Thursday, September 30, 2010

Did I mention I love this place?

This pic was two hours ago, walking up 7th Avenue in Chelsea, coming home from the gym.

Big storm moving in. Winds are whipping up but it's tropical. And beautiful. I love this place.

Uncivil Gadgets in Rutgers Suicide?

This was tragic. Rutgers freshman and accomplished violinist Tyler Clementi made out with another guy in his dormroom. His roommate secretly filmed it with his webcam, streamed it live on the web and tweeted this to promote it:

“Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."

Sad enough. It's tough for a lot of kids just going off to college. It tends to be really rough if you're gay, bi or curious. Streamed live in the act is about the scariest thing imaginable. And totally out of line.

Three days later, he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.


It's very unlikely the roommate saw that coming. It presumably just felt like a prank.

It was a prank, but a serious one. Whether or not it brought Tyler to suicide, it was sure to bring him unbearable pain.

Coincidentially, Rutgers announced what happened yesterday, the same day it was scheduled to launch Project Civility. They held a panel discussion last night on Uncivil Gadgets. The opening of the event description read:

Uncivil Gadgets? Changing Technologies and Civil Behavior
New technologies have drastically altered our everyday behavior and how we interact with one another. How do emerging technologies affect our conduct, both civil and uncivil?

Please don't jump on the title. They know it's not the gadgets that are uncivil. But it's an important point: gadgets are changing what we can do to each other at lighting speed. It's really easy to get carried away having fun with them.

Yes, it's easier to out your roommate, and so much more colorful. Telling stories about him is tame compared to capturing him on tape. That doesn't mean it's OK to do it.

We know that. Everyone reading this does. Hopefully word will reach the next kid thinking about what he can stream.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Odds posted for Nobels in books

It's almost time for the Nobels in literature to be announced, and a British bookmaker has laid down odds on who will win in the wide open field.

(The announcement date is always kept secret, but sometime in October.)

The New Yorker has a short but fun post about it.

A handful of Americans made the list: Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo (yuck!).

None of my faves are there. Denis Johnson, please. 

Not likely.

Or better, my late, great mentor Lucia Berlin--a little-known treasure of American short stories.

In my dreams.

(BTW, who wrote that wikipedia entry on her? Haha. I know, but I can't say.)

Who would you like to see win it?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Enough school shooters; Time to face depression

Today's school shooter at University of Texas at Austin turned out to be only 19. How sad is that?

The coroner ID'd him as  Colton Tooley, a sophomore in math. He opened fire with an AK-47. Luckily, he hit no one, then shot himself dead.)

The sadder part is that we don't have to keep losing these kids. It will be awhile before we know what was going on with this kid, but most shooters suffer from severe depression

And here's the thing. Depression is treatable. Read the recommendations released last year by the United States Preventive Services Task Force.

It'a a pretty dry, but the bottom line is simple: it's not that hard to diagnose, or to treat.

For a much more moving read, brace yourself and then dive into the staggering piece published in O Magazine last fall by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, take a look.

It's heart-breaking, but insightful. Powerful a stuff. Ultimately, it's a plea for moms, teachers, friends and everyone connected to kids to wake up about depression.

Good call.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New site for Columbine videos

I am in the midst of a complete overhaul of my Columbine Guide, though it's massive, so it will take awhile.

I spent much of the weekend creating a big Videos section, which clarifies for readers exactly what video is out there and what is bogus, and directs you to it all.

The videos include:
  • surveillance tape capturing the killers toting their guns in the cafeteria in the midst of the attack.
  • The killers filming themselves out for target practice at Rampart Range a month before the massacre.
  • Videos they made for class, like the notorious Hitmen for Hire.
  • The 911 call of teacher Patti Nielson from the library--that one's audio. There are audio links there as well.
The Basement Tapes are not there, because they have never been released. However, the full contents have come to light, and I outline that, including scans of the 10-page detailed account created by a sheriff's official, with lots of quotes.

I will continue updating the site. Let me know what you think.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My early take on Franzen, and Book Club questions

I had my hands full on Columbine when The Corrections came out, and focused on narrative nonfiction. I never got around to reading it.

But when the Jonathan Franzen hype returned this summer, I had to check out Freedom to see for myself.

I'm a slow reader, so I'm not far, but it was obvious from page one how talented he is. Great insights into people, and wonderful flair for expressing them in a crisp, "effortless," amusing style. Effortless was in quotes, because I mean that it feels that way. Of course it takes a great deal of effort and talent to make that invisible.

I hope it holds up.

In the meantime, Oprah has reading questions up for the book. I'm curious to look, but holding off until
I get further. Spoilers suck.

Whatever you think of O, she has an incredible team, and they do things right. They come up with solid questions. I was really happy with the book club questions she posted for Columbine.

I will let you know what I think of Freedom when I'm done. (But I've been reading Light in August for a year and a half. Haha. And loving it. Faulkner has leapt up to near the top of my all-time favorites list. Franzen might have a shot at that, too.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Will Amazon stop the nutcase(s) spamming Freedom w 1-star reviews?

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom had close to a 5-star Amazon customer rating this weekend, but it’s been driven down to 3 stars in the past few days by a barrage of short, extremely similar reviews, essentially critiquing the title, and Oprah.

