Thursday, October 13, 2011

Helen Schulman's "This Beautiful Life" shows the perils to a teenager from one careless moment online

Author:  Helen Schulman

Title: “This Beautiful Life

Publication: Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-202438-1, 222 pages, hardcover; no chapter numbering, no table of contents (fiction) 

Amazon link:   The Amazon page includes "A Novel" as a subtitle. 

While the media has focused somewhat on the dangers of teen cell-phone “sexting”, this novella is based on the same concept, but with ordinary laptops (Macs, in fact).  In a nutshell, an upper class teenage boy, Jake Bergamot, goes to an unsupervised party, things happen; an eighth grade girl films some of it (involving him, her, and other minors) and emails him the video. Titillated, he forwards it to one friend. It goes viral. His school suspends him, even though the entire incident happened off campus and had nothing to do with the school. There are business consequences for his parents, and so on.

The setting of the book is a kind of literary “Gossip Girl”, a notorious CWTV series that shows how a rogue blogger can pull strings in the social world of Manhattan (and upstate suburban) preppies (even pre-Facebook).   The author brings to life the emotions of family and peer life in this world quite graphically, and uses particularly adept metaphors and soliloquies in dealing with the physical coming in age.  For example, a couple of times she mentions the surprise of Jake and even his mother at the sudden pubescent appearance of thick hair on his lower legs and feet, where in one scene Jake is curiously disgusted by his own maturation. Jake's (heterosexual) urges, driven by emerging hormones, seem quite immutable and driven by underlying biology, without much conscious supervision. (I can remember my own father's saying to me, "One day, blue eyes will confuse you..."  From the viewpoint of my parents' progeny, they were the wrong eyes.) 

In communicating the compelling biology here, the author shows a tendency to repeat the same words or phrase; my proofreader caught this when I worked on my own books.

 Later, Schulman describes pretty well the issue of taking final exams when you’ve been out of class and suspended, and wondering how many points you could drop and still pass.  Jake had been a good student. What happens to him is almost a tragedy. All he did was forward an email to one other person; he didn’t even create the video or consent to it.  It seemed as though the school and authorities could have been going after a lot of other kids and parents.  (The legal question has to do with possessing and disseminating “child pornography.”)  But Jake could bear the worst consequences. Order off the web, maybe get sent to a military school, or something. 

It's interesting here that the risk came from a single "private" email transmission, not from what one posted on one's own to a blog or website available to search engines.   "Online reputation" companies (like Dan Fertik's "Reputation Defender") and other psychological consultants like Dr. Phil are always warning kids of how one mistake online can sink them; digital files never go away.  Dr. Phil is always reminding us that teenagers can't see around corners; their brains are not developed biologically well enough to calculate and weigh all possible consequences.  But even the grownups here have difficulty grasping what happens and gets out of control. 

There was a story today on AOL that comports with this novel: a customer wrote a rude comments about a server's weight on a restaurant bill (with tip of 0), and the server posted it on Facebook; other people with the same name as the customer caught flack; story here

Human Relations Media has a video on the danger to teens from the issues here:

I couldn't find a YouTube interview by the author. 

This book could generate an interesting film, maybe for Lifetime, maybe HBO, or maybe the festival-arthouse market. I hope Schulman tries to sell it or develop a screenplay. 

Readers might also enjoy the review of this book in the Washington Post by Michelle Singletary, here

Friday, October 07, 2011

Martin Millette's "Stormy Whether": a curious "autobiography" and history lesson; a pitch for "Certainism"

Author: Dr. Martin H. S. Millette, apparently speaking for David Tolstoy Hugenberg
Title: "Stormy Whether: Certainism: Reason over Morality"
Publication: S-Star LLC, ISBN 978-0-61540023-5  304 pages, paper, ten chapters
Amazon link:

Author’s site.   I received a complimentary copy of the book to review. The book title contains a homonym; "Stormy Weather" could have worked as a working title. 

First, I have to deal with the “observer” in the book. In the first person, it appears as though the author is telling the story of David, born in 1920 in Massachusetts, as if he had been David.  It’s not clear from what find that he is David. The author is said to have started his own career in Christian education.
The boy grows up in a home with an authoritarian father of German ancestry.  The grandfather, however, was protective, and the family had enough money for David to go to Yale, despite the Depression. However, when David, as part of class homework, finds evidence that the mother’s side of the family is partly Jewish, a family crisis ensues, but the father soon dies.

The younger brother enlists in the Marines first, skipping college, after WWII breaks out, and argues that the world would not be worth living in unless freedom is defended. David eventually is commissioned as a 2LT himself and storms the beaches on D-Day, and then is part of a party that liberates a concentration camp, accounts that are quite riveting.

Throughout this “autobiographical” narrative, the author teaches us quite a lot of history, starting with turn of the century matters that confronted him in school as term papers. Much of it is just the “usual”, but he is always adding a lot of obscure detail, such as how Jews were affected by the English civil wars in the 17th Century (part of his family secret) and how the Boer Wars affected Nazi thinking.  Gradually, he gives us his own interpretation of the two great World Wars and what drove the establishment of National Socialism in Germany. In a plain word, religion. In fact, back in 1951, Dr. Edward Pruden, the Richmond-raised progressive pastor of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC had written about some of the same problems in his Judson Press book “Interpreters Needed”.

His writing style is guilty of a lot of “author intrusion” (as literary agents call it).  The randomly alternates his theory of history with his explanation of “Certainism” as a rational answer (and agnostic) to religion. Certainism comprises familiar elements from libertarianism:  the idea of personal autonomy, of “different strokes for different folks”, of localism, and scientific pragmatism, perhaps just short of objectivism as Ayn Rand sees it.  But do all of these have to be “incompatible” with religious faith?

