their message and ruthlessly broadcast it to their constituents?

I’ll keep writing on this issue as the press coverage unfolds over the next few days. What did I miss in my assessment of the situation?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Captive “liked” by over 300 people on Facebook

Not everyone has read the book and not everyone will. But thank you for “liking” Captive!

The numbers keep growing…

When I first sat down to write a book I didn’t consider the marketing side of things. Had I done so I might not have written it! Writing is a private and very internal process. It can be lonely and is definitely introspective. It even ventures into obsessive and exacting as you work through the harder and less distinct parts of a story.

And much time is spent pondering how your characters get themselves in and out of trouble; this perfecting is key in all fiction but especially so with thrillers. Last weekend I made it a social affair when I met with a screen writer who has written a terrorist related script. We kept our voices down as we discussed how his characters should best create havoc. Not the type of thoughts you want to broadcast.

Yet when the book is done the writer is expected to become a promoter. Solitary no more!

When I first showed people my book I did it bashfully. Somehow I never realized until I held the actual book in my hands that people I knew might read it. Imagine being asked by your friends why you decided to write a few scenes that ventured on soft porn. Some people won’t and don’t like the book; a few will make you listen to why (note: I don’t really want to hear it unless it’s constructive).

All of this somehow I never thought through as I was writing. You write to create not to sell. And the book world has evolved along with other media sectors in that distribution and marketing isn’t working exactly as it did before. Book sales are falling; marketing is increasingly online (especially with my budget) and you are selling yourself along with the book.

Facebook, the blog, Twitter and trying to juggle it all.

The picture is from CalTech last weekend and I just like it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Last night at the Milken Institute hearing Barry Eichengreen

I was at the Milken Insitute hearing Barry Eichengreen speak about his book Exorbitant Privilege (see and got side tracked on an unrelated conversation after the main event.

I wrote Captive because terrorism is an issue I take very seriously. And, while I don’t condemn or disagree with Islam I do disagree with how it’s being used today (religions don’t kill; people do). And so I had that conversation with someone raised Muslim but no longer practicing (thanks M!). Sidetrack one….

But I also discussed why I addressed terrorism in a novel. Sidetrack two… I referenced The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The protagonist points out to the struggling writer – who he’s hired to create a new religion – that all major religions have a book that is a narrative, not a list of points or discussion. Why? Because people can connect with a story.

We want to see inside of someone’s thoughts and experience. Only then can we imagine their world and empathize. I can preach all I want but unless you agree with me in the beginning you likely won’t agree at the end. Did we always listen to our parents growing up?

So, I picked an issue and told a story about it. I brought in real people, a few bombs and hopefully some surprises. My ending is controversial but I don’t mind hearing that it’s wrong (Kitty). The fact that someone has an opinion means that the book reached them on an emotional level. Economists have a tougher time reaching their audience on an emotional level than do novelists. Or, perhaps, only good novelists can touch people on an emotional level?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Time with younger friends

I've been spending time with younger friends (not exclusively!)over the holidays. They were around more? No, it just seemed to happen.

I learned eight things:

1. Honor life’s stages
2. We all think alike irrespective of age
3. There are some generational and life stage differences: learn from them and embrace them
4. We get more understanding (tired?) as we get older
5. We also get more confidence and understand more perspectives
6. We have less energy (directed or not)
7. We tolerate less
8. We are no less creative

And something which I already knew and keep hearing: listen.

I wrote a short story for a contest one day and had my younger friend and reader Christina provide feedback. She liked it; I’ve been obsessed with the idea raised at Thanksgiving by Steve, my yoga teacher: “more of what doesn’t make them happy won’t make them happy.” What makes us happy?

Happiness isn’t related to age. The secret to happiness? Let me know…Or, when I get it all figured out I’ll let you know. I think part of happiness lies in the search for it.