Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Whitehouse Boys by Roger Dean Kiser et al

The White House Boys: An American Tragedy, Roger Dean Kiser et. al.  self-published:, 2011.

A Brotherhood of Children I: The White House Boys: A Compilation of Stories, RogerDean Kiser.  self-published:, 2011.

A Brotherhood of Children II: The White House Boys: A Compilation of Stories, Roger Dean Kiser.  self-published:, 2011.  

Roger Dean Kiser had a tough childhood.  He ran away from the orphanage where the matron was sexually abusing him, only to find himself labeled incorrigible and carted off to Marianna.  The grounds were well-kept.  Unfortunately for Roger and the other boys, the place held some evil secrets.

There was a small building, referred to as the "white house" by the white boys and as the "ice cream building" by the black boys across the road.  [The juveniles were kept apart based on perceived race and skin coloration-- thus the white boys and the black boys].  In the building was a waiting room of sorts, where the boys waited their turns to go into the small room with a bed for their turn at being flogged.

The bed held a pillow-- which was bloodied and soiled-- a frame the boys were instructed to hold on to, and a large fan to drown out their screams.  The boy was assigned so many lashes which could be started over again if he cried out or tried to escape.  He was flogged by a large heavy strap with a steel razor set in the middle of it-- until his buttocks, back and legs turned black.  Some boys had to have pieces of their underwear surgically removed from their skin afterwards.  The punishment was brutal.  

Roger Dean Kiser and the other boys suffered long-term consequences from these floggings as adults.  There were reported back problems, bad marriages, difficulties in getting along.  Some suffered nightmares; others repressed the memories for years.  Through a website and some media coverage, the boys now men began to find each other again.  Thus these three books.

In truth, Kiser is not the sole author of these three e-books.  Other survivors of Marianna and Okeechobee had gotten in touch.  Their stories have also been included, along with a few stories of family members of a few boys who did not survive.

The Whitehouse Boys, in particular, develops the history of the juvenile prison at Marianna.  Although the State of Florida claimed that the beatings stopped in 1962, there is some indication that they went on for a time afterwards.  The White House was officially sealed by the State in a ceremony which Kiser and several other survivors got to attend.

sapphoq reviews says:  A bit of the material is repeated throughout these three books.  The history that Roger Dean Kiser and the others relate is important enough that the trilogy deserve to have a sensitive and careful editing job.  The three books are very much worth reading even so.  Like other books dealing with evidence of an abuse culture among those who work with children and teens in residential facilities, The White House Boys and the two volumes of memoirs make for difficult reading.  

The thing that strikes me most about the stories coming out of the troubled teen industry is the lack of conscience among those who work in these placesThe White House Boys also tells of a Rape Room located below the dining room, and at least one cemetery in the woods.  Like the troubled teen troubled industry, some boys did not make it out alive.  Others were beaten and/or raped.  That our society continues to allow these practices is astonishing.

Highly recommended.  Those who are in the know will find a new determination to continue working to end the existence of these highly abusive institutions.  Those who don't know will come away horrified, yet with a new understanding about what we are doing to our teens, the hope of the future. 

*The first book has been referred to as both The Whitehouse Boys and The White House Boys.*

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Zero Day by Robert O' Harrow Jr.

Zero Day: The Threat in Cyberspace, Robert O'Harrow, Jr.  New York: Diversion Books, 2013.  [Washington Post e-book, 69 pps.].

Robert O' Harrow is an investigative journalist for The Washington Post who has written extensively about the erosion of privacy and has won various awards and honors.  In a Washington Post e-book, it is easy to understand why.  His writing is sharp and crisp.  He knows his material.  He cites numerous references to back up his thesis.

The "Zero Day" in the title refers to zero day exploits, a term that should be familiar to hackers.  But Zero Day also takes on the recent Stuxnet and Flame worms and other examples of malicious code.  Besides the stuff of 'cyberwars,' Zero Day introduces some personalities.  Some are folks who have regular sorts of jobs involving tech by day but hack at night.  Others have to do with the targets.

There are bits of history in Zero Day written from the perspective of an investigative journalist who is explaining things to a non-techie non-nerd audience.  This history is shaped a bit differently than the stuff that I myself witnessed in the days of ARPA-net and B.B.S. because of the intended audience.  Although I miss the feel of hacker culture, the history that was related was good enough for as far as it went.

sapphoq reviews says:  Unfortunately, to the uninitiated, Zero Day may come off as somewhat blaming the hackers.  While I do not know if this is intentional, I must state that if it were not for the hackers there would be no Internet today as we know it.  And of course Big Hollywood and various government officials threaten the Internet today as we know it.  

