Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Virginia Slave Narratives": a notebook of interviews with former slaves taken in the 1930's, sold at Bacon's Castle

Last Sunday I bought an unusual workbook at Bacon’s Castle, a historical attraction in southern Virginia described on my Issues Blog, Dec. 16.

The booklet is “Virginia Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in Virginia from Interviews with Former Slaves”, from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938 (now sponsored by the Library of Congress), published by Applewood Books in Bedford, MA.  The ISBN is 1-55705-025-4.

The book comprises photocopies of typewritten (and sometimes cursive) manuscripts of interviews with former slaves (called “informants”).  There are 55 numbered pages, and then 29 pages of appendix, including a glossary of slang terms.

The earliest excerpt describes a little of Nat Turner’s Slave Revolt at Jerusalem (now Courtland), in which slaves actually killed white owners (see the same blog posting).
   
The postings described the drudgery of slave life, in almost unintelligible English, with no hope of change.  One slave describes an owner who was kindler, and allowed Sundays off and sometimes dinner in the mansion.  Slaves describe having to ask for permission to marry.   


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ernest Jude Navy's "The Truth at Half Staff": yes, I've wondered about these interpretations of history and morality

Author: Ernest Jude Navy

Title: “The Truth at Half Staff

Publication: Xlibris, 2003, ISBN 1-4010-9147-4, 48 chapters, 303 pages, softcover, with some black-and-white photo illustrations throughout.
  
Amazon link is here. Note the variability of the reviews.
  
I ordered this book from Amazon in order to get a feel for what an XLibris self-published book would be like, since I am self-publishing my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book with the same company (discussed Dec. 12 here).  I wanted to find a non-fiction book that takes up some of the same issues that I do, and where the author seems to process the issues the same way I did.  This book does fit the mold, even if it is now ten years old.

The book comprises 48 (by my count) unnumbered short chapters (numbering would have been in order).  This comprises a few poems and collections of sayings at the end, making up a kind if appendix. Most chapters have their own endnotes.  I did wonder why the page size is a little narrower than for most paperbacks of this nature.  These little chapters remind me of my own “sidebars” on my old “do ask do tell” website.

Navy takes up the popular conceptions about many historical events and social issues and debunks popular “conservative” notions about how great America is. (His very first chapter is on Cuba’s Fidel Castro.)  I found he shared my concerns about karma and moral underpinnings of our way of life.  However, he usually keeps his observations to the “group” level and does not take it down to what should be expected of the individual today.
  
His overall message is that America, by accurate reading of history, has been a very racist place, and that many positions (especially of so-called conservatives, most of all when connected to religion) are predicated on the idea that “my race is better than yours” and “my faith” or “my social group” is inherently superior.  Navy does state in one place that he is African-American himself and describes bus background.

For example, he traces the history of anti-drug laws and ties them to a desire to keep people of color down. He argues that Lincoln was racist, and reminds us that the Emancipation Proclamation applied only to “rebel” states.  I think I recall that point from “Virginia and US History” in high school and that the teacher asked an essay question on this point on the final exam (at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA) in June, 1960. 

He gives an interesting explanation for Pearl Harbor, going back to an obscure incident in 1853 when the United States forced unfair treaties on Japan.
  
His explanation for the Vietnam war caught my attention. Historians disagree on whether Kennedy would have pursued Vietnam the way LBJ did, but Kennedy once said in an interview that he did agree with the “domino theory”.  Navy presents the Ho Chi Minh as wanting only self-rule for all of Vietnam, and says that the Eisenhower administration partitioned Vietnam, in his view, illegally.  Vietnam was not like Korea, in this author’s view.  We all know that some of the later history is questionable, like LBJ’s manipulation of the Gulf of Tonkin.  We also know the explanation of Robert McNamara in his book “In Retrospect” and in the Frakenheimer HBO movie “Path to War” (movies blog, Oct. 17, 2013).  The war was supported by a draft and a student deferment system that definitely worked against minorities. I’m surprised I don’t see more explicit discussion of race with respect to the “cannon fodder” aspect of the draft then.  I finally got drafted, but used my education to “get out of” going to Nam altogether. Was the whole moral debate over deferments based on a historical fallacy?  I remember writing to pastors of my own church in the 1960’s when I was in graduate school (before I was drafted, note), and got back a response that we had to trust our political leaders!

Navy gives his own spin on affirmative action and then the OJ verdict.  I won’t say I agree completely with his reasoning, but I see where he is coming from. (I do have prosecutor Marcia Clark’s book “Without a Doubt”.)

Navy also shows that American racism (he would have supported Gode Davis’s film project “American Lynching”) extending to the treatment of native Americans, which would seem to call into question the moral basis of most individual American “real property rights”. (Bacon’s Rebellion, as well as Nat Turner’s Slave Revolt, which I discussed on my Issues blog Dec. 16, would fit into his analysis.)

However, Navy also writes that scientifically, there is no such thing as "race', that it is really a meaningless concept biologically.  There are traits that affect appearance that are favored in different parts of the world, particularly as affected by distance from the equator.

Navy's comments on the public v. private school debate emphasizes that public schools must accept all students, and the reason for poorer performance by minorities is the breakdown of the family, and absence of fathers in the home -- which he blames largely on exploitation by greedy capitalism, not on personal morals.  He shows that people today do not have looser mores than those in the past.

Navy’s interpretation on “gay rights” is relatively simple.  He sees anti-gay prejudice as simply dislike of those who are “different”.  In my own writings, I have taken up the idea that anti-gay prejudice has a lot to do with gay men, in particular, wanting to ‘get out of full responsibility” for raising kids (the tide is turning on that with the developments in gay marriage and gay parents) and on making straight men uncomfortable by kibitzing on the question as to which males are most fit. That sort of observation drove the early debate on gays in the military and “don’t ask, don’t tell”/  Navy never goes near that.  I should add that I am gay myself, but also white.
  
The most provocative chapter of all may be one near the beginning, “Capitalism / Christianity”, p. 22,  There is a sub-sidebar “Individualism / Collectivism” followed by another, “Competition” and then “Taxes”.  Grover Norquist, beware!  Navy argues that the “ideology” of Christianity and the teachings in the Gospels require self-sacrifice and an orientation toward behaving for the common good and for others.  That certainly seems the case to me, and it has always seemed the parables in the Gospels (like “The Rich Young Ruler” and the “Talents”) have a lot do with the fact that a lot of personal outcome, however much we want to preach about “personal responsibility”, comes down to fortune and luck and the unseen sacrifices of others (an issue which the forgotten military draft underscores). 
  
I’ll pass along Navy’s YouTube video “You Did Not Build that Alone” and his criticism of “rugged individualism” of the Ayn Rand sort.
  
