Monthly Archives: July 2010

Eric Lowe author of The Daguerreotypist, Where Are You?

Around a year ago, on a writing website for the published-challenged, I came across a novel excerpt, The Daguerreotypist by Eric Lowe.  While I’d read a lot of fiction on the site that I thought was publishable, some very good, The Daguerreotypist, struck me as being the most likely to hit big. The hook was terrific and original — a dangerous immortal who wasn’t exactly a vampire is sought out by a lapsed-Mormon call girl seeking immortality who has  a clever scheme for contacting the undead. The voice was quirky and unique, the pace quick and there were no excess adverbs or other annoying habits to slow a reader down.

The novel and Eric disappeared from the site as quickly as they had arrived. For all I know, Eric decided that someone might steal his brilliant concept, or maybe an agent or publisher had seen it and snatched him up.

I keep waiting to read a review or see a copy in a bookstore. I can’t get the book out of my mind and want to read past the eight chapters I saw so long ago.

I’m hoping Eric will one day search for himself or his title on google and maybe come across this.

Eric, if you’re out there, I’m harmless, not a stalker and unfortunately not someone who can help you get an agent or find a publisher, but I’d love to read the rest of your story.

Don’t be shy.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to comment on a book-in-progress or excerpt, they once got a peek at that then seemed to disappear forever, feel free to drop a line.

Shirley Sherrod — Troll Survivor

Trolls, for those unfamiliar with the concept, invade chat rooms and various kinds of social networking sites. They usually enter with false identities.  The purpose of trolling is to create chaos and division.  This is done for the “lulz” — trollspeak for entertainment value.  Often troll attacks involve more than one troll and may include “trusted” long term site members, who like Russian spies in the suburbs, are not who they seem to be.

In the case of Shirley Sherrod,  the primary troll was Andrew Breitbart whose previous trolling included the  Acorn incident. He presented himself as a legitimate member of the media, which he is not.  He went to Faux News and gave them a story.  It was a ridiculous story, and his proof was a snippet of video.  Because the people at Faux News are bigots, he was able to instigate, leading the “reporters” on Faux News to make further statements about the racism and hypocrisy of the NAACP and the Obama Administration.

This is similar to a recent online trolling incident that I witnessed.  A poster, in an online social networking site for aspiring writers, opened a forum thread with a link to a 9/11 conspiracy video. The initial poster was not an actual troll herself. Think of her as a kind of site-Glenn Beck. She wondered what would have happened if Hitler had won the war, and speculated that “Some say ‘the world would have been a better place’.”  The Jews hadn’t been explicitly mentioned yet, but the atmosphere was ripe.  A troll entered and made increasingly outrageous remarks about the role “the Jews” had played in world affairs, thus stirring up some of the stupider people on the thread and getting them to agree with a few of his statements regarding Jewish bankers, and the culpability of  “the Jews” on 9/11.  Several of the trollees, came off looking like anti-Semitic, conspiracy wing-nuts or just plain idiots.  Truth could be established by finding clips on Youtube.  Anyone who disagreed was a hypocrite or would be accused of disrupting a legitimate conversation and being in favor of censorship.   This led to a shitstorm of more threads denouncing two of those who objected to the blatant anti-Semitism and charging them with the capital offense of “political correctness.”

When Breitbart brought his clip to Faux News, that “fair and balanced” media outlet already believed that the Obama administration was filled with (reverse) racists and hypocrites. They had previously aired comparisons of Obama to Hitler.  In this Bizarro World, the NAACP is a bigoted organization while the Tea Partiers are the true egalitarians.  This made them easy troll bait — in fact whether or not they knew the story to be false —  they were troll-collaborators.  They not only bit, and didn’t ask questions or in any way investigate, but they went straight into righteous indignation and saw the video as proof of everything they already “knew.”

While it’s startling that the Department of Agriculture and possibly the President himself, got drawn into this, it’s a similar dynamic to what happens at social networking sites. Instead of acting rationally by  first looking at the source and his track record, then actually interviewing Sherrod and getting a hold of the full tape, and finally saying  to Faux News, “Dudes, you are being trolled,” the NAACP and the Administration both became entangled and defensive.

“We’re not racist.”

“Yes, you are and hypocrites!”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

“Are not.”

“Prove it”

“Ok. We’ll show you!  We’ll denounce her.  We’ll make her resign because we’re not racists!”

There was no strategy in firing Sherrod.  It was pure reaction without taking the time to think — an act of cowardice designed to prove to whomever was reading the threads, oops, I mean following the story, that they would not tolerate racism even in their own ranks.

