Thursday, December 30, 2010

R texts & Twitter destroying English? Hardly

Let me start with a small example. Last night I updated Facebook riding home from the gym:
Colorful girls laughing it up on the 1 train. Loving their energy, but tourist woman glancing up nervously, cautiously. Aw. They won't hurt u.
I was really moved by the girls and then startled by the out-of-towner's fear. I felt the urge to express it, and my iPhone was already in my hand.

It started out much longer. The girls were colorful in a lot of ways, calling each other niggers and bitches, but playfully and skillfully, too.

But nobody reads facebook updates that ramble on. So I trimmed it way back. Before I posted, I flipped  over to Twitter and pasted it in there. Still too long. Eighty characters over. I whittled it down again.

Twitter tolerates no over-runs, so I had to slice out the second word of "glancing up" in my tweet. Just could not find two other characters to sacrifice during that short ride. But I was satisfied.

Two minutes later, a Facebook friend that I don't think I've actually met responded:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trekking in through the blizzard, in pictures

It took three days to get back to New York City through the blizzard. That was no fun, especially my Kafka experience all day Sunday.

But I actually enjoyed the mini-adventure yesterday. Here it is, through my iPhone lens, as I responded to it on Facebook at the time (with a few edits):

 9:30 a.m. LaGuardia. Back in Nyc. Yea!

I'm home; they wait.  

My second look out the window. I stepped back and saw it a bit differently.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

If you got a Kindle/iPad/Nook: Ebook suggestions, Part 1

You all know how to find The Catcher in the Rye* and Freedom, so I'm suggesting some wonderful books you might not have heard of.

I checked them all out, and they're all available on Kindle, so presumably most are in the other formats, too. The links are to Amazon Kindle.

Ideas: David Eagleman's Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives. $8.59. Here's part of what I wrote for Salon last year: I loved the idea of "Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives," but did I actually want to slog through 40 of them? How many novel conceptions of the afterlife are there? Wouldn’t this be about 35 too many? No, actually. David Eagleman has got a million of them.

Anthropology: The Interpretation Of Cultures by Clifford Geertz. $14.30. This is a classic, which changed the way I think about humans. (And you know one of my titles for myself is "pretend anthropologist," so I must know.)

Writers: The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. $9.99. THE classic. Just revised this fall. I was so impressed ten years ago that I hounded her to be my agent. She said yes. (But she won the National Book Award with Patti Smith.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

I just saved 2,000 miles

In seven more hours, I try the Kafka trip back to NYC, part 2.

I was supposed to go via Dallas, starting at 6 a.m., which sounds like a long, gross way to get there from Chicago, but several American Airlines agents told me how lucky I was to have that seat.

At this point, people are ready to fly all the way around the world to the left to get to the city. The next option they are now offering me is on Saturday, the first of next year.

So I took it.

A few hours ago, they canceled the flight, but mysteriously squeezed me into a different one, direct to  LaGuardia. Yea!!!

Five hours less to get there, and I land in the right city, instead of New Jersey, so I won't have to hope Amtrak is working, too.

And it leaves ten minutes later, so I get a tiny bit more sleep. Which I'm going to attend to now.

Kafka was here

My first New York City storm and I'm missing it. Drat.

Plus, yesterday was an absurdly unproductive day, which I spent in a Kafka novel.

The shit started just before midnight on Christmas, while losing at cards with my family, which I don't like. American Airlines called with a robot to tell me my flight was canceled. No additional info, not even a number to call. Annoying.

I spent the next two hours on hold, and never got through. But halfway through that, my sister, who is a platinum member called her specialtopsecret number and sat through the same hold music and got through in one hour.

It seems there was a blizzard heading for New York City, and they were starting to wipe out their entire pm schedule into the city. There was one seat open on an early flight, at 8:50a.m., to beat the storm. I took it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I'm late on the ebook recs

Sorry. Christmas shopping and family visit got away from me. I'll try to post tomorrow.

Update: It's Sun morn. Flight canceled but got early one trying to beat the big storm. On the plane now at 8:30. If they let us land, I'll get book recs up this afternoon. (It was this flight or Tuesday.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Disturbing victim interview on Today Show—Video critique

Five minutes into the Today Show this morning, the substitute co-host provided a stunning example of how not to interview a victim.

Karen Hernandez had just lost her home and virtually everything she had in the California mudslides. The Today host began a live interview, and at first Karen appeared OK. Then she suddenly fell apart.

The co-host ignored it. She proceeded with the next question on her list.

Don't ever do that.

In this special video installment of my Advice for Journalists series, I show the Today clip, and discuss what went wrong, and how the host could have responded.

More in the series. See the great Dart Center's site for many more resources for journalism with a conscience. (Dart is now part of the Columbia Graduate Journalism School, and I'm a fellow there. They do great work.)