In my mindset, what matters is not just group outcomes and collective remedies, which (like affirmative action) can result in isolated temporary injustices to individuals.  It’s more about how the individual should behave, how he or she should balance his own goals with meeting the needs of others.  There is a general impression that healthful socialization means learning to provide for and take care of others who are less cognitively “competent” (that often means children, the elderly, or disabled) within one’s own extended family or community, and only then moving out into the larger world.  I find it very hard to become “involved” in meeting the adaptive or “real” needs of others when I don’t communicate with them and I seem to live in a different space, and when I would have been unwelcome in the past (even if I am solicited now).  How is one to behave if one decides that the aims of one’s family or group are based on an untenable moral foundation?  Why even “go to Heaven” then?  I’m not to that point in my own thinking, but Navy’s book takes me closer to it. A related question would be is the individual responsible for giving back more (even interpersonally) because of the "exploitation" committed by his ancestors?  That bears on the affirmative action and even reparations issues. 
  
Pictures are mine.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hedrick Smith's "Who Stole the American Dream?" explains "Inequality for All"

Author: Hedrick Smith

Title:Who Stole the American Dream?

Publication: 2012, Random House Trade, ISBN 978-0-8129-8205-3, 6 Parts, 22 Chapters, 580 pages, paper.
  
Amazon link 
  
The title of this book reminds me of the little short story “Who Stole the Mona Lisa?” that I wrote in ninth grade English class.  The author (“The Russians”) takes the view that middle class America has been snatched or robbed, and that it was all too simple for the rich to do.
   
The shift in policies toward big business accelerated in the late 1970s, under a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter.  This all happened after the oil shocks and then Watergate – but on some economic issues Nixon had turned out to be a “liberal”.  Remember the wage and price controls? 
  
Smith’s theory is rather like that of Robert Reich in his film “Inequality for All” (Movies, June 24, 2013).  The “Virtuous Circle” broke down as “extreme capitalism” set in, with its excessive focus on short-term profits for stakeholders, distorting the markets.  This all help set up 2008.
  
I remember the mood of the late 1980s, as hostile takeover artists swept down on stable companies, and employees saw the good old days as numbered.  The business games had a moral rationalization. If only individual people took on more personal responsibility, they would be OK.
  
We see how that all played out, with the weakening of pensions (partly because of longer life spans) and the switch to “employee responsibility” with 401(k) plans.  Manufacturing and even some systems and customer support jobs got offshored, and people took to hucksterism.  But salesmanship started to fail, too, as people wanted to be left alone and not be inundated with solicitations.  The Internet made it easier for you to “do it yourself”, right?
  
One could take a libertarian spin on all this, and say the most capable people did well in this globalized environment.  Indeed, some did.  But the divide between the rich and the poor grew, to the point that it god personal.  Indeed, as some left wing observers like Noam Chomsky have said, violent street crime (or even computer crime) has become a kind of class warfare, and it could become impossible to contain.  The causes for terrorism can be personal as well as global and religious.
  
So, social conservatism, harking back to the “Moral Majority” of the 1980s, can put on its own spin. If people have to contain their psyche, sexuality and emotional life within the confines of marriage and family, there is a leveling effect that makes economic inequality for tolerable.  Perhaps there’s something to this.  Moreover, it isn’t the responsibility of government to provide for the poor, it’s up to the caring of individuals, moving out from the family structure.  That’s the conservative rationalization.
  
The last chapter calls for “armies of volunteers” to execute social activism (maybe the Occupy movements) as well as caregiving and charity.  Indeed, his prescription reminds me of libertarian writer Charles Murray’s concern for loss of social capital in his book “Coming Apart” (March 14, 2012).  I’m not a joiner.  I don’t like to be recruited for other people’s agendas.  Is that part of the problem?
  

I bought the book on display at Kammerbooks in Washington DC. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Final "DADT III" version to be published; has interim release now

I have made a small interim printing of my “final” version of “Do Ask, Do Tell: Free Speech Is a Fundamental Right, Being ‘Listened To” Is a Privilege”.   Yes, I could call it “Do Ask, Do Tell III”, as if it were like a movie franchise.

The book has also been submitted for formal publication through a formal POD publisher (Xlibris, of Author Solutions).  The plan is that all e-commerce will be outsourced to the POS publisher with normal channels on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the like. Hardcopy, paperback, and e-reader (Kindle) will be available.

I discussed the earlier interim “release” here on Oct. 1, 2011, and I described the plans for additional content here on June 27, 2013 and Aug. 20, 2013. One concern was to update some proposals that I had made back in the 1997 book that history has outrun, particularly with respect to DOMA and COPA.  Another was to add three fiction segments, as a “Part 2”, which develop the ideas of the non-fiction “Part 1”.

The non-fiction chapters have been further expanded, with more factual detail, and particularly, in the "Foreword" and later "Epilogue", more material on "why I write" and on why I seem aloof from emotions that others expect. 
   
The last two of the stories, in form, are, as road trips, rather like parallels of one another, set forty years apart.  In the “Expedition”  story I appear at age 28, and in the “Ocelot” story I am at current age.  The outcomes are different, although they deal with similar issues.  The first of the stories is set in strip-mining country and could play on the mountaintop removal issue, which was actually going on in 1972.  But all of “Bill’s” private kind of activism maps into a personal outcome involving others.  The “Ocelot” story is set when the country is braced for a possible solar storm (which actually would have nothing to do with climate change but has everything to do with “addiction to technology”), and has a personal outcome which will sound darker.  “Bill” may “get what he wants” but he then has to do what others want, finally.  The end slams the door.

It’s possible to imagine a two-part movie of these two stories, with flashbacks showing what has happened in the intervening decades, and what had happened before, particularly Bill’s military service, which may play on his previous college expulsion in the old “don’t ask, don’t tell” world that prevailed in civilian life too, but which, disturbingly, paints him as a bit of a physical and even emotional coward.  The hypothetical film sounds, quite literally, filled with “Roadside Attractions”.    

  

Friday, December 06, 2013

Law journal article ("book") from 2009 on Section 230 immunity looks important now, given recent proposals to weaken it

It may be a little unfair to call this a “book”, but I thought I would discuss briefly a detailed article by Katy Noeth at the Indiana University Mauer School of Law, published in the “Federal Communications Law Journal”, Vol. 1, Iss 3, Article 9, 2009 (20 pages), with the recommended link here
  
The paper can be purchased on Amazon, but can be found online free.
  
The author takes the general position that the legal climate in the United States is not adequate to protect minors in practice from criminal behavior on the Internet, particularly the possibility of trafficking. 
She says quickly that Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (the “Communications Decency Act”, the censorship portions of which were overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997) may the public from being able to expect supposedly deep-pocketed service providers from taking precautions to protect vulnerable children, especially those of less well-informed parents.  The general reason for this exemption is that service providers cannot reasonably review all user content before posting for possible legal problems.  In this sense, service providers are like utilities rather than publishers or commercial distributors.  But she quickly points out that there already is an “exception”, when it comes to enforcing United States Code in criminal matters (like child pornography).  But usually liability occurs only when the provider knows that the law is being broken in the normal course of business. 
  
