Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why The Hunger Games is a trilogy for our times

I have two Twitter feeds, one for my author life @sarahdarerlitt and one for my life as a political columnist @realsaramerica. This morning as I was scanning my political feed I came across this article in the International Business Times.


While hundreds of black celebrities have happily doused themselves in freezing water for the Ice Bucket Challenge, news outlets like Hip Hop DX, Ebony and Buzzfeed, as well as social media users, have accused prominent African-Americans of being too quiet about the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, two weeks ago.



“I think there is definitely a lack of articulation in public forums,” Mark Anthony Neal, a professor in African and African-American studies at Duke University in North Carolina, told International Business Times.“The weird irony behind getting black celebrities to weigh in on Ferguson is that every five minutes you see another one of them doing an Ice Bucket Challenge.”


I don't feel it's my place to comment on that. The quote that I'm here to talk about is from Neal Lester, an African-American literary and cultural studies professor at Arizona State University:

At end of the day what preoccupies people’s minds is what’s happening on TMZ, not what’s happening on CNN.”

When I read that, all I could think of, once again, was how Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES is the trilogy for our times.

I've written about my admiration for the Hunger Games before - I have an essay, The Politics of Mockingjay in the SmartPop anthology The Girl Who Was on Fire, and an additional essay, "Occupy Panem" that comes as extra digital content with the movie edition of the book.


I've seen some great discussions lately about books to use to talk about Ferguson. School library Journal had a piece focusing on "Resources on Protest, Nonviolent Resistance, and Civil Rights". But the reason I think The Hunger Games is also a great discussion resource is this: inequality and distraction. Panem and Circenses.

I don't want to take anything away from the very real issue of race that is at the core of what happened in Ferguson. I have friends who have been stopped for "driving while black." My boyfriend got lost while driving in the exclusive private area of Greenwich known as Belle Haven the other day, and the security guard just waved at him because he was white and driving a nice car. We both imagined how things would have gone if neither of those factors had been true. Somehow I doubt the security guard would have just waved.

But there's another important issue at playing out simultaneously worldwide that we cannot and must not ignore - inequality.




















Collins' trilogy is a wonderful way to start kids thinking about these ideas - leading to discussions of the political strategy of "bread and circuses", reality TV and media literacy.

The problems in our country stem from complex sources and it's important to have our kids understand that we need to attack them from all fronts if we're going to make headway.




Monday, August 11, 2014

Kim Kardashian and the culture of Narcissism - Kidlit Authors propose an antidote! The #selfless campaign

Yesterday, we learned that Kim Kardashian is going to publish a book of 352 selfies called "Selfish."

I won't post a picture.

But I will post one quote from the article:

"So I had Stephanie (her assistant) get a Polaroid and we were taking photos around the entire house … making this cool book and it ended up turning out so cool we came up with this idea to do a selfie book so I'm going to make some super racy. I mean, every girl takes like full like pictures of their a-- in the mirror."

Do we? Do we really? I created this survey to test Ms. Kardashian's hypothesis. Please take the survey!



I was teaching a writing workshop a few weeks ago, and two students (12 and 14) were arguing about who was more popular and cool based on how many followers they had on Instagram and how many "likes" their posts got. It made me incredibly sad.

That's why I'm so happy that my work as a writer for young people has brought me into the incredible #kidlit community. My fellow Kidlit authors are the antidote to the culture of narcissism I see in so many other realms of today's society. Just after I'd posted a link to this news accompanied an expression of despair, my friend Melodye Shore had a great idea:


This is one of the many reasons I love my work and the wonderful community of writers I get to work with. Within an hour, Melodye set up a Facebook page, Hashtagselfless, with this description:

A collection of selfies in which ordinary people go about their everyday lives, doing/observing extraordinary things, maybe, but w/o #Selfish motives.

The motivation behind this campaign is similar to the work of one of the most incredible organizations I've had the privilege to be associated with, StoryCorps. Founded by Dave Isay, StoryCorps records "our" stories - interviews of "ordinary" people, who, when we get to hear their stories, are far from ordinary. I learned more about parenting from MOM: A Celebration of moms from StoryCorps than I did from any parenting book. Yet we get swamped with "celebrity mom" parenting books, published not because the celebrity has proved to be a great parent, but merely by virtue of their fame.

I've learned to find my heroes in real life, not reality shows.

Help us celebrate #selfless by posting pictures to your social networks using the hashtag. Visit the HashtagSelfless Facebook page and post there.

Let's try to give our young people some more inspiring, non-celebrity folks to look up to.










Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Corporate sexism rant - Part Deux

I had a rant a week or so ago because not long after I signed up for private banking, Chase sent mail to my house (the one upon which I hold the title and the mortgage solely in my name, not to mention the investment account solely in my name, the fact that I WAS THE PERSON WHO SIGNED THE PRIVATE BANKING AGREEMENT SOLELY IN MY NAME etc) addressed thusly:


Josh, you might remember, is my son. Not my husband. My college aged son. He is, however, the only person with the name Littman in this household who happens to have the XY chromosome. You will note that this letter wasn't addressed to my daughter (who also has an account at the same bank linked to mine over which I have co-signing authority) and myself. It was addressed to my SON and myself.  Remember this fact for later. It is important and relevant.

After I ranted about this on Twitter, Chase's customer service department asked that I follow them so I could DM them some info. They said they would bump this up to their Executive Office and they were taking it very seriously. 

"Good!" I thought. "So they bloody well should!"  

If you read my previous post, you'll see that this kind of thing is an all too common occurrence for women, and it PISSES US THE FRICK OFF. 

Well, this morning I opened the letter from Chase's Executive Office that was supposed to put this situation to rights and well...to say it didn't is an Understatement of Epic Proportions. 

To say that Ms. DeLeon has missed the point is being kind to missing the point. Technically she is correct. Yes, I am the secondary signer on my son's accounts, because they were set up when he was a minor, so yes, hello, DUH! 

But this is completely missing the MAJOR POINT of my complaint, which is this was a mailing from CHASE PRIVATE BANKING and *I* am the Private Banking Client, NOT my son! He is the secondary client at Chase Private Banking. I am the primary client. He is just along for the ride because HIS ACCOUNTS ARE LINKED TO MINE. I made this very clear in my DM's to Customer Service on Twitter. But somehow that doesn't seem to matter. And it's curious that they sent it addressed to my son and not to my daughter. After all, she has accounts linked to mine, and I'm the secondary signer on her accounts, too? So out of three Littmans living at this address, Chase chose to send this letter addressed not to me, the Private Banking Client, the mortgage holder, the investment account holder, the savings account holder. Not to my daughter, a checking and savings account holder linked to mine over which I am a secondary signer. No, they chose to send it to my son, the male name over which I have secondary signing authority, but then claim that there is no sexism involved at all. 

If this is really Chase's response to an accusation of sexism ie/ we can send letters to your son who isn't the primary client as if he is the primary client, instead of you, the woman, who IS-  and not only that we can tell you you're wrong because when he was of the age to be allowed to set up a checking account, you did so in order to teach him financial responsibility with you as secondary signer, I'm going to start thinking about moving banks. And that investment account I just set up with you guys?  I already have a broker elsewhere who knows better than to be sexist with me. I'm sure he'll appreciate having some extra capital to invest for me, along with the commissions and fees. The ones that you will lose. 



Saturday, August 2, 2014

In which I go off on another Parenting Rant - inspired by Daughter's college orientation

My "baby" (who stands several inches taller than me now) is heading off to college in the fall, and we spent Wednesday at her institution of Higher Learning attending Freshman Orientation.

 This whole "Freshman Orientation" in the middle of the summer - with concurrent "Parent Orientation" is a new business. We did not have such things back in the Dinosaur Era when I matriculated at my Institution of Higher Learning. I flew down a week early to attend Project WILD, a pre-start of school wilderness program run in conjunction with the North Carolina Outward Bound School. My parents drove down to meet my grimy, bedraggled, but very proud self at the end, helped me move in, gave me a hug (after I'd had a shower!) and then drove away.

The best parts of the day were:

1) presentation by the avuncular head of Campus Police, who addressed the parents and students together about safety policies, alcohol and drug policies, and skinny dipping in the large fountain in the middle of the quad policies. I am relieved to report that Daughter has no desire to skinny dip in aforementioned fountain, but had thought about a surreptitious clothed swim. (Go for it, honey. (Clothed!)  You only live once!)

and

2) excellent presentation by head of the school's new Title IX department, who spoke to parents only. "I don't want to scare you, but statistics show that one in five college women report having experienced sexual violence."

Dude, I was already scared enough about sending my daughter off to college with all the date rape stories. In fact,I'm getting her one of these.

What I loved about both his presentation and others was the message, "You are losing control of your kids, but you aren't losing influence. TALK TO THEM about things like using alcohol responsibly, and parents of male students, have a conversation about consent."

I LOVED THIS. It wasn't just "Girls, don't drink and be slutty hos, because it'll be your fault if some guy can't control himself when you're passed out."

It's "Hey parents - TELL YOUR SONS THAT IF A GIRL IS DRUNK, TREAT HER THE WAY YOU'D WANT SOMEONE TO TREAT YOUR SISTER."