He spends some space talking about the Ninth Amendment of the 1791 Bill of Rights.  From that, he deduces a mid-90’s style “classically liberal” theory on gay rights, more or less centered on privacy and the right to be left alone, pretty much what would go into the 2003 decision “Lawrence v. Texas” on the sodomy laws.  All of this is put forth as he described his own personal heterosexual epiphany with “Olga”.

There are many today who question whether a society based on “hyper-individualism” is sustainable, but the context for posing these questions seems to have recirculated.  Various theories are advanced regarding getting the individual to anchor himself in goals shared by a larger (if still locally accessible) group, in order to guarantee a “sustainable” civilization. Not all of these tomes are based on religion, but certainly the “religious right” has its hands in the “natural family” movement as well as in preaching about “demographic winter.”

The author, however, pays particular heed to an aspect of National Socialism, namely, that only certain peoples would be able to carry civilization on.  We all know the horror this led to, with the eugenics and eventually the “Final Solution” which caught an incredulous world by surprise.  This sort of idea, of contraction of the people, may have been unwittingly encouraged by various “well-meaning” 19th Century intellectuals (Nietzsche  –  and Spencer more than Darwin, and of course Maltus) and the author here notes the dangerous power of the “pen”.  It’s not so clear that this idea of elimination was a critical to secular (or areligious) forms of totalitarianism – Communism, from Stalin to Mao and even Pol Pot.  Mao, however, remember, was very determined that all intellectuals (except him) would learn physical sacrifice.  And “radical Islam” seems to be carried away with the idea of self-righteousness for its own sake, to the point that anything remotely sinful is to be eliminated.

The author mentions the sacrifice of the younger brother Georg, and at least once talks about the military draft, voluntary service, and deferments.  That caught my eye as particularly interesting.

As a supplement, check out Lisa Miller's columns in the Washington Post about faith v. reason, and even as to whether atheists are "smarter"; here on Oct. 8.

I couldn't find an author interview on YouTube, but I'll offer my own video of a visit to "Occupy DC" yesterday. It's distantly relevant. 

On my TV blog there is a coordinated review today of BBC's "Nietzsche: Human, All to Human" (1999, 2007). 

Monday, October 03, 2011

Perseus offers new service for self-publishing of e-books; questions rise about conflict of interest for literary agents, even about 'amateurism"

Julie Bosman reports in the New York Times today on a “New service for authors seeking to self-publish e-books”, link here.  

The new service will come from the Perseus Books Group, which will structure a service that offers 70% royalty to authors.  It will be called Argo Navis Author Services. This seems to refer to Kindle-like books and not to print-on-demand. The Perseus site, however, mentions its doing POD.

Another account of the new service is at PaidContent, here where there is mention of possible conflict of interest for literary agents (or maybe eventually “third parties” that agent screenplays).

This last story links to another story at the same site, “The Rise of Agent-Publishers Is Bad for the Book Business”.   There can be a serious conflict of interest if one is an agent and a publisher at the same time for the same client, not for different clients.  The long piece, by Jason Ashlock, describes an evolving “tragedy of the commons” and seems also to allude to concerns about amateurism that we’ve seen discussed already with respect to Web publishing. 

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Announcing my booklet "Do Ask Do Tell III": for right now, self-distribution only

As I noted on my main “BillBoushka” blog on Friday, I have recently (as of Sept. 19, 2011), posted an online version of a new “book” in my “Do Ask Do Tell”.

You may find the book by keying in (by http) and looking down the right column for “Do Ask Do Tell III” a few lines.  (There are reasons why I don’t give links to my other sites, having to do with concerns over “link farming”; this one is easy to find). 

The title is “Do Ask Do Tell III: Speech Is a Fundamental Right; Being ‘Listened To” Is a Privilege”.

The online index leads to eight PDF files: a title-TOC, an Introduction, five chapters, and an Epilogue. The document adds up to 87 pages.  I have given two ISBN’s from my DADT series established with the ISBN agency RR Bowker (0-9656744-4-4 and 0-9656744-5-2).  I have printed copies with two slightly different versions of Chapter 5, and posted online the slightly “smaller” version because of the possibility of potential disclosure sensitivities.

I may consider making this an Amazon Kindle later.

This is very “personal” material, and I published it intending to make a “definitive statement” before moving on with resurrecting my music and trying to sell my motion picture plans, in “retirement”, my mother having passed away in December 2010, at age 97.  I’m planning to post another “high level summary” on my main blog in a few days.

The five chapters focus on specific “images” from my life and generate discussions in a few specific areas, with the purpose of generating fresh interpretations. These are: (1) Why I didn’t or pursue a music (composition and piano) career (2)The “meaning” of my homosexuality (3) My “second career” as a self-publisher (4) My mainframe IT career and what really happened to it, leading to the personal tugs at me to follow (5) My experience caring for my Mother .

Picture: (below):  Some people have no shame!

 Below: Tidal Basin near MLK Memorial in Washington DC  : (mine, 9/27/20011)

Update: Nov. 25, 2011

I've updated Chapter 3 with information about SOPA, the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, in Section 8. I've also added a few details to Chapter 5.

Update: Oct. 16, 2013

I have extensively revised the book and added much new material.  I am submitting it for formal publication as a book.  I believe that the revised text will be posted sometime shortly before the end of the year 2013.