Miscellany

Updates and ‘The Marquis’ Giveaway!

the marquis revisited

Thought I’d check in with a few updates and an awesome giveaway!

I started school again, my summer break felt so quick and my piles of summer reading are still so high. For class this week, I’m reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction and H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Both frenzied books of destruction, one science, one science fiction. I love Wells’s writing style. Kolbert’s book, which presents scientist’s claim that we may be in the sixth mass die-off of all time (think when the dinosaurs all died off) is perhaps the most overwhelming book I’ve ever read. If you haven’t got it, get it.

I wrote a little funny thing imagining the wilds of the 2016 Election, before Trump entered the race. With all his antics, it seems more timely than ever and I’ve posted it on Mediium. You can read it here: ‘What I’d Like To See This Season On Who Wants To Be The Next President.’ I remember Medium being a little easier to use from my first post, I definitely couldn’t get a header image going, so anyone who has a tip there, give me a hollaback.

Finally, I’m so excited to announce a giveaway for Laura Auricchio’s biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, which the wonderful people at Vintage Books sent me. History buffs, this one is for you! It was out in paperback just last week, and has been hailed as “thrilling” by the New Yorker:

When the Marquis de Lafayette returned to France following the American Revolution, to which he had lent military talent and considerable funds, he was a hero eager to lead his people in a revolution of their own. His failure in a second bid for glory is the focus of this astute and often thrilling reconsideration of his legacy.

You can enter to win the book on kalireads.com on Facebook, where I set up a Rafflecopter giveaway! It is my first one, so I hope that it worked…

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Getting Clarity In A Post-Going Clear World: More on Scientology

You watched HBO’s documentary Going Clear and it blew your mind. Scientology is sneaky and corrupt and David Miscavige is a tiny, tiny man. But wait, there’s more. Books about Scientology have been blowing people’s minds for years with their crazy, crazy information.

1. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

going clear

This is the book that the documentary was based on, and author Lawrence Wright worked with filmmaker Alex Gibney. Lawrence Wright is legit, and seeks to understand how the church can keep intelligent people within its grasps. He seeks to explain the effects of belief, he says in his introduction. Full disclosure, I tried to read this before the doc aired so I could give you a nice compare and contrast with other scientology books out there, but once it embarked upon L. Ron Hubbard’s history again, I just.. couldn’t.. do it… Because it was discussed so throughly in:
 
 
2. Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secret Religion by Janet Reitman

inside scientologyThis book is horrifying. I read it in bed when I wasn’t feeling well, and would switch from laying on one side to laying on my one side to laying on my other side, equally horrified on both sides, like a horror pancake. It covers everything from Hubbard’s wacky time at sea, to Miscavige’s coup of church leadership, to Lisa Mcpherson’s death under church supervision. At the time I read this, I knew Scientology was odd, but I just had no idea how far things had gone.

 
 

3. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

beyond belief large w borderBut maybe this memoir was the scariest of all, as it chronicled the experiences of Jenna Miscavige Hill, a child raised in the church (and relative of David Miscavige). I’ve also reviewed this previously on the blog, with a quoted example of the insanity she went through. Hill went through everything from indoctrination to manual labor to separation from her family. Now, she’s started an organization for kids trying to leave the Scientology.

 
 
 

4. Battlefield Earth: A Sage of the Year 3000 by L. Ron Hubbard

This cover though!!

This cover though!!

In my Intro to Science Fiction class, we learned about L. Ron Hubbard for his writing in old school magazines like Astounding Science Fiction. Before he created a religion, he created Battlefield Earth.

5. Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

them adventuresI mentioned this last week, but I guess it seems more timely now. Ronson doesn’t visit with Scientologists, but he does embed himself with and get to know all sorts of other people we consider to be on the peripheral of life, with radical, offensive, and sometimes dangerous beliefs. If you’re interested in Scientology, you will probably find this to your liking as well.

 

2014 in review – thanks for reading!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Who was Piper Kerman’s girlfriend?