Please do not use this as an opportunity to trash the show, or the host. I have seen her many times, and she does a fine job. But it's a valuable learning opportunity.

I frequently get questions from young journalists and students about how to interview victims humanely. I laid out some ideas in the posts linked above, but there is nothing like a real life example, to illustrate how quickly an interview can go off the rails.

I will add additional commentary later, but I'm packing up to fly to Chicago in the morning to visit my family. I wanted to get something up while it was timely.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Venturing out to Macy's

I stepped into a NYC department store yesterday.

I've visited the city maybe a dozen times, and lived here six months, but yeah, that was my first. I don't enjoy shopping.

But damn, we spent most of the afternoon. 

It was maybe not the best day for it. Way too many people, kind of a mess moving about in the aisles, but not so bad in the men's area. The store was packed, but fitting rooms deserted. Nobody seemed to be shopping for themselves. Haha. Just me.

I hadn't bought any new clothes since last Boxing Day, and gave away 3/4 of my closet when I moved, so I needed a few things.

I brought a gay friend, who enjoyed dressing me, and was qualified to authorize wardrobe selections. (I'm not. Not that flavor of gayboy.)

They have a lot of stuff there!

And it happened to be a one-day sale. This coat was half-off for the day, plus 20% for opening a Macy's charge. It cost me $50. Nice.

Thanks for all the encouragment on Facebook to plunk down the cash. Good advice.

I decided a winter coat in NYC is pretty essential. I'd gotten by so far with a loaner wool jacket on top of a fleece. This is better. And I like it. 

Tomorrow: ebook suggestions for readers getting Kindles, Nooks & iPads

I've been putting together an ebook suggestion list, and will wrap it up tonight, and post tomorrow.

Have fun with all those Kindles, Nooks and iPads. I'm a little jealous.

And if you're still shopping, this is the last Christmas Columbine will be 20% off in physical Barnes & Noble stores nationwide. (It gets a one-year discount for winning their Discover Award for Best Nonfiction this spring.)

Most stores keep it in stockcheck availability here. At B&N, should be in the Discover Great Writers bay, next to new nonfiction. Otherwise, they keep more copies in Sociology. Or ask.

The Strand has autographed copies, and ships worldwide. (And they also have it 20% off.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trying to get home

Penn Station, about an hour ago. Everybody trying to get home.

I was just passing through on my way home from the gym.

I love that. I would have taken a field trip to see glimpses of humanity like that. Now I see it on my brief commute home.

I gazed up at one of my favorite buildings while I walked the ten blocks to grab the express train. The Empire State Building. (I have a good story on that one of these days.

There's a local stop right outside my gym, but sometimes I really enjoy the walk. Tonight I really did.

I passed by a bookstore and popped in to see if they still carried my book. I like to keep their copies signed.

I was disappointed. Nothing in the nonfiction section. Three copies of Helter Skelter decades later, but Columbine is apparently finished.

Just in case, I asked the manager.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Your links are helping: My Columbine video on track for 100K hits

Thanks for all the links to my Columbine intro video. It just passed 25,000 views since the relaunch. 

You have made all the difference in getting the word out on Columbine. (Despite 13 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, most people still don't know a book on Columbine exists.)

The video is now in the top 5 for key youtube and google searches, and on track for over 100,000 hits per year. That means people interested in the subject are finding it. Thanks.

To link, preferably use anchor text Columbine shooting (or just Columbine). Embeds are even better. (Much.) Or just click and give it a thumbs-up or favorite.

You might also consider Columbine as a $10 Christmas gift. (People just want a great read.)

More ideas on spreading the word. And if you never wrote an Amazon review, they still help. And I'm skyping again with schools and book clubs. Let a teacher or student near you know.

Also see Columbine Student Guide, Columbine Teacher's Guide, and Columbine research site.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gay jubilation on DADT, straight 'approving shrug'—Perfect

Yesterday I was ecstatic. And busy. My tivo can only record two networks at once, so it was tricky to bop between three networks as the two big Senate votes went down on burying the despicable Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

NY Times photo of giddy Senators who led the fight. (Big thanks to all of you.)
I wanted to watch the full vote on CSPAN-2, catch the mainstream reaction on CNN, and monitor anti-gay spin on FoxNews.

One of the best developments of the day, and a real bellwether: the last one did not happen. Fox broke into a Glen Beck rerun, and pre-empted it for half an hour with live coverage that leaned toward a positive take on the news.

That illustrates just how far the country has come. The gap between reactions of gays and straights told the rest of the story:

I called a closeted gay army Lt. Colonel I've been following for ten years. He said he was "elated." The exuberance in his voice  echoed it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

'It's inside you now.'