Recently there has been a proposal from the Association of State Attorneys General to extend the Section 230 exemption to state law.
  
Noeth traces the immediate aftermath of Section 230, in the case of Zeran v. America Online.  Zeran had claimed that AOL had a duty to screen all material for defamatory content, but the Fourth Circuit disagreed (in 1997) because of Section 230.
  
A more testing case occurred on Yahoo! In 2006 with the “Candyman” case, where the author notes that Yahoo! apparently knew or strongly suspected that minors could exploited by a particular customer.  Later there would be a case called “Doe v. MySpace” where apparently the litigation did not even try to claim that MySpace was a “publisher”.
  
Noeth recommends several seemingly moderate solutions to the problem.  She thinks that the criminal exemptions could be more specific (like my mentioning child pornography or trafficking), and that Congress should draw a distinction in the law between child exploitation and defamation (which is much broader).  She specifically says that such a specific provision would not cause service providers to have to “police” content generators and account holders. She also says that it would not lead to abusive litigation. 
   

One point that Noeth stresses is a “knowing” standard.  ISP’s or service providers (or bloggers hosting comments or large forums) would not be responsible for items they did not know about  -- I suppose there could be a question as to whether a moderator of a large forum could read every posting and know what is going on.  AOL’s forums back in the 1990s were very large.    

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thomas Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus" was a "new kind of book", in the 19th Century and maybe still today

In the spring of 1962 I started over in college at The George Washington University (while “living at home”) after the catastrophe at William and Mary (discussed often elsewhere on these blogs).  As a freshman, I somehow placed out of English 1, basic composition. At GWU, you took a year of literature before taking the second composition course (English 4) where you “learned how” to write a term paper.  You could write about anything you wanted, and I think I rehashed a high school paper on Mahler’s influence on modern composers.  We read Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens) in that class, and I recall an odd passage in Chapter 8 where Jim Tells Huck (in modern English), “If you’ve got hairy arms and a hairy chest, it’s a sign you’re going to be rich”.  Nobody dared to say anything when the passage was read aloud in class (in spring 1963, probably in the original text), but I thought then that the passage was a euphemism for racism in pre Civil War American History. Spark Notes offers the passage here
  
But back in 1962, I had to start out with “English 52B”, which comprised the second half of English Literature, starting in the late 18th Century.  We had a gray anthology textbook called “British Poetry and Prose”, and typically were assigned about 50 pages to read, a lot of it poetry, for each 75-minute class, taught by a Mr. Rutledge, in a dusky first-floor classroom in Monroe Hall, with a good view of G Street in Washington’s Foggy Bottom, with the old dive “Quigley’s” barely in sight.  (Wordsworth appeared early in the course, with discussions of why poetry gives “pleasure”, and suitable recognition of the film “Splendor in the Grass”, which had played into my lost fall semester at William and Mary). 
    
Mr. Rutledge liked to give “card quizzes”.  They counted one fourth of your grade (so you came to class, but he would drop the lowest two); there would be a midterm and a final.  And sometime around March 20 or so, he gave us a card quiz on an excerpt from Thomas Carlyle’s odd (and blatantly self-indulgent) novel “Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh”. The Latin lead means “the tailor re-tailored” and the protagonist’s name means “god-born devil dung”. 
  
Every student failed this pop quiz, including me.  The professor had to throw it out.  No one understood the point of the writing from just reading at home.  The book is an example of a poioumenon, which is a work of “metafiction” where the author layers the inner story inside a “presentation” layer where the author can address the reader.  Among writers’ groups, it’s considered taboo in modern “writing to sell” as stuck up, but movie narratives do this kind of thing all the time.  Many modern books and films consider the relationship between the narrative story and the presenter or reader itself a subject to be written about.  Think about “Inception”, “Cloud Atlas”, and the gay sci-fi hit “Judas Kiss”.
  
In the inner story, the protagonist wanders rural England or Europe and is spurned in heterosexual love life, and is taken back when he sees his beloved with another nobleman.  He turns to nihilism, wanting to pretend that he doesn’t exist (hide inside that museum clam) until he finds a new purpose for living in his own head.  It sounds dangerous.  And he does find a different woman.  But do people feel disappointed when they have to take “someone else”, and think, “I should have done better than this”?  That was how people thought about relationships, especially in the gay male community, back in the late 1970’s in the days before AIDS.
  
The outer layer of the book has an “Editor” account for his own experience with dealing with the book, getting around to telling the inner existential (or transcendental) story when he feels like it.
   
The professor asked an essay question about the concept of the book (asking for comparisons to other authors’ works or even films) on the final exam.  He thought that students should understand this approach to writing,
   
The book is available on Gutenberg in various formats here.  And “it’s free”.  I tried to download it “free” onto Kindle (like many classics, it’s also a free download for Amazon Prime subcribers) and found that the touchpad for typing on my little device didn’t work, don’t know why.  Battery problems?  But the html version works fine, and downloads OK even on a smart phone, and is perfectly readable.  In fact, “Chapter II” in Book I caught my eye with its title, “Editorial Difficulties”, and says that man is a “proselytizing creature” (even if not a Mormon missionary) and speaks of the Philosophy of Clothes.   The latter would be called “sartorial taste” and was very much a matter in the office in the 1970s and ‘80s, as companies (other than IBM and EDS) gradually relaxed their dress codes, making the choices of flared pants, colored shirts and wide ties very much a modem of pre-Internet self-expression.

I don't see any evidence that Carlyle's novel has ever become a film.  It would make an interesting indie experiment, at least in Britain.   Let the BBC, Film 4 and the UK Lottery have a stab at it. 

Update:

I got the Kindle download from Amazon to go.  It just needed to be fully charged back up before it would work.  The Kindle version doesn;t show the three inner "books", somewhat corresponding to various layers of narration by the Editor.



Update:  Feb. 11. 2017

Mencius Goldbug writes about Thomas Carlye and "reactionaries" here in 2009.  Suddenly this matters, when considering authoritarianism and Donald Trump. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Foreign Policy" issue (end of 2012) has important essays on bio risks, financial stability, cyberwar, and leaks

It may seem a stretch to call an issue of a magazine a book, but every issue of “Foreign Policy” comes across as a book of important essays.  The November/December 2013 issue is particularly interesting.
  