They were coming in about one every minute yesterday. The gist was: How dare you call Freedom a bad thing. A few samples:

  • "Brain washing stuff about saying freedom is a bad thing, when this is what American's have fought for for many years .”
  • “ It seems like the author is trying to say that freedom is bad. What happened to our Constitution? “
  • “ No Freedom = Slave."

Quite a few of them trounced Oprah specifically, often for heading a "globalist" conspiracy. A few choice quotes on that:
  • "Everything about her is about how we need to die for the earth for earth based religions which is Luciferian."
  • “Oprah picked this book for her book club pick? This is a United Nations brainwashing trash book. Oprah is a member and donor of the United Nations. No wonder that this book is her pick.”

When I started writing this post a few hours ago, the book had 48 1-star reviews. Now it’s up to 52.
It sure looks like one person is writing all of these. Another possibility is that some group has organized an attack, writing from a standard set of (whacko) talking points.

Either way, these are clearly not indicative of the public response to the book. The ranking is not doing readers a service: it is misconstruing how most Amazon readers seem to assess the book.

I’ve seen these ridiculous attacks before, and they undermine the usually very-useful service the ratings provide. I’m sure Franzen can weather the attack, but I hate to see any work of art maligned this way. (BTW, I’m only 30 pages into the book, but I’m kind of in awe of his talent so far.)

Amazon should start screening better, and/or exert some leadership in this case.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Joran van der Sloot & Bethany Storro help illuminate Columbine killers

Some readers have struggled to understand how Eric Harris and especially Dylan Klebold could have gone through with the Columbine attack.

Two current cases getting a lot of attention can help.

(I laid out Eric & Dylan's very different motives in this short video on the Columbine shootings.)


Eric is much more straightforward: psychopaths have little or no conscience, no regard for other humans. Psychopathy is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but hard for some people to actually believe: that fellow human beings can be that cold-blooded.

If that sounds like you, I suggest following the Joran van der Sloot story, particularly his endless series of lies, complete lack of remorse, and blaming the victim.

(Joran confessed to killing a woman in Peru this spring, exactly five years after Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba.)

Criminologists are well-acquainted with people who will destroy the lives of others for very little gain, but if you think they only exist in movies, just watch this guy.

As an aside, I want to give a huge pat on the back to Natalee's mother Beth Twitty, who flew down to Peru late last week to confront van der Sloot in the notorious maximum-security Castro Castro prison.

I think she knows what van der Sloot is, and had no illusions that he would recant or help or show remorse. She just needed to get some things off her chest. Every victim is different and has to find her own process to grieve and heal, and Beth Twitty seems to have figured out what she needed and taken the bold step to do it. That makes me happy. I hope it helped.


Did is much tougher for most people to fathom, including me. We get that he was tragically depressed, and deeply influenced by Eric, but how does a person reach such a desperation point to actually kill people over it?

My response is generally that it's very hard to understand how a person makes that final irrational leap, but that we have a long history of people who do. (Most of them kill far fewer, and the vast majority of angry depressives do not kill, yet there is no shortage of those who have.)

I offer the case of  Bethany Storro, the young woman in Oregon who admitted last week that no one threw acid in her face--she did it herself.

We are only beginning to learn the details of what happened here, and why, and it remains to be seen how closely her circumstances resembled Dylan's. That's not the point. Her situation is not evidence, it's an illustration.

I personally thought of Dylan about one millisecond after my completely unoriginal thought of "What could possibly make her do such a thing?" It appears that she was severely depressed. Does that explain it? Not really. I get the depression, but how does disfiguring your face forever help that? Wouldn't it just make things worse?

That's the point. These are not rational actions. They do not accomplish any rational objective. But desperate you people sometimes lash out in desperate ways that don't solve anything. They just do them out of desperation.

And for those who die in the act, that's as close as we're likely to come to understanding.

Luckily, Dylan left a great deal of material behind to show us the condition of his psyche. His deep depression is virtually impossible to deny. He provide any satisfying answers of how killing people made any sense, because it didn't.

We'll probably never get a rational explanation out of Bethany either. It's hard to believe one exists.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New marketing technique for TV? Could it work for books?

Is this new? I got this in my ValuPak coupon packet in the mail this week.A faux coupon for an ABC sitcom.

I never bothered to open these things until I moved to NYC this summer and started needing a lot of new things, so maybe this has been going on awhile. (Or maybe it was in NY, just not in Denver.)

At first I groaned--especially since they used it on such an awkward, ill-concieved, unwatchable show. (This is what ABC chose to renew?And that awful Courtney Cox thing?)

But the marketing guy in me couldn't help admiring the chance to reach a different audience that might not be watching their network. And it must be relatively cheap, if all those small-time stores can afford it. (Though perhaps only because they do a tiny number of zip codes.)

Could book publishers could make use of this? I see huge ads for movies and TV shows on the sides of buses and subway trains in NY--about a hundred feet of wall space in the Times Square subway station was plastered with shot after shot from TrueBlood this summer--and it makes me a little sad that books never get this treatment.

I totally get why: books are not mass market enough to support that. But I wish there were a way to reach out past the existing audience of book readers and draw new people in from time to time. I wish that book publicists were putting their heads together better about that.

(I have a few ideas, which I guess I should get together and post. I will.)

Might this be one of those avenues?

Meanwhile, let me know whether this is new. I'm really curious.