Since reviewing Piper Kerman’s memoir, I’ve gotten questions about this aspect of the memoir that inspired the Netflix hit series quite a bit. Just who was Piper Kerman’s girlfriend, that heroin-smuggling femme fatale?

laura prepon

Laura Prepon as Alex Vause (via)

In the series, Kerman’s girlfriend Alex Vause is played by the saucy, sexy Laura Prepon. But even Prepon hasn’t met the inspiration for her character. She explained the mystery in an interview with Vulture.com:

You didn’t get to meet Alex before or during season one. Is she still MIA?
She is MIA, girl. I do not know where she is. And it’s kind of like … we don’t talk about the real Alex — I don’t know. I did want to meet her, but they were like, “That’s not possible.” So I don’t know where the hell she is.

Were you given any reason why it wasn’t possible?
I wasn’t, actually. Honestly, even though we’re based on the real people, the thing about our show is they really let us do our vision of these women. I know that I look nothing like the real Alex, whereas Taylor, you can see the resemblance between her and the real Piper. But also with Taylor, Jenji was like, “We’re doing your version of Piper. Don’t worry about trying to be Piper Kerman.”

I guess I’m asking less because I want to know how you used the real Alex as inspiration, and more because I feel this need to know where she is. We get the satisfaction of knowing where Piper is now, but not Alex.
I understand, totally. Trust me! But, yeah, that’s just not possible. [Laughs.

Where do you imagine her today? In the scene where Alex and Piper are talking about whether or not you could have a future together, Alex says something like, “I’m good at moving large amounts of heroin.” Is that what she’s doing?
Honestly, whatever she’s doing, she’s definitely in a position of power. Because Alex is a power-hungry girl. She’s all about survival; she loves that whole [drug] world because she was in control of it. Wherever she can be, she wants to be in a position of power — and that’s also her relationship with Piper. We always talked [on set] about how I’m the spider and Piper’s the fly. Like when we were doing the strip scene and I was on the bed and she was dancing for me, we talked a lot about that scene and the director was like, “Listen, you do not go to her — she always comes to you.” But then Alex falls in love with this girl, and Piper really does a number on her, and Alex doesn’t know how to deal with it.

It is important to note that on this part of Kerman’s story, the series has already strayed from the book. Strayed extremely far! In the memoir, Kerman explains that she was kept in the same prison with her ex for only a brief time period after being transferred back to Chicago, as they were both needed to testify at a co-defendants trial.

So what is up with the “real” Alex?

In April, Vanity Fair journalist Sue Carswell tracked down the woman who features so pivotally in Kerman’s story, through newpaper articles about the case. Catherine Cleary Wolters, Kerman’s ex-girlfriend from her memoir, agreed to tell her story to Vanity Fair. Wolters is writing a memoir of her own, cleverly titled Out of Orange.

cleary wolters

Catherine Cleary Wolters, Piper Kerman’s
romantic interest from her memoir. (via)

Although the show’s writers takes huge liberties with Kerman’s original memoir, jailing the two characters together for an extended period of time (which allows them ample opportunity for hook-ups, break-ups, and other such drama), Cleary Wolters also seems to recount the details of their actual love affair differently than they were explained by Kerman in her memoir. In the Vanity Fair piece, she says:

“When we were traveling together I started developing a crush on her. And eventually that turned into a crazy mad love affair,” Wolters says. “But that was after she had already done the deed that made her complicit.”

“We weren’t girlfriends,” Wolters adds for good measure. “We were friends with benefits . . . I was not the older sexy, glamorous lesbian who snatched her from her pristine Smith College cradle.”

For having her private life thrust into the spotlight, Cleary Wolters has flown amazingly under the radar and I can see her memoir being a huge blockbuster, rising up out of nowhere with what sounds to be a much more interesting personal story than Kerman herself.

Amazingly, Cleary Wolters also is an author with three unpublished novels, the Vanity Fair article said. I couldn’t find anymore information online about these books, but if there was ever a time people would be interested in reading them, it certainly seems like that time is now.