The essay that got the most attention from me was Laurie Garret’s “Biology’s Brave New World: The Promise and Perils of the Synbio Revolution”.  Garret, remember, authored “The Coming Plague” back in 1995, in which she described some of the world’s most deadly pathogens, including a detailed account of how a man recovered from Ebola virus, to become quite bald everywhere. Here, Garrett compares life itself to “4-D printing”, and then goes on to examine the ethics of experiments that test the contagiousness of diseases, with particular emphasis on the controversy over experiments (and publication thereof) regarding increasing the transmissibility of H5N1 and then H7N9 “bird flu” viruses.
  
If these viruses were readily transmitted among mammals through the air, rather than from bird to mammal, they could become pandemic very quickly. On p. 42, Garrett speculates on the idea of this being tried with HIV.  The problem with this speculation is that idea led to the rhetoric from the “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS” in the 1980s, in an attempt to propose a particularly vehement ant-gay law (just before the HTLV-3 aka HIV virus was announced).  Such speculation could have a drastic impact on individual rights.

There follows a companion essay by Ronald K. Noble, “Keeping Science in the Right Hands: Policing the New Biological Frontier”.

On p. 88, Alan Greenspan delivers “Never Saw It Coming: Why the Financial Crisis Took Economists by Surprise” where he talks about the Jessel Paradox and “morbidly obese fat tails”.  But it seems pretty obvious that by late 2007 the housing market was unraveling and that so many middle class consumers to expect so much house for nothing would lead to disaster.

On. P. 97, Charles W. Calomiris and Stephen H. Haber discuss  “Why Banking Systems Fail: The Politics Behind Financial Institutions”.  There is an explanation of why unit banking developed on the American frontier.  When I moved to Dallas in 1979, I found out that Texas was a unit-banking state. The authors compare American banking to the much more stable system in Canada.

On p. 77, Thomas Rid, in “Cyberwar and Peace” argues “Hacking Can Reduce Real-World Violence”. The author points out that cyberattacks have killed no one, and would seem to support the idea that a cyberattack can bring down a properly secured power grid is very fanciful (see “Grirdlock” (Sept. 5).  A physical attack with an EMP weapon would be a different matter.
   

On p. 22, Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argue in “The End of Hypocrisy: American Foreign Policy and the Age of Leaks” that the main result of the leaks by Edward Snowden and Bradley (Chelsea) Manning are that the U.S. will have to learn “The Importance of Being Earnest”, and it can no longer deny engaging in the very behavior that it accuses authoritarian countries of.  On the other hand, what about compromising civilian and ground sources overseas and putting them at risk of retaliation?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Jesse Ventura: "They Killed Our President", JFK conspiracy theories to put even Oliver Stone to shame

Author: Jesse Ventura, with Dick Russell and David Wayne
   
Title: “They Killed Our President: 63 Reasons to Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK
  
Publication: Skyhorse, ISBN 978-1-62636-139-3, hardcover, 63 chapters, 4 sections
  
Amazon link is here
  
This book is frontloaded with so many plausible conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 (and the subsequent hit on Oswald by Jack Ruby) that it runs the risk of contradicting itself.  I’ll come back to the heart of the matter in a moment.
Let’s say, though, that the details concerning the physical evidence, the witnesses, the suspects (Oswald and then Ruby), the internal memos indicating cover-up, and the political motives of conspirators are rather overwhelming.
     
Most of all, of course, is the evidence of more bullets and more shots fired from the front as well as back, which the Zapruder Film is supposed to confirm.  Oliver Stone (director of the 1991 film “JFK”) confirmed the ideas on a recent interview with Piers Morgan.
   
  
Ventura discusses the idea that Oswald had a doppleganger, and that there are contradictory details about his appearance in eyewitness report.  I recall hearing about a “30 year old white male” on the radio while about to leave work (at the old National Bureau of Standards on Van Ness St. in Washington) after learning about the event.  He also argues that Oswald could not have gotten to the movie theater in Oak Cliff by the time Officer Tippett was shot.
   
The most provocative idea was that JFK was targeted by the right wing “military industrial complex” that wanted to invade Cuba again and that even wanted a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.  Ventura argues that JFK had to fight off his own generals to bring a peaceful end to the Cuban Missile Crisis (and earlier, to stalemate in Berlin) to avoid nuclear Armageddon.  The belligerent anti-Communism would lead to the Vietnam war and my own experience with the draft (and the deviseness over deferments).   The CIA was heavily involved, in setting up double agents (including Oswald) and in colluding with the Mafia, which feared a crackdown from Kennedy.  LBJ, according to this theory, was in on it.  On p. 344, Ventura argues that the conspirators set up “shock incidents” that would appear to be communist-inspired to justify war.  This very likely continued throughout the 1960s (one could even say that about Tonkin in 1964).  For example, I recall during Basic in 1968 hearing about the mysterious murder of two Marines in Georgetown in Washington DC. I mention this incident in my 1969 unpublished novel "The Proles".  I also recall starting my first summer job at the Navy Department in 1965, just about the time Vietnam was first escalating, and I remember the gung-ho atmosphere.
     

The book has many quotes, which are displayed with ragged boundaries on both sides, which is annoying to the eye.  
   
I have met Jesse Ventura at least once, at the HRC dinner in Minneapolis in 2001, a few weeks after 9/11.



Update: November 9

John Kerry told Tom Brokaw on CNN that he no longer believes the Warren Commission "Oswald alone" theory, and says that it was probably a Cuban and Soviet plot, but not necessarily involving the military or CIA.  Kerry says he hasn't spent enough time on it to be sure.  But the whole case should be re-opened.

Second picture: My previous condo in Dallas, photo taken in Feb. 1985.  Yes, it can snow in Dallas. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Covenant House offers booklet on its services for homeless children

Recently I received a “free” unsolicited booklet in the mail from Covenant House, (link  ) titled “Sometimes God Has a Kid’s Face”, by Sister Mary Rose McGeady.
  
The paperback runs 110 pages and does not carry an ISBN.
  
The fourteen chapters give the stories of various abandoned homeless children, many of the in New York City. There was a variety of circumstances, including having been reared in gangs, sold into sex slavery, or simply left at shelters.  One girl was a promising writer.  One boy, on the other hand, struggled with image problems over obesity.
   
  

The booklet has an epilogue, and a variety of tips, aimed at parents.  They sound like common sense. 
   
But this booklet comes from a charity taking care of OPC, that is, “other people’s children”.  I wondered, do non-parents share a moral responsibility for this situation?  The book, however, did not try to take a position on that.   

Friday, October 18, 2013

Time's booklet "The Science of You"; ideas about character for people "in the twilight zone", as reflected in my own novel manuscripts

Time offers retail outlets another color, heavily illustrated primer, “The Science of You: The Factors that Shape your Personality”, edited by Stephen Koepp and Neil Fine.
   
The oversized album comprises several sections, called “Nature”, “Nurture”, “Types”, “Disorders”, and a closing essay by Joel Stein, “The Theory of Humor”. 