Eventually, some real reporters did the job, and found the full video as well as the white couple whose farm Sherrod had helped save over 20 years ago, and to whom she referred in her story. The NAACP and the government apologized to Sherrod.  Brietbart and Faux News did not.

As with any “successful” (from the troll’s point-of-view) trolling event, the troll walks away unscathed and unapologetic and “the teachable moment” is the revelation of the true character of those involved in the mess. Shirley Sherrod is a strong woman who has always done the right thing and will survive.  Faux News is racist and manipulates others, but is also easily manipulated by anyone who offers “evidence” for its beliefs and is not in any way a credible organization.

And the Administration and the NAACP?  They’d rather eat their own than ever be accused of hypocrisy or racism.  Their defensiveness makes them weak and vulnerable to future trolling attacks and even more serious mistakes.

Loisaida — the novel — The Marketing Plan

This is just a tiny filler blog. Think of it as a long tweet.  My novel, Loisaida, is now available on Smashwords and for slightly more but with wireless download at The Kindle Store. It will be available at B&N, IBooks and those other places through Smashwords within a few weeks. There’s a promotional sale at Smashwords so you can pick up there in ALL e-book formats..  You could also download a free sample, then decide for yourself. It will be out as a paperback through Caradeloca Press within a couple of months, and there will of course be marketing news here.

Meantime, happy reading.

Real Weed — A Better Alternative to Fake Weed

I’m so old that the first time I heard about the fake-weed craze was when I read about it this Sunday in The New York Times.

For the other AARP-members reading this, a little something called K2 or Spice or Genie has hit America and is directly implicated in at least one death.  That’s one more than marijuana has ever caused.

Unlike real-pot,  fake-pot is legal in all but eight states and can be sold openly in gas stations, head shops etc.  You don’t even have to be 18 to buy it because it’s not meant for human consumption but sold as “incense.”

What is it?  A mixture of spices apparently, with “synthetic cannabinoids” thrown in, though not any actual THC because that would be against the law.

The article quotes an ER doc who is also the head of the Michigan Poison Control center and has seen some very unmarijuana-like symptoms from users including hallucinations and extreme agitation.  The death of an Iowa teenager who killed himself shortly after smoking K2 is being investigated.

So let’s get this straight, marijuana which doesn’t kill people and doesn’t contain carcinogens  is illegal in fifty states, but this stuff is legal in forty-two?

Marijuana, (for my visitors from Pluto who may not know) is a plant.  It is often grown in the United States by hard working farmers who don’t receive government subsidies.  K2 is made of who-knows-what with chemicals imported from China — a country which we wouldn’t trust to make pet food.

College students with convictions for marijuana sales or possession are denied federal student loans, but there’s no problem with their selling this synthetic concoction in the convenience stores where they work or buying it at one. No possibility of an arrest record that will need explaining to a future employer unless they get into a fight about their right to light up in the non-smoking section of a bar or restaurant or do something else stupid while under the influence.

Clearly, if it’s on the radar of America’s last-non-tabloid paper, then it must be a real issue.  And the solution will be what?  Banning the synthetic version which will probably result in a major price reduction making it more competitive with real weed? That’s just great.  Another illegal drug to keep our criminal justice system well fed.

Personally, I don’t even like pot.  The last thing I need is a drug that’s going to make me crave carbs and increase my naturally occurring levels of paranoia. But ever since that night I woke up in the ER after a tequila overdose at fifteen, I’ve never understood why pot is illegal when so many other things aren’t.  As an adult and a taxpayer, I’m even more appalled at the money wasted locking people up for growing plants including millions in federal dollars spent jailing people for growing medical marijuana legal in their states.. Where was the damn tea-party when Raich v Gonzalez was going down?

Aside from its being less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, there’s plenty of evidence that for many terminally and chronically ill people marijuana is an effective way to alleviate pain, increase appetite and even help with depression.

Let’s stop being hypocrites.  No one is advocating that young people smoke pot, but prohibition just leads to worse consequences like the development of synthetic, deadly alternatives.   There are all sorts of ways responsible adults can teach young people to lead healthy lives — like maybe by example, or force them to read Obama’s autobiography.  There he was a mediocre student who somehow made it to  college.  Then he stopped smoking weed and boom — transferred to the ivy-league and the rest is history.