She slid the needle out of my forearm and pressed a cotton ball in firmly. A tiny red bubble leaked out before she reached it. The cotton slurped it up.

"It's inside you now," she said.

I shuddered. I had not expected a remark like that, or the fleeting panic it set off.

I had just enrolled in an HIV vaccine study. It was a Phase III trial, overseen by the NIH and CDC, which meant it had already proven safenow we were proving efficacy. WeI liked that. Except we were disproving efficacy, more likely.

The consent form ran more than twenty pages. I read every line. I needed to be sure. My counselor was thorough, knowledgeable and caring. She was not letting me sign until I demonstrated I understood all the risks. Honestly though, they were minimal. I really wasn't worried at all.

Until she injected that first dose into my vein. And muttered the obvious.

God. Something was alive inside me. Tiny strands of DNA were making their way up my arm, toward my heart, to be pumped through every living tissue in my body. The DNA was manufactured synthetically, but identical in outward appearance to the deadly virus. Close enough to fool my body, hopefully. But inert, so it wouldn't kill me.

The side effects, if I had any, were due within 48 hours. Possibilities included nausea, mild fever, and a sore throat. Those were signals my immune system had ramped into overdrive. My throat would ache because the lymph nodes there had swollen to full capacity to pump out killer T-cells and macrophages to battle some disturbing invasion. All-out war raging inside my bloodstream.

How much of that shit had they injected? Enough to scare the hell out of my immune system. They hoped. Enough to prepare my body for the real virus a year or two or ten down the road if I did something really stupid.

It failed. That first injection was ten years ago, at Denver Health Medical Center. AidsVax was the most promising AIDS vaccine ever, the first to reach Phase III. I spent three years in the study, got a fresh injection and a free HIV test and a lot of counseling every six months. In February 2003, two decades into the search for a vaccine, VaxGen, the company that had developed the concoction announced its results. No statistical impact.

Today, Kiwan, a very professional counselor at Project Achieve in the East Village in New York City, slipped a fresh needle into my arm.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The gunman didn't SNAP—that's important, NBC

"Why did he snap?" Meredith Vieira asked.

That was her opening sentence of the #2 story on The Today Show this morningabout Clay Duke, the gunman who fired at a Panama City school board meeting and killed himself last night. In case we missed the point, "Why did he snap?" was emblazoned across the screen.

NBC missed the point. So did every news organization that used that word today.

Gunmen "snapping" is a fundamental misconception about these shooters. "Snap" suggests a sudden, instantaneous urge by the perp to grab a gun and wreak havoc. It hardly ever happens that way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Introducing the Columbine Instructor Guide

The completely overhauled Columbine Instructor/Teacher's Guide is now up. It's free, and designed for college and high school Humanities courses. (Also see Columbine Student Guide, beta Columbine research site, Columbine intro video and Columbine book.)

The instructor guide started last year as a 3-page PDF for English classes. We saw such an outpouring of interest that we dreamed bigger and started over. After months of development, and great input from teachers, profs and students, we now offer this cross-curriculum guide in modular format.

The new online version is simplified with drop-down menus to quickly find what you need. A 50-page PDF is available for printing.

The guide supports either a whole-book or short-unit approach. For a short unit, each analytical writing exercise addresses a limited reading selection. Page numbers are provided.

Click for a complete list of courses supported. A summary:

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    Amazon torpedoes publishers' insanity of hiding sales data from authors

    It's puzzling, actually. People ask how me how Columbine is selling, and I don't think they believe me when I say I don't really know. Publishers tell authors almost nothing. It's so dumb it's hard to believe.

    Yesterday, that changed. No, my publisher didn't come through with a huge trove of Columbine data. Amazon did.

    I was astounded by the email from Amazon Friday morning. They struck a deal with Nielsen, where they will let authors see the last four weeks of detailed Bookscan sales data. For free.

    Until today, it would have cost me several thousand dollars to buy this info from Nielsen.

    These are a few of the actual charts they sent me, with sales right up to the previous day. (Click for full-size.)

    I hope I don't get anyone in trouble by sharing my data publicly. They did not ask us not to. If they do, I'll stop.

    Every author can get your info free by signing up for Amazon's Author Central, which you are crazy not to be doing anyway.*

    Amazon is not just giving away Amazon sales info, this is everything Nielsen collects, which includes most of their main competitors—about 75% of all print book sales, right from the cash register, so it's immediate and authentic. It includes  Barnes & Noble, Borders, Target, and some indies.

    Happy late Hanukkah. It went by so quickly

    I've been meaning to post one of these pix for over a week.

    It seemed like such a long holiday, I figured I had lots of time. And then, whoosh.

    Like the rest of my life.