The earlier essays would complement the book reviewed on June 1, “I Am a Strange Loop”, as they try to get at what makes a person “me”, and have a focus of consciousness that can experience (and take the responsibility for) free will. It all starts with the introductory piece, “What Shapes Us”, by Jeffrey Kluger.

The essays, while pondering “nature v. nurture”, don’t delve into the biological aspects of sexual orientation.  But they do maintain (as in a piece “Born to Be Wild” by Alice Park (as if to suggest the David Lynch film “Wild at Heart”) that genes account for personality traits only by acting together, and probably by execution from chemical catalysts in what we call “epigenetics”.  The longest piece in this section is “Make Yourself at Home” by David Bjerklie.  In the book “Oddly Normal”, reviewed here Oct. 1, the author noticed the intractable paradoxes of sexual orientation.  Sometimes it seems connected to physical developmental issues, but then you run into a gay make capable of playing professional sports, and all the stereotypes fail. 

Jeffrey Kluger offers a piece, “The New Science of Siblings”, with more analysis of birth order.  Having opposite sex siblings, especially older siblings, may well shape personality.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s unusual social techniques may have developed because he was surrounded by three sisters, at least one of whom helps run the finances of Facebook.  Kluger writes, on p. 40, “The family is a survival unit. Parents agree to care for the kids, the kids agree to pass on the genes, and they all so what they can to make sure no one is eaten by wolves.” The second clause is controversial.  Maybe that explains why, as an only child, my homosexuality was so controversial back in the early 1960’s when I was thrown out of college for admitting it.  In fact, family responsibility, in practice, goes way beyond the requirement to support and raise the children one sires.  One will wind up with the responsibility anyway.  Parents expect older siblings to learn to take care of younger brothers and sisters, and also expect kids to be prepared to take care of parents when they age.  That sort of “power” is a perk of having a family within the societal social structures (children within a legally recognized marriage).  People do become responsible for persons who come into being because of the sexual intercourse and fulfillment of others, not just themselves.

Further into the book, there is an essay “The Myth of the Alpha Dog” by Michael Q. Bullerdick, without a a tattooed image of Justin Timberlake.  Social carnivores vary in social structures, by indeed in some groups (wolves, lions) only the most endowed males pass on their genes, and the other obey to meet the needs of the herd.  But in humans, leaders are made as well as born.  Generally, larger animals (like big cats) are not dependable “friends” because they have not been bred to cooperate with man, but there is no reason that they couldn’t be. 

Jeffrey Kluger has an essay “Disorders”, about personality problems and mental illness.  These split into three areas, the “dramatic”, the “anxious”, and the “odd”.  The dramatic includes “borderline”, “narcissistic” and paranoid schizophrenic, and seems to represent the least intact people, including those responsible for rampages and perhaps terrorism.  The “anxious” have an “intact core” but comprise both OCD and OCPD, the distinction between which Kluger doesn’t clarity.  The “odd” includes “schizoid”, and “schizotypal”, the lone wolves who might become dangerous if they lose their intactness.

At NIH, I was labeled both as OCD and “schizoid personality”.   When I sat down with filmmaker Gode Davis (“American Lynching”) for dinner in Providence, RI on New Year’s Night of 2003, he immediately diagnosed me as having Asperger’s, which he said he had himself to a mild degree.  You know, the lack of spontaneous body language.

The schizoid personality seems emotionally aloof and isolated, and disinterred in the social bonds people typically take for granted.  It’s hard to separate this from mild autism or Asperger’s.  The OCD can come from the person’s being concerned about his own performance and a sense that others may barge in and force him into various forms of social obligation that seem to be required by the social good.  Parents try to impose that on siblings.  The schizoid sees this as a moral demand from others, not intrinsically necessary for the self.  I think it is possible to relate all this to the polarity axes in the writings of Paul Rosenfels (April 12, 2006) – masculinity v. femininity, subjectivity v. objectivity, balanced v. unbalanced.  The personalities that society regards as disordered may most often be unbalanced, but is that because of society’s need for some conformity?

Kluger follows with an ample piece about self-absorption (“But Enough About You”), with a picture of a trim, handsome young man.  On p. 82, he offers a sidebar on humility, “A Modest Advantage”. All of this fits into the philosophy of Rick Warren’s “A Purpose-Driven Life”.  Kluger writes “Evolution suggests that submitting one’s needs is a trait likely to preserved only in species for which cooperation is necessary for survival.”

David Bjerklie asks if people can change in “Amending Your Constitution” (is that like being “born again”?)   Then Sherry Turkle looks at the impact of social media and whether it inhabits real world socialization in “Once Upon a Screen”. 

I can recall a Sunday night youth program at the First Baptist Church in the City of Washington DC, in the early spring of 1959, when I was in tenth grade, when a precious teen, a year older, from Florida, gave a talk based on the anagram "YOU".  


This may be a convenient place to mention something that happens in many of my unpublished novel manuscripts, going back to the early 1980s.  It’s true that in “The Proles” (1969) the “me” character starts his purification in Army Basic.   But in several documents written in the 1980s, leading up to “Tribunal and Rapture” (1988), the “Me” character gets sent to a “re-education” Academy in some rural location (whether West Virginia or west Texas) after losing his job in a minor economic setback.  He meets his “ideal man” there, but at the climax of the novel, when he leaves, the whole world blows up.  But what’s interesting is that I regard “someone like me” not as “disabled” (at least mildly, according to modern values) but as morally compromised, because “I” am in that gray twilight zone where I can understand the harm to sustainability of the “common good” if the example I set if followed by others, which it well might be. 
   

In the novel that I want to present for eventual publication – and I will get back to it when I get “DADT III” submitted  (Oct. 1, 2011 here) – and that book is “Angel’s Brother”, I have a layering of this idea.  The novel is told from the viewpoint of a male couple, a CIA agent (married, with a front of being a high school history teacher) and college student, who develop a relationship. There is a character “Bill” who has an embedded novel manuscript called “Rain on the Snow”.  That embedded story has an “Academy” which happens to exist in the world of “Angel’s Brother”.  In one subplot, the college student (“Sal”), who works at the Academy as a language instructor, approaches Bill, also a student there, and intervenes, giving Bill “what he wants” so that Bill doesn’t go over the edge and ruin everything.  The world approaches a purification (in the form of a mysterious pandemic) anyway.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two books on self-publishing

In anticipation of a formal release of my third “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, I picked up two recent short books on self-publishing.
  
The larger book is “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know About the Costs, Contracts and Process of Self-Publishing”, Fourth Edition, by Mark Levine, published by Bascom Hill, in Minneapolis, 2011, with ISBN 978-1-935098-55-3, 274 pages, paper.
  
The Amazon link is here
  
The book classifies various self-publishing companies as to their reputations with authors.  I won’t go into repeating these here, but I can make some general observations.