You can also read the full article by Sue Carswell, The Real Alex of Orange Is the New Black Speaks for the First Time: “I Was Not Piper’s First, and I Certainly Did Not Seduce Her,” on VanityFair.com.

Everything You Need to Know about the New ‘My Dad Is the Zodiac Killer’ Book, The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart and Susan Mustafa

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The Zodiac Killer, identity unknown, never seems to leave the cultural landscape for long. He terrorized Northern California right at the time when flower power and cultural revolution began to fade into something more dissonant, and he set the tone for the next decade in the city of San Francisco as one full of violence and heartbreak.

HarperCollins recently released a book to exclamatory headlines, “Man Claims Zodiac Killer is His Father!” The publisher kept the contents of The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . And Finding the Zodiac Killer under lock and key until its release date. The book’s author, Gary L. Stewart (along with true crime writer Susan Mustafa), relays the history of Earl Van Best, a cold-hearted organ-player who lived in San Francisco. Here’s what you need to know:

ice cream romance

Best and Chandler’s relationship,
the illegal “Ice Cream Romance”

  • Gary L. Stewart was the product of the doomed “Ice Cream Romance” between Judy Chandler, 14 and Earl Van Best, 27. Best saw Chandler walking off a school bus and fell in love, despite their 13 year age difference and the legalities surrounding sex with a minor. More news clippings on the romance can be found on Stewart’s site.
  • Paul Avery, who reported on the Ice Cream Romance, would later receive a card from the Zodiac killer and be considered one of his targets. Reporters at the SF Chronicle would wear buttons saying “I’m not Paul Avery.”
  • Shortly after Chandler gave birth to their child, Best abandoned the baby in an apartment hallway. The baby would be rescued, adopted by loving parents, and named Gary. As an adult, he would be contacted by his birth mother Judy, leading him to his birth father’s history and identity.
The Zodiac's first cipher, part 1 of 3.

The Zodiac’s first cipher,
part 1 of 3.

  • Best was taught ciphers by his father, who worked as an intelligence officer in the Navy. The Zodiac sent ciphers, many unsolved to this day, to various newspapers.
  • Stewart claims to have found E.V. JR Best in one of the Zodiac’s ciphers, and Earl Van Best Junior in another.
  • A fingerprint comparison of a blood print taken at a Zodiac crime scene and Best’s fingerprint show a similar scar.
  • Expert handwriting analysis has indicated that writing from Best’s marriage certificate and the Zodiac’s letters are a match. As I was writing this, SFGate’s blog released an article contesting the handwriting sample, saying it may not be Best’s handwriting at all.
  • In an incredible twist, Judy Chandler went on to marry Rotea Gilford, San Francisco’s a highly decorated San Francisco homicide investigator who worked on the Zodiac case, and went on to become involved in San Francisco politics.
  • Stewart implies that Gilford’s buddies on the force knew Best was the Zodiac and purposefully hid his identity to save the department from ridicule and preserve the reputation of (now deceased) Rotea Gilford and his wife.

The book itself leaves much to be desired, as there is an achingly awkward Part 2, “Signs of the Zodiac” written from the exact perspective we are so unsure of: Earl Van Best’s history and his place in the crimes. Speculation as to Best’s actions and motives combine with too much scene-setting to remind the reader that this is a re-enactment of history we really have no idea about.

Where the truth really lies, in Stewart’s discovery of his father as a man who closed him in a chest when he cried, abandoned him on an apartment landing, and then possibly murdered an unknown number of people, is only explored in Part 3 of the book, “The Truth Deciphered.” I question if a true crime writer was the right choice for such emotional subject matter, as the book seems to drift between facts of the case and guesses about what could have happened, totally lacking the deep symphony of heartbreak and fear that must be running through Stewart’s mind as he learns more and more about his father.