    Happy late Hanukkah to everyone out there celebrating it. The plastic menorah is still lighting up my lobby, so I still consider it the holiday. Haha.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Beyond Brokeback at The Autry in LA Saturday

    Tomorrow, The Autry National Center in LA is hosting a staged performance of passages from the book Beyond Brokeback: The Impact of a Film, which was created by members of my website, The Ultimate Brokeback Forum.

    The pic to the left is the story that LA Magazine ran about the event in its issue this week.

    The history is that a few months before the film Brokeback Mountain came out, I started a web page to help build buzz for it.

    It turned out that the film did fine on its own and didn't need my buzz, but the people who were moved by the film did. They came to the site in droves—more than my little blog could accommodate—so a team of volunteers helped me create a web forum for them. (The site is still running, and we passed a million page views long ago.)

    The discussion there had such an impact on our members' lives, that one of them proposed a book about it. That project took about sixty volunteers working a full year to complete. We published ourselves and sold about 1,500 copies. It's still available from Amazon in hardcover or paperback.

    (I wrote the introduction, but it was produced by our members as volunteers. A woman from Kentucky who goes by screen name KittyHawk was the primary editor and made it happen. I provided high-level oversight and had final approval on the contents, but she did all the work.)

    The book, in turn, had an impact on many people, and a group in LA led by Greg Hinton, approached the Autry Museum to put together a performance piece, using passages from the book, original music, etc. That takes place tomorrow, at 3 pm.

    It looks to be quite a wonderful event. Diana Ossana, who co-wrote the film with Larry McMurtry and co-produced it with James Schamus is graciously flying in to LA for the day to attend. I really wish I could be there.

    The film will also be screened prior to the reading. All details here.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    I need a full-spectrum happiness light. Suggestions?

    I've officially decided it's too cloudy in New York City. Denver spoiled me with sunshine.

    I'm not leaving—not even close—but it is time to get one of those full-spectrum happiness lights to ward off SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

    Has anyone tried them? Any particular brands or specs or whatever that I should be looking for? Is a used one OK?


    Monday, December 6, 2010

    The Moth tonight—Why I moved to NYC

    This weekend, I got a last-minute invitation to tonight's live performance and taping of The Moth.

    Damn. I love Kristin Chenoweth. And Mos Def, Simon Doonan, Wes Moore, Aimee Mullins and Sirdeaner Walker. Any of these people would be cool to see read/perform. All of them at once. Too nice.

    I get asked a lot why I finally moved to New York City this summer. No, not just to see The Moth. But definitely for opportunities like this, which are everywhere, all the time around this place.

    It's exciting to be milling about in the same city with all these talented, creative people, too. The energy of this town is just unbeatable.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Me discussing Marinette on Wisconsin TV news

    Matt Smith of ABC's affiliate WBAY in northern Wisconsin read my Slate XX Factor piece on the Marinette tragedy, and asked me to discuss it on-air.

    We spoke yesterday afternoon by Skype. Matt did a really nice job, and you can watch the 2-minute segment or read the transcript. (The video segment starts with a 15-second commercial that you can't avoid.)

    I had to chuckle when the anchor introduced me as speaking from my New York City office.

    Wow, that sounded official. I guess I was, actually, though it's a tiny little imaginary home office sectioned off on the edge of my bedroom. As we did it, I thought of my location as my bedroom, but that would not have sounded right. Haha.

    I guess the little room divider I put up to fool myself into feeling I was out of my bedroom, which worked for about a month on my own brain, still works for the outside world. (Until I confess, which I'm ever so prone to do.)

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Old bridge, new eyes

    First time gazing at the George Washington Bridge after driving over it.

    Changes everything.

    First time on it was Monday before Thanksgiving, coming back from my first trip to the Catskills. Second and third times were the trip back, starting two days later.

    First gaze was about an hour ago, at sunset.

    That's the path along the Hudson,

    Was that actually a hostage standoff in Wisconsin?

    I have a guest piece again today on Slate's XX Factor:

    Understanding Sam Hengel, the Gunman at Marinette High School
    Did a hostage standoff actually take place in Wisconsin Monday night, when Marinette High School sophomore Sam Hengel held 24 students and a teacher for six hours? FBI doctrine suggests no, and understanding how Hengel was actually thinking was key to keeping the people he held alive.
    . . . In Marinette, Hengel brandished two handguns, but made no demands. Perpetrators like that are quite common. . . . Shooters in victim crises like Marinette are remarkably similar, says Retired Special Agent Gary Noesner, who founded the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit and wrote Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. “Helplessness and hopelessness” are the hallmarks, Noesner said. That’s a combustible combination: The person feels powerless to affect his intolerable condition and hopeless that the suffering will ever end.
    The full post, at XX Factor Also see: Columbine Student Guide, Columbine Teacher's Guide, Columbine Online research site, Columbine Shooting video.

    My previous XX Factor guest was Columbine's Lost Lesson.