They even posted a great definition of consent:



But then things started to fall apart.

We had a half hour presentation on...Dining Plans. Really? I read all that stuff in the brochure when we signed up. Did I really need to sit through a half hour Powerpoint presentation about it?

And then we got to the Q & A, and the helicopter parents started piping up. A parent asked, I shit you not: "Do the washing machines in the dorms take quarters or (the college name) points?"

*Sarah's head explodes*

<Commence Rant>

SERIOUSLY PARENTS? SERIOUSLY?????????

Your child is 17 or 18 years old, and about to embark on their college experience - an experience which yes, is about academics, but which is also part of preparing them to stand on their own two feet, employ critical thinking skills, problem solve, learn life skills, and enter the real world of earning a living and supporting themselves.

Part of this is LETTING THEM FIGURE OUT HOW TO WORK THE FRICKING LAUNDRY MACHINE FOR THEMSELVES!!!

It really isn't that complicated. And if they can't figure it out? Let them learn to ask questions - to advocate for themselves. That, too, is an important life skill.

*headdesk*

Clearly it was a long time ago, but the one question I remember my parents asked during my college trips was "How much is the tuition?" I cannot imagine for a million years either of my parents asking about laundry machines. I was taking the Tube to school by myself in London by the age of 9. So there would have been absolutely no doubt in my parents minds that I could figure out how to use a dorm washing machine and tumble dryer. They trusted me to figure these things out for myself. They called me once a week, on the twin assumptions that "No news is good news" and "Bad news travels fast."

Parenting is a constant balancing act - like the Talmud says, one should "push away with the left hand while drawing closer with the right hand" (BT Sanhedrin 107b). By the time our kids get to college, we need to be able to let them go - to relinquish control, but maintain influence, trusting that if we've done our job, they'll do just fine.

We can set the expectations for ethical behavior, and what it means to be a good human being, and model that behavior. We can't say one thing and do another.

We can let them know that they'll make mistakes, because everyone does, including us, and we'll be here for them when they do.

But above all, we have to let them go figure out things for themselves. That's what it's all about.

<End Rant>


Monday, July 28, 2014

Being in the moment - do young people know how to experience concerts anymore?

I went to see Queen with Adam Lambert two weeks ago. It was, in a word, AWESOME. 
I'd seen Queen a while back with Paul Rodgers from Bad Company on vocals but I have to say that Adam Lambert blew Paul Rodgers out of the water when it comes to being a Freddie Mercury replacement. He's got the vocal chops and the flair.




I was particularly thrilled because they played one of my favorite songs from A Night At The Opera, '39.



By the way, did you know that Brian May is actually Dr. Brian May (and it's a real doctorate, not a fake one like so many folks have been exposed as having here in CT in recent weeks)  with a degree in Astrophysics? I love it that one of my favorite musicians is so brainy. 

But there was one moment I found really depressing at the concert - and I wondered how Dr. May felt about it as the performer on the stage. He had this cool "guitar cam" rigged up to the neck of his guitar, so we could see his lightning fast fingers move during guitar solos. When he walked down the runway into the audience and stood playing right there, in front of them, only feet away, what did the guitar cam capture? Excited, exhilarated people entranced by the music? No. Rows and rows of fricking CELL PHONES recording the experience for later. 

I thought about the few times I've been lucky enough to be in the front rows of concerts. I was front row at the Palladium for Carlos Santana when I was in high school, and it was MAGIC. Okay we didn't have cell phones then, because I AM OLD, but even if we did, I was so INTO THE MUSIC, so completely involved with the wonder of the experience, that I can't imagine just holding the thing up and recording instead of just being there and feeling the music and grooving.  Also, Carlos Santana smiled at me!!!! Would that have happened if he'd seen my cell phone instead of my rapturous, smiling face?


Carlos Santana vintage 1978, around when I saw him, front row

I wonder how it must feel to be playing the Garden and instead of seeing the excited faces to see people just standing their with their cell phones. I can't help thinking that being a titan of Rock isn't what it used to be. It makes me understand why Robert Plant continues to steadfastly refuse another Led Zeppelin reunion (as much as I'd be tempted to remortgage my house to get tickets if he changes his mind).  

My friend Adam Bernard (keep an eye out for his hot self in my upcoming novel, BACKLASH) wrote a great piece on The First Three Songs Rule, and how it should become universal concert law. 
Here's Adam:
You go to a concert to have an experience, to enjoy a band you love, and to create a memory. The problem these people have is that they’re so busy trying to capture the moment that they don’t spend any time creating a memory to associate with it. Sure, they have a hundred pics from the concert they just went to, but, “Remember the time I held my arm up for 45 minutes” is not a good concert memory.
This. So much this!