Compared to a truly fearless exploration of family history and adoption like The Mistress’s Daughter, by A.M. Homes, The Most Dangerous Animal of All leaves many questions unanswered. Did Judy Chandler wonder if her former kidnapper/husband was the Zodiac before Stewart begins to dig? Was it even ethical for a mother to reach out to the child of a closed adoption where there is so much pain involved?

This isn’t the first time someone has claimed an elaborate cover-up regarding the Zodiac Killer case, or even the first time someone has claimed their father was the Zodiac. The San Francisco Police Department has been underwhelmed with the book’s accusations, saying they ignored Stewart not because of a cover-up, but because of a lack of evidence. San Francisco police public information officer Albie Esparza recently said, “You can’t imagine how happy we’d be to have this case solved, since it’s been open so long,” he said. “If anyone has any details, any information is greatly appreciated by Homicide. Any time we can close a case and bring closure to families, that’s what we strive for.”

The Most Dangerous Animal of All on Amazon.com/Indiebound.org

valentines

untitled by rita ackermann

Untitled by Rita Ackermann, via

face to face,
inspired by ted hughes’ lovesong

your glances were land mines,
tripped in my amygdala.
my eyes were tousled songbirds,
flitting about the room.
your heart a sprinter,
i held the stopwatch.
my smile a sinking ship,
you gulped it whole.
your voice the edge of a steak knife,
with my lips the steak,
my palms were magnets for your palms
cold and heavy and drawing us closer.

your laugh a bomb bursting in air,
too loud and standing for something.
my cheeks the rockets’ red glare,
rosy and burning into a headache.
each breath a roller coasting
off its tracks, and us along for the ride.

Life imitates plot, as a priceless violin is nabbed in Milwauke

Peter Lovesey’s mystery novel The Tooth Tattoo opens in London, 2005. Violist Mel Farran, “sweaty in his suit” and tired after “a heavy night playing Rachmaninov” heads towards the London Underground station, ready for bed. He looks up, startled, to find a young woman blocking his way. She asks for his autograph, and Mel feels flattered, a bit bashful even, as violists don’t tend to be recognized as stars of the show.

the tooth tattoo3_goodAll those positive feelings fade as a cyclist whooshes past Mel and whisks his most prized possession, his viola, off his shoulder; the woman sprints off, laughing, into the dark. Mel immediately panics at the loss of his instrument, as it is so crucial to his work.

The caper which opens The Tooth Tattoo, a novel published last year, was echoed at the end of January when Frank Almond, the concertmaster (top first violinist, aka seriously good violin player) of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, played a beautiful concert, then left the concert hall with his precious 1715 Stradivarius violin bundled against his chest, protecting it against the brutal Milwaukee cold.

Like something out of a movie (or a book), a nefarious form stepped out of the shadows and tazed Almond, causing him to drop his cherished violin, allowing the tazer-wielding thief to scoop it up and hop into a minivan (really? a minivan?), where an accomplice laid in wait. The two Strad thieves made a quick getaway, speeding out of the parking lot and into the night.

stradivarius violin_Fotor

Stradivari violin, (via)

The theft of priceless antique instruments, Stadivarius considered the best among them, raises interesting questions about the thieves and their intentions. The Tooth Tattoo, unfortunately, doesn’t delve into the theft of instruments much further, but rather the suspicious behaviors of an eccentric string quartet. The intentions of the Milwaukee thieves aren’t known, although the police caught those involved and discovered the violin in an attic.

The symphony, with its classical music and buttoned up style, isn’t the place one would expect to turn for a great mystery (in a book or the real world). Apparently mysteries can be found everywhere, and more things than one would first imagine have a dark underworld to match their bright side.

The Tooth Tattoo by Peter Diamond on Amazon.com/Indiebound.org

Related links:

Being Human 2013 post-conference thoughts

As I noted in my last post, I attended the Being Human 2013 conference yesterday in San Francisco.  The conference is described as “the science and mystery of human experience” and featured great thinkers of our time (neuroscientists, anthropologists, etc.) discussing what it means to be human and attempting to explain or improve upon the human experience.