Self-publishing support companies have a variety of business models.  Some of them offer an enormous range of services, charge a lot, and tend to pay low royalties.  Authors have been particularly concerned that they can’t claim the publisher galleys to take to other publishers, at least without paying a lot more.  However, some authors may need the extensive services and may have a low sales expectation, and be publishing more as a “reference”  for cultural or political impact on debate of some issue.  But some try to push sales promotion packages onto authors.
  
Other publishers charge less, pay higher royalties, and allow publishers ownership of galleys. But these publishing companies are more selective.  They do not accept titles that they do not expect to sell well, because these companies derive more of their profit from actually selling book copies than from just supporting authors.  They are more like traditional publishers, and the right word might be “cooperative publishing” than self-publishing.  This model may work better for fiction than political or technical writing, and may suit only authors with established public relations contacts in other fields.  Examples of these companies include BookLocker and BookPros. As of the time of publication of this book, BookLocker considered five copies sold a month the minimum acceptable transaction volume for an author. It's hard to see, at least from any reasonable math, how this setup would support a business model really based on selling books.  It would seem to appeal only to authors who could get published (maybe even with an advance) from traditional publishers, but really are motivated by short-term "profit".  It sounds improbable for most writers, even relatively established authors. The question brings up the idea of being hired as a ghostwriter or to assist with someone else's work or life narrative. 
     
I would seem that whether a publishing service is "selective" or "non-selective" would have a big impact on whether the service would have a good rating with authors, a point that the book glosses over -- but that cuts both ways. 
      
A few of them are faith-oriented, and only accept content agreeable to their religious beliefs.  These companies might appeal to authors who benefit from a publisher brand name associated with evangelical or other faith.

The early part of the book explains all the general principles of self-publishing, and gives some advice on what kinds of books do sell and others do not. 


The book explains the publishing contracts in detail.  One controversial issue is the indemnification clause, which gives the publisher the right to sue the author for legal expenses should there be a tort claim (like libel) against the publisher.  These are quite standard in the industry, and shocking to authors.  In practice, they are rarely invoked-- although I can imagine that an unscrupulous plaintiff (and attorneys) could file a frivolous SLAPP suit against a self-publishing support company on the "deep pockets" theory, forcing the author to defend the company (and this is a good reason we need a federal anti-SLAPP law).   I didn’t see any mention of media perils insurance, but I wonder if that could become an issue in the future (although it has never gotten far off the ground in the “amateur” world, as discussed in my main blog in the fall of 2008).  Most publishers allow the author to keep ownership of the work and move to other publishers, but they don’t own the actual galleys.  Most don’t appear to care if the author places content on the web, but some could see that as potentially driving down sales. 
  
 The smaller book is “Self-Publishing Books 101: Helping You Get Published and Noticed”, by Shelley Hitz, with imprint by the same name, 2012, ISBN 978-1475104592, 48 pages, paper.  This booklet covers the mechanics and basics (like getting an ISBN).  It pays particular attention to the self-help process provided by one particular company, Create Space.  The website for the book is here
   

There are folks who see self-publishing as controversial.  I don’t know if it’s true now, but Author’s Guild used to accept for members only those authors would could get advances from publishers and actually make a living from writing. Ponder why that would be.  

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

John Schwartz: "Oddly Normal": a memoir by a father about raising a gay son

Author:  John Schwartz
  
Title: “Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with this Sexuality
  
Publication: Gotham, ISBN 978-1-59240-728-8, 300 pages, paper
  
Amazon link  Available in many formats, including Kindle. 
  
First, a note on contents.  The book includes an illustrated story by the son, Joseph, titled “Leo” The Oddly Normal Boy”, and a short essay by Joseph, “July 4th, or “A Treatise on the Courtship of the Awkward”, as well as a new Afterword by the author (the father).
  
The book is an account by the author of his third child’s coming to terms, as he grew up, not only with his sexual orientation, but also with being “different” in some ways that other people, especially in school systems, find challenging.
  
  
This other difference is hard to pin down.  It sounds related to milder forms of autism like Asperger’s syndrome, but that isn’t exactly correct.  It seems to relate to a physiological issue in the way the central nervous system processes sensory information and attaches significance to sensory impressions, and the way these in turn connect to motor skills, like those necessary in playing sports or manual labor.  I experienced the same issues as I was growing up, as I have explained often in these blogs and in my own three books (check Aug. 20 and June 27,  and May 30, 2013 on this blog, for starters).  From a purely medical point of view, there has never been a clear explanation.  I am seventy years old now, and had to deal with these issues at a time when they were viewed through a moral lens, like that of mooching or getting out of physical challenges that other men have to face.  The world looked at sexuality this way when I grew up because in part there was a belief, maybe partly founded in religion but not entirely, that for a society to survive, men had to protect women and children according to gender roles.  Having grown up in the 1950’s and early 60’s, I did not have the benefit of a social climate willing to tolerate open mention of homosexuality. 


The father notes that in his experience many gay men grew up perceived as gender non-conforming, and sometimes exhibiting “The Sissy Boy Syndrome”, actually the title of a controversial 1987 book by Richard Green (Yale University Press”.  The subtitle of that book was “The Development of Homosexuality”.  I certainly did fit that stereotype.  But in general the stereotype often does not apply.  A few gay men have played professional sports, even football.  I have known a few who might have played had there not been quasi-military aversion to their presence in team sports – let’s say, one in a particular a pitcher would not want to hang a changeup to.  In fact, the author notes that his son appeared to develop physically a little earlier than average.  There is practically no correlation at all between sexual orientation and aspects of physical appearance or secondary characteristics.   

Schawrtz does discuss immutability, although not to the point of explaining "epigenetics", which would give a biological explanation of why a gay man could indeed win an MLB batting title.   The question that remains is, if it were a "private choice" rather than innate, why does society make it other people's business?   I've never thought that the immutability argument was enough/
 
The parents were quite supportive of their son’s exploring his own individuality, and they found the school systems, in northern New Jersey, less so, not out of ill will, but simply the lack of program and coherent response to students with hard-to-assess special needs.  

Nevertheless, the boy, in his tween years, made a suicide attempt, and wound up in psychiatric care.  This is understandably a difficult episode for a parent to write about publicly. The son had a good experience with a special summer camp and high school was much better than middle school (as it was for me, too).
  
The author does give some synoptic history of “gay rights”, with a discussion of the history of sodomy laws, gays in the military, and especially same-sex marriage.   He also discusses the difficulty school systems have with bullying, and the fact that “curriculum neutrality” policies, like one tried in a Minnesota school district, don’t work in practice.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tom Palmer has new anthology, "Why Liberty"

Author (editor): Tom G. Palmer
   
Title: “Why Liberty: Your Life, Choices, Your Future
  
Publication: 2013, by Jameson Books, Atlas and Students for Liberty; ISBN 978-0-89803-172-0, 143 pages, paper, indexed, A Preface and twelve essays.