I've often thought that the 'first mistake' of companies was to not appreciate the hackers.  It used to be that a hacker could contact a company about the exploit that was found during exploration.  The hacker would be thanked and the hole would be patched.  [N.B.: The phone company did not extend the same appreciation to phreaks.  Phreaks who were found out were arrested.  Ma Bell was known to offer college scholarships to the best of the phreaks in return for a commitment to work for x amount of years for the monopoly.  I don't know that any of the phreaks ever said "yes"].  I remember those days with a certain fondness.  Nowadays there is panic at the thought that someone would "intrude" upon the insecure network of any given company.  The hacker, who must hack in much the same way that a writer must write, is carted off to prison or made to pay in other ways.  

There is barely a greater thrill than finding something that needs fixing.  When I recently found such a hole in my own system and was able to correct it, I was elated.  The thing is, hackers who are adept at pen testing do it for the same high that I experienced at the moment of my discovery and again at the moment that I patched it.  There are some paid pen testers out there who I am quite sure are happy at their profession and experience a love of the machine--  because I've met them.  And I am also sure that there are others who make a big deal out of what color hats they wear.  They don't want to be brave and be mistaken for one of us.

Zero Day is worth a read for the proper audience-- intelligent people who are not hackers by nature.  Those who willingly and joyfully endure a lack of privacy in the name of security would do well to stick with other sources for their information.  And any hackers probably won't need to read the material.   

some Robert O'Harrow articles dealing with privacy can be found here:

Fail Nation by

Fail Nation: A Visual Romp Through the World of Epic Fails,  New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2009.  e-book, 50 pps.

Fail Nation is one of the books that I reserve for less than happy days.  I like humor and I like pictures and this book has both.  Fail Nation presents itself as a travel guide, complete with helpful signs, some of which I swear came from my town.  The saddest thing about Fail Nation is that the photos were not staged.  The funniest thing about Fail Nation is that the photos were not staged.

sapphoq reviews says:  Fail Nation is sure to tickle your funny bone.  Get it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett.  New York: Harper-Collins, 2001. e-book, 265 pps.

Bel Canto is an excellent book.  I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did.  From the first moment, I was captivated by the almost lyrical language and the characters in the grand room of the vice president in a South American country.  There is a Japanese man whose birthday it is, his translator, an opera singer, a pianist, and the rest of the folks in the room gathered together.  Most of them are strangers to each other, drawn together by fate.  Suddenly, a bunch of militia who are barely out of childhood and their three generals burst in.

The militia are from impoverished jungle settlements.  They speak Quechua and a patois of Quechua and Spanish.  They take over the party.  Unfortunately for them, the object of their kidnapping-- the President-- neglected to attend the party.  He had chosen instead to stay home that night and watch his favorite soap opera.

The hostages represent a mixture of languages.  The translator is the only one who can communicate with all of the other hostages and with the militia.  There is a prolonged standoff.  During that time, the hostages and the militia develop into an awkward, uneasy community.  Friendships are made and romance develops out of the enforced intimacy.

sapphoq reviews says:  I thoroughly enjoyed Bel Canto.  Ann Patchett did a fine job with the storyline and with the characters, emotional tones, and dialogues throughout this prize-winning novel.  The setting and writing style puts Bel Canto above what is usually found in chick lit.  Highly recommended for anyone who wishes to read something not based in American culture.  Although I suspect that women would enjoy this book more than most men would, I cannot help but think that men who skip this offering are missing out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ana's Girls by Eda R. Uca

Ana's Girls: The Essential Guide to the Underground Eating Disorder Community Online, Eda R. Uca.  Bloomington Ind.: Author House, 2004.  e-book, 78 pps.

Ana's Girls was a difficult book for me to read.  In high school, I had a classmate who dropped a lot of weight during the summer between ninth and tenth grades.  I remember we were sitting on the radiator in homeroom on the last day of school.  Dawn was talking about going on a diet that summer in order to lose a few pounds.  She was chunky, but definitely not fat.  She came back emaciated in the fall.  

The summer between tenth and eleventh grades Dawn spent almost entirely in the hospital.  She endured numerous lectures by the biology teacher.  The lecturing did not seem to do any good.  [The same biology teacher was concerned about me smoking pot but not about me drinking to the point of puking all over one of the school's bathrooms.  Go figure].