Even if the worst things people say about real-pot are true — that it could lead you to be an unmotivated slacker living in your mom’s basement at forty, I’d bake some pot brownies for my nieces and nephews today if I believed the alternative was their smoking chemically-enhanced potpourri.

Teaching in Public School is NOT Like Joining the Peace Corps

In today’s paper of record, The New York Times, there’s an article on the increase in applications to Teach for America and the competition for spots in that program among ivy-league grads. Teach for America is a well-funded non-profit that recruits and trains our best and brightest for placement as teachers in public schools in high-poverty areas of the United States. A quick visit to the TFA website will tell you that the organization’s philosophy is that the best leaders make the best teachers. They seek applicants with “leadership” potential. The program involves a two-year commitment. It’s been compared to the Peace Corps, and the program’s website encourages that comparison by referring to itself as “the corps.”

America’s top ivy-league grads competing to teach in America’s worst schools — isn’t that something to celebrate?

Uh, not exactly.

Most of the TFA’s will leave teaching, if not after their two-year stint, then within another couple of years. Anyone who has taught will tell you that no matter who you are, there’s a big learning curve those first years. While the program provides a lot of support and professional development, there’s no evidence that the participants are staying in the classroom and reaching their potential as educators.

But why should they if teaching in public school is not being viewed as an end in itself, a valid career choice, but rather as a stepping-stone — something to do to prove one’s mettle before doing something else — sort of like the military, but with no guns (one hopes)?

Make no mistake about it, TFA offers several benefits besides the honor of service. First off there’s two years of employment in the middle of a recession, and if you find a job in a city like New York that will mean union benefits and a starting salary of 45k or more. The program also allows access to a social network ideal for a twenty-something new grad. Here’s a description under the Corps Culture section of what those placed in the  Big Apple can expect: “Despite living in the country’s largest city, many of our corps members live in the same apartment buildings or neighborhoods and frequently run into each other at the gym, on the subway, and in the city’s countless restaurants and clubs.” Beyond that the site boasts of its partnerships with several large corporations and prestigious graduate programs happy to offer post-TFA opportunities.

Not bad when you compare it to the actual Peace Corps where you live off a stipend in similar conditions to those you serve. There might not be plumbing in your village, let alone restaurants and gyms. Certainly, you won’t be hanging out with other young people who are just like you. And then there are those other annoyances like malaria and yellow fever.

But why should teaching in a public school in America ever be compared to joining the Peace Corps? Do we really want to think of teaching as something one does for a couple of years to serve society before moving on and getting a real job? When exactly did it become comparable to building latrines in a third world country? What does this say about how we think about public education and those who choose careers as educators?

How is it that someone who teaches at a public school for two years through a program like TFA gets lauded for their service while those who wish to spend their entire working lives toiling in a classroom are viewed suspiciously as though they weren’t up to other challenges or just really enjoy those long summer vacations?

More and more American parents are abandoning the public education system. And who can blame them for wanting the best for their kids? But for many years, the public school system in the United States was the best. Certainly in New York City, generations of immigrants sent their kids to schools where they graduated with either real world relevant job skills or preparation for college. There are plenty of leaders who came to us through that system and were taught by people who didn’t go to ivy-league schools themselves and weren’t picked by special programs, people who were simply doing their jobs and loved to teach. Frank McCourt taught public school and didn’t complete Angela’s Ashes until after he retired.

I understand why the Obamas did not want to send their own children to a public school. But what an example it would have set if they had! What if our First Lady didn’t just drop in to public schools for visits, but advocated for reform as a concerned parent?

One of the differences between poor countries and rich industrialized ones is that the wealthier nations offer compulsory, free schooling that’s more or less equal for all their children and the poor nations don’t. School could and should be the great equalizer, one that represents the American ideal that it’s not where you come from that determines where you are going.

Hiring inexperienced teachers, however earnest and bright, to work as glorified temps in our most impoverished schools, is not the way to create a more equitable system. The way to start bringing our schools back is not to view them as charities.

Respect for teaching as a profession is one of the many things that needs to be addressed in reforming and equalizing America’s school system. School budgets that support hiring and keeping experienced teachers have to become the standard. Recruitment and incentive programs to attract the best are great, but not if they view teaching as a way to kill time during a recession or pad a resume. Professional development and mentoring programs should focus on helping teachers improve and gain skills over time. School systems need to examine why teachers leave and develop their own best practices for keeping the good ones.

As a society, we have a choice. We can either choose to respect, even revere, those practice the noble vocation of teaching as a life-long career, or we can view it as something one does for a couple of years “to give back” to those less fortunate.