Mr. Palmer is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and is Executive Vice President for international programs at the Atlas Network.

The book comprises essays by a number or authors : three by Tom Palmer himself, as well as John Stossel (former ABC News producer and reporter), Clark Ruper, James Padilioni, Jr., Alexander McCobin, Sarah Skwire. Aaron Ross Powell, Olumayoma Okediran, Sloane Frost, and Lode Cossaer and Martin Wegge (together).

A few high points need to be stressed.  Tom Palmer’s “The History and Structure of Libertarian Thought” talks about the “Libertarian Tripod”: individual rights, spontaneous order, and constitutionally limited government.  The idea of spontaneous order occurs with social insects, and Palmer seems to have more confidence than some that it can generate eusociality (see the concern by Charles Murray about social capital in his “Coming Apart”, March 14, 2012 here).

The chapter “The Political Principles of Liberty” by McCobin seems to get at the deepest controversy.  McCobin compares these to other political principles, which stress ideas like “fraternalism” (or “fraternity”), the idea that people have an intrinsic responsibility to provide for others outside of the scope of their own personal choices or voluntary “contracts”; and “equal outcomes”.  McCobin goes on to discuss the difference between politics and ethics.  McCobin writes that the heart of ethical behavior is to act as if “you” respect the other person as an independent moral agent. That sounds pretty much like the “Golden Rule”.

People who are “different” (like me) often report that others expect them to take responsibilities that they did not elect, and that these responsibilities compete with or interfere with their own personal goals, pursuing things that they are good at.  This may happen even though they think they are honest and ethical in the narrower sense understood by libertarian.  They experience  “coercion”, which may be from the state (the military draft, previous anti-gay social policies), from family or sometimes other agents like employers.   Libertarians obviously focus on not letting the state apply coercion in personal matters.  But libertarians may not want to interfere with the ability of families or employers to implement their own notions, as they trust that a properly functioning free market inhibits irrational discrimination.  This often works, but in some areas, “different” people find that they experience resentment or indignation from others who claim that “the special” benefitted in the past from the unseen sacrifices of others, who started farther back in line.  Parents, when making wills, may want unmarried or childless adult children to be prepared to help raise the children of siblings or care for other family members, and could stipulate that in wills, and libertarians would not interfere with estates.  Libertarians might have an issue when debating  “filial responsibility laws” if the result of such coercion is to save the taxpayer from supporting other people’s elders (but you have the same concept with mandatory individual health insurance under Obamacare).  I think that the ukase (or lack of ) to be prepared to take care of others when necessary (and not just when you “choose” to have children) is a fundamental moral issue, transcending ethics even as Palmer and McCobin describe it. .

Okediran (“Africa’s Promise of Liberty”) discusses libertarian principles in more rural, primitive communities and maintains that libertarianism can be commensurate with commutarianism, found in intentional communities (with “income sharing”), which is not the same as communism.

Sloane Frost (“The Tangled Dynamics of State Interventionism: The Case of Health Care”) gives the usual conservative arguments against nationalized heath care and traces our current problems to preferential tax treatment in the past to employer-sponsored health care with pre-tax dollars.
Aaron Ross Powell introduces an interesting notion of humility in politics with “The Humble Case for Liberty”.
  
Amazon does not have this book yet.  There is a similarly titled book by Marc Guttman. Students for Liberty has a site for it here. Palmer handed this out at a GLIL gathering Sunday September 8, 2003.
  
  
The video above shows Palmer talking about an earlier book, “The Morality of Capitalism:: What Professors Wont Tell You”.

This would be a good place to mention a pair of companion books by David Boaz from the Free Press in the 1990's, "Libertarianism: A Primer" and a companion "Libertarian Reader", a book of essays.  


Thursday, September 05, 2013

"Gridlock": former US Senator pens novel warning that cyberattack could destroy the electric power grid, permanently

Authors: Byron L Dorgan and David Hagberg

Title: “Gridlock

Publication: New York: Forge, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7653-2738-3, 431 pages, hardcover (also available as e-book), 4 Parts, 76 chapters with Prologue and Epilogue

Amazon link is here
  
Mr. Dorgan is a former US Senator and Representative from North Dakota, and Mr. Hagberg is a former U.S. Air Force cryptographer.
  
Let’s cut to the chase.  The authors propose a scenario where enemies of the American people (and it seems to be our “way of life” as much as our government) – specifically Venezuela and Iran (and maybe Putin’s Russia) – try to cripple the US power grid permanently with a single computer work coded by a “gifted” and sociopathic hacker in Amsterdam.  It’ a little confusing as to how it is delivered, and I’ll get back to that in a moment. There’s also a physical attack on a transformer farm in South Texas, a concept which sounds a lot more probable. 
  
The book is fast paced, written in short chapters, and has a number of character, including a hired Russian assassin, and a young sheriff in North Dakota, himself a Special Forces Afghanistan combat hero who lost a leg to IED but knows how to use his prosthesis as an additional weapon – along with his girl friend, a determined journalist. 
  
The novel refers to Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad, both out now, as forming an alliance to teach an arrogant American people a lesson.  It’s interesting that Senator Dorgan sees “rogue” states (which would include North Korea and now Syria) as a bigger threat now than decentralized terrorists downloading do-it-yourself materials from the Internet (as with Boston). 

The authors lay out a scenario where occasional rural vandalism against power stations happen, as from disgruntled ranchers.  In this scenario, a lineman is sent to repair damage to a truss in a river valley near the Badlands in western North Dakota (I was there myself in 1998).  Through a computer hack, he is electrocuted when he thinks the line is de-energized.  (Can you imagine doing the job of a lineman?  I couldn't do it.)  Nearby visitors are sniped, setting up the chase.  A good part of the novel text does involve the hunting and chasing of the Russian assassin Yuri Makarov (who reminds me of Clive Barker’s Pie ‘o’ Pah from “Imajica”).  The action is crisp and well-written, but considerable (and happens in many locations and countries).  This book would generate a four-hour screenplay, which could present a problem when Hollywood gets it (unless it’s a TV or cable miniseries).  Who plays the nimble sheriff Nate Osborne?  Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  Ryan Gosling?   You wonder if Mark Parrish, Lucas Till or Reid Ewing should try for a part like this.  Oh, maybe Till could play the hacker.  How do you deal with Nate’s leg loss and prosthesis in filming?  For Makarov, you need an actor who normally seems meaner.  Maybe Ciaran Hinds.  Directing him would even be harder.