Dawn would find me after one of the lectures and tell me stuff about her eating disorder.  I listened.  I let her talk.  Dawn weighed forty pounds [she was very very short] but she had told the teacher that she weighed seventy.  She told me her ovaries were all screwed up and that she could not even keep down weak tea.  

Dawn managed to graduate high school.  After high school, she managed to get a bit healthier.  She was not underweight anymore.  She was on her way to becoming a radiology tech when she died.  Even though she had a good "recovery" period for two years after high school, her body was beyond repair.  

Ana's Girls talks about the underground communities that exist on the web for [mostly] girls and young women.  There are pro-ed groups and pro-ana groups.  There are also "warn and recover" groups which folks in the first two may mention in passing but usually do not belong to.  Although the underpinnings of the philosophies of the pro-ed groups and the pro-ana groups are almost polar opposites, the two groups have some things in common.

The pro-ed groups and the pro-ana groups exist because folks caught up in anorexia and/or bulimia [mia] feel a need for them.  You will not find glowing testimonies of psychological breakthroughs or victory dances there.  What is recorded are the very real struggles of young people starving themselves.  Some members are obsessed with being "thin"; others acknowledge a slow suicide.  The posters encourage each other and provide emotional support that is not available in the everyday world.  

And yes, there is poetry and other creative endeavors.  Some of it is rather well-written and touched a nerve in me.  Shocking to anyone who is not part of the ana/mia communities are the pictures, usually called "thinspiration," of very emaciated teens.  In the ana/mia world, bones sticking out are good, compulsive exercise is good, and hollow haunted eyes, soft body hair, shrunken breasts-- all good.

Ana's Girls argues against shutting down the pro-ed and the pro-ana sites.  The author says that the sites are a glimpse into another world and offer valuable insights.  I was not convinced by her arguments.  I think there is a better reason for allowing the sites to remain than to serve as some social worker's peep show.  My reason for keeping those sites up, and any sites, has to do with freedom of speech and self-expression.  

When treatment for eating disorders becomes compassionate rather than what it is today, the need for pro-ed and pro-ana sites will diminish.  Every active site is a reminder that as a society, our little pet theorems of treatment are fail.  We need more research into eating disorders-- their etiologies and effective treatments.  We need people who have struggled with eating disorders and lived to tell about it to be central to what happens in treatment.  What we don't need is yet another social worker hopeful bringing bunches of textbook notions to the table.  

Unfortunately, any disenfranchised group runs the risk of token involvement in the issues that directly effect that group.  Thus we extend an invitation to the token customer of our services to sit on a board.  To be a token is to be in a position without power.  The token customer is good, compliant, respectful.  Treatment produces conformity.  Because we are willing to settle for this, people like my classmate Dawn continue to die.  Haven't we had enough?

sapphoq reviews says: Ana's Girls did not go far enough in the discussion.  While somewhat interesting, not recommended.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Straightling by Cyndy Drew Etler

Straightling: A Memoir, Cyndy Drew Etler.  North Charleston S.C.: Lucky 17 Publishing, 2012.  e-book, 545 pps.

Cyndy was a teen from Bridgeport, Connecticut.  She had a family and a bestie and she wanted to be in with the cool kids.  She hung out in Monroe with her bestie and a few characters for a coupla weekends.  Her step-dad was an evil dude.  Cyndy hardly got to drink at all and never mastered smoking pot when she got sent to Straight, Inc.

Straight, Inc. was a program started by Mel Sembler.  It was supposed to be a drug rehab.  It was the ancestor of The Seed and a predecessor of Teen Challenge.  It was related to Cedu and Brown schools and therefore the great auntie-- so to speak-- of WWASPS facilities.

But Straight, Inc. had some problems.  In order to avoid state oversight from various states, the kids were transported to host houses to sleep at night.  These houses were usually some distance away, and sometimes across state lines.  These were not nice houses.  There was a "mom" and a "dad."  The kids rarely got eight hours of down time.  So sleep deprivation was the rule rather than the exception.  And the "room" that the kids shared were equipped with basic mattresses on the floor and little else.

During the day, the kids were literally warehoused.  They were brainwashed, forced to testify to drugs they hadn't taken and to things they hadn't done.  The food was crap.  Humiliation was the standard.  New arrivals were forced to undergo an anal probe.  And yet, at least one person I know who was a "graduate" of Straight, Inc. to this day denies that the techniques used there were abusive.

Cyndy endured Straight, Inc. hell.  When she finally got up the nerve to rat out her evil step-dad, she was told to keep the focus on her own stuff and not to blame anyone else for her problems.  Unfortunately, this is a familiar trend in twelve step groups today.  So she continued to be "treated