Kids, take a picture or two then put the phone away. Let the music fill your soul. Be in the moment. And maybe, when you're middle aged like me, you'll remember the time that amazing guitar player whose records (okay, you don't listen to records, but you know what I mean) you played so many times the grooves got worn, SMILED AT YOU.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dear Corporations: It's a new millennium - women aren't goods and chattel



I separated from my now ex-husband in November 2003, and our divorce was finalized in December 2006. When the marital home sold, I bought the current house in which the kids and I reside. I hold the title to this house in my own name, the mortgage is held by me alone, and I have made all the decisions about financing and re-financing this house myself. My ex-husband never lived at this address, was never on any of the mortgages at this address, has had nada to do with this house. 

Yet I still get mail addressed to him here, even ten years after we separated, and eight years after our divorce was finalized. I even get mail addressed Mr and Mrs HIS NAME Littman at this address. 

About two years after the kids and I moved into the house, my son got an invitation to join the AARP. He was 15 at the time, and it was a source of much amusement to me, because I hadn't received my first AARP mailing yet (now I am deluged by them on practically a daily basis). Neither of us could understand why he would be on the AARP mailing list. 

"Maybe they figured that because you're the only male at this address, you're my husband," I joked. 

He looked at me with all the appropriate horror that comment would engender in a 15 year old boy. 

Well, recently my bank suggested I move to their private banking program. I met with a very nice chap, and before I signed on, I told him a very important story about how I feel about men giving me investment advice. 

A few years ago, I had my portfolio with an investment advisor. I wanted him to move my holdings in a certain direction, because as a political columnist I watch what is going on in DC very carefully, and I didn't like what I was seeing. He didn't agree with my assessment, and told me to "ask my father," before acting.

Now there are a few things about this that pissed me off. 

1. I have an MBA in Finance
2. I was, at the time, a woman in my late 40's, with children of my own. 
3. My father was in a nursing home with Alzheimer's, something that this person knew, because I'd bought a long term care policy from him, because of my concerns about developing Alzheimer's myself. 
4. Did this guy realize he was living in the 21st freaking Century?!! OMFG!!!!

As a result of that blatantly patronizing and sexist advice, I moved my entire portfolio away from that establishment, which lost them fees and commissions. 


MORAL OF THE STORY: BEING SEXIST COSTS YOU, CORPORATIONS. LIVE AND FREAKING LEARN. 

Well, yesterday I got some mail from my bank as a result of become a private banking client. Here is how the envelope was addressed. 



Joshua happens to be my son. He isn't the main account holder. I am. In fact, if the bank cared to LOOK AT ITS OWN RECORDS, it would notice that his account is a COLLEGE ACCOUNT. 
But no. Because his is a male name, it takes priority over the actual private banking client, ie/ ME

Now my boyfriend, who is a database guy, told me I was overreacting, because "it's just an algorithm." 

But when I posted this on Facebook, the number of FEMALE friends who have been similarly enraged by this was long and equally furious. 

 "(Husband) and I are joint owners of our home and have a joint mortgage, but everything comes to him. With Allstate, we both have homeowner's insurance together, and then I have a policy on my car and my condo. But EVERYTHING comes addressed to him, even for my policies! I've had numerous convos with our agent and he is clearly puzzled as to why it infuriates me."

"Do I know what that feels like! I think most women do."

"My sister-in-law kept her own last name but gets mail to Mr & Ms my-brother's-name all the time. ALL the time. Grrrrr."

Now my boyfriend may be right. It might be "just an algorithm." As one friend commented, "We can't control what the computer does" is what Allstate tells me when they send me emails about my policy that start with, "Dear Hubby's Name...". It's insta-rage for me when I read it."

But here's the thing: WHO CREATES THE ALGORITHMS?* Computers don't program themselves, as any database guy should know. And whoever created the algorithm that takes any male name in a house and puts it FIRST, even though the policyholder, or the main account holder is a woman, even though that name might belong to a child, is not making a wise business decision. 

Here's a case where the marketing people need to go to their programmers and say FIX THIS. 

Because it's long past for "Big Data" to stop considering women as goods and chattel of the male of the species. 




*let's guess: Do we think this one was created by a man or a woman?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I started another blog: ORWELL UPDATED

It's called Orwell Updated, and you can check it out here.

Please send examples! There are so many. Once compiled, this will be a useful teaching tool for media literacy (euphemisms to avoid saying what's really meant)  citizenship (politicians using passive voice to avoid taking responsibility and using euphemisms to make the grossly unpalatable acceptable ) and writing (unclear writing, passive voice etc).