Okay, let me get back on subject.  (I’d love to cast my own novel.)  How was the virus delivered?  If it was conveyed by a flash drive (I think that’s how Stuxnet was placed in Iran), you need a “saboteur”, Hitchcock style, inside the electric utility industry.  (The Prologue of the novel hints at this, as does the denouement, but in between the details aren’t shown.)  What I don’t buy is the idea that a remote hacker could transmit a virus through the Internet to a power grid station.  That would say that a hacker could log on to my laptop (where I type this review) and use my Internet connection (soon to be used to upload it) to reach the power station.  I think that this simply should not be possible.  There is a branch of mathematics called graph theory, part of topology, which can calculate whether such a connected path exists.  I think it should not.
   
As for the “blackmail” and the announced rolling blackouts, why can’t the power industry, with the help of the NSA if needed, neutralize the virus since it knows what it is and knows that it is coming. 

Dorgan is right in suggesting that replacing the three large transformers in Texas would be very time consuming, because in part they have to come from India.  But that tells me that the biggest threat to the grid comes from physical attack, or perhaps an electromagnetic pulse (as in “One Second After”, reviewed July 20, 2012), or even a severe geomagnetic storm.   A physical attack could come from large scale vandalism and conventional explosives, or even from radio frequency flux guns.  I don’t think that the electric power industry is as well prepared for these more physical threats as it is for computer viruses which would have to get through some super secure server farms (one of which is nearby in Ashburn, Loudoun County VA; there are various others in North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Colorado, etc). 

Dorgan says he has changed some details about the power industry so as not to write a “blueprint” for an attack.   
  
Wikipedia attribution link for Theodore Roosevelt National Park 


Update: Oct. 9, 2013

Look at this story about power grid attacks in Arkansas in the real world, much as in this novel, link


Update: Feb. 5, 2014

The Wall Street Journal discusses an attack on the Metfcalf power substation near San Jose CA on April 16, 2016, blog posting on the Issues Blog today, WSJ link here


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New details on my plans for my "Do Ask Do Tell III" book and supplements

I am working on the production of my first book since 2003.  Actually, I had put a preliminary version ofo it online in just PDF files in the fall of 2011 (see this blog, Oct. 1, 2011).  It is to be called “Do Ask Do Tell III:  Speech is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened To Is a Privilege”

I had thought then that I could simply leave the world of non-fiction book publishing, put everything online, and move on to other things: a novel (to be called “Angel’s Brother”), a non-fiction video, and some screenplays.

By the early spring of 2012, just before I went to NYC for a LGBT book fair, I started got get more calls from my on-demand publisher (iUniverse) about trying to buy marketing packages and pump up sales of my old books (particularly the second 2002 book, “Do Ask Do Tell II: When Liberty Is Stressed”, written after 9/11, but less ambitious than the “epic” first book that I first self-published with my own print run in 1997; that book went to print-on-demand with iUniverse in late 2000 after the first printing was sold out or depleted). 

The basic problem with these appeals is that usually, old “public policy” books don’t sell, because history quickly tends to outrun what the author wrote.  Some old fiction can have that problem, particularly spy or thriller fiction, if it is grounded in circumstances that no longer exist and wants the reader to take the protagonist’s position seriously.  That is in contrast to true historical fiction, like “Gone with the Wind”; the best of this always sells forever.  That’s the stuff in literature classes centuries later.

For each of my first three books (which include the pamphlet “Our Fundamental Rights” (1998), the only work not with a DADT title), I maintained the content with “footnote files”, which added notes keyed to specific chapters and pages in the printed books. 

In time, I would add “sidebar” files and separate essays, and eventually migrate to blogging in 2006.  There were some other experiments (like with Java starter, and eventually my web presence became diffuse and hard to pin down.  That’s a topic for a different post.  What matters here, right now, is the value of publishing a new book in “finite form”, and being willing to play ball with the commercial world on how well it does.

The idea of a book, or sequence of books (like a franchise), with web supplements that are closely keyed to the books, makes it easier for third parties to work with an author like me, because it is easier for them to wrap their arms around (conceptually speaking) what I have done.  It’s hard to do that with a sprawl of “autonomous” blogs.  To work with others and gain more opportunities from media third parties (including “the movies”), I do need more cohesion in my presence, again.  I did have that cohesion for a couple years from 1997 onto 2000 or so, after my first book came out.  That’s partly because social media as we know it today didn’t exist yet, and it was easier to focus on a smaller set of ways of delivering content. The Web 2.0+ world has made it much harder for an author (like me, at least) to keep a presence coherent.

The new book is going to comprise five chapters, topical rather than chronological.  There will be a prologue and epilogue.   In some topical areas, there is some overlap with the material in the other books, particularly in some specific areas like the controversy over self-publishing, and in the direction of the “fair and prosperous workplace”.   The “story” narratives will mostly emphasize history since 2002, but there is some more detailed coverage of a few events that happened as far back as 1960. 
 

The book, as described, is often rather abstract.  I keep finding different entry points into discussions of various ethical (and therefore social and political) problems, so sometimes I find myself traveling in circles, rather like a train following a very complicated model railroad track layout, covering almost the same material from different vantage points and viewing angles.
   
Inevitably, after publication, more issues emerge. That’s partly because history changes quickly (with legislation, litigation, court opinions, and all kinds of incidents) and partly because in my own mind I tend to develop new entry points into the same material and draw a certain focus to these new points.  So it will be appropriate to have some core supplementary essays online (as there were for the 1997 book), and a (new) blog with footnotes keyed to the content of any of the books (including supplementary core essays), with an “inverted list” (in relational database terms) to the blog entries so that the reader can trace all the content from the books. 

I do think that for authors and artists today, a mixture of various media (books, web blogs, social media, music, video) can be effective.  CNN just presented the work of Marisha Pressl, “Night Film”, as an example of a multi-media project.  I have just heard about it, and so I can’t “review” it.  But the feedback I seem to get from the business world, especially book publishers, that it is morally and practically important to be able to sell what you write in fixed, printed form. That is still true even “as the world turns”.

In addition to the “non-fiction” book I’ve described, I’m actually planning to include three fictional excerpts.  They will comprise:
(1)    A Chapter of a 1969 unpublished novel “The Proles”, which I wrote by hand in Army barracks at Fort Eustis, VA.  This chapter gives an account, with fictitious names (including for me) of my fourteen weeks in Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson SC early in 1968.  The history of that year is a backdrop.  And, yes, I did get recycled.
(2)    A fiction story, “Expedition” (1981), where I investigate strip mining in Appalachia with a former graduate school roommate, and make a surprising find
(3)    A new story, “The Ocelot the Way He Is” (2013).  At the time that his mother is about to pass away in a hospice, a college-age “acquaintance” invites “Bill” to a rural ashram, where Bill is shown an even more apocalyptic secret. 

It’s possible that these three items might have to be packaged as a second book, a kind of “DADT III-B”. 

I’ll continue the discussion of the “web portion” of this “final exam” on my main blog soon.