It was absolutely an enlightening experience and despite my painful wooden balcony seat, I’m very glad I went.  You can watch the entire conference online at FORA.tv.

For me, the best part of the day (even in light of all the brilliant talks) was watching Marquese Scott‘s live performance. Marquese Scott is an epic dancer, in the vein of the innovative and illusionary David Elsewhere.  The first time I saw Marquese Scott’s dance videos, I immediately dismissed them as edited or photoshopped.  I think a part of me was still skeptical of what I’d see online going into his performance, and it totally blew my mind!

Other than some incredible dance moves, the conference had a lot of great talks.  The unexpected standout for me was the physician Esther Sternberg.  She moved the crowd to applause several times in her talk on how to cultivate our own well-being in our environments.  One of the most memorable quotes from her talk was, “We need to work towards creating a landscape, literally and figuratively, that helps promote wellbeing.”  She has written two books, Healing Spaces: The Science and Place of Well-Being and The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions, and I have added both to my to-read list.  This was not some healing crystals type stuff (no offense to healing crystals), but solid research showing that your environment affects your health.

The underwhelming talk of the day (there had to be one, right?) was given by Paul Ekman.  Paul Ekman, the psychologist who pioneered the science of micro-expressions, chose to talk about his current project of global compassion.   He is publishing an e-book on the subject which hasn’t yet been released (when I searched for the title on Amazon, Moving Towards Global Compassion, they didn’t even have it available for pre-release).  He mentioned many times that he has spent many hours talking one-on-one with the Dalai Lama, which is certainly awesome.  However, the talk seemed fairly vague since there were some Buddhist concepts in his work he chose not to get into (I understand he only had a brief time to convey his points).  The most interesting part of his talk was his speculation on why we may lose compassion as we age or lack a culture which cultivates compassion.  He attributed this to media and entertainment (like video games) that encourage competition rather than collaboration.  I would have loved to hear more about this, but he didn’t go into it.  Certainly if competition is the opposite of compassion, that is a problem I would like to hear him talk about.  I saw several people with copies of his book Telling Lies in the audience and I couldn’t help feeling disappointed I didn’t get to hear about micro-expressions from their master.

The most techno-promising talk of the day was David Eaglemen’s talk on “plug and play” sensory experience.  He wore a vibrating vest, which he hopes will give deaf folks who choose to wear it a sensory experience of sound.  He talked of all the sensory experience we aren’t having as humans–there are magnetic fields and ultraviolet waves around us that we aren’t seeing.  He explained how people have expanded the human experience through various devices, like magnets placed in finger tips which allow people to feel magnetic forces.  The only downer in this talk was when Eaglemen called Twitter “the conscience of the world.”  Does he really think that?  Certainly a bunch of people use Twitter each day (Twitter has 190 million unique visitors per month) but there are over billion people in the world.  Twitter may indeed be the conscience of certain limited social groups, but certainly not the planet.

To ensure we didn’t freak out while absorbing all this information, there were lengthy breaks between each segment so we could get up and mingle in a nice outdoor area with coffee and other refreshments.  It was classy:

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The day ended with a moving and (like everything else from the conference) mind-twisting performance by ELEW.  He did a crazy-cool cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”, and played the piano not only from its keys but through its internal strings.

That’s the wrap up, folks!  Until next year…

BeingHuman.org

Quick Update

I have so much to blog and I am, unfortunately, computer-less at the moment!  I replaced my 2008 15-inch Macbook Pro with a brand-spankin-new 13-inch MacBook Pro and I’m waiting on a data transfer from old to new that has dragged on for almost a week.  The upside in all this is that I am petsitting my friend’s kitty Jedda while she is at a Canadian music festival, and I have hijacked her computer.

The lovely Jedda:

view-source:https://i0.wp.com/distilleryimage4.ak.instagram.com/b1f7442cfbbf11e2a34522000ae80008_7.jpg

And so with Jedda meowsing feverishly at my side, I shall try to squeeze in a quick blog here and there until I am bestowed with the incredible powers of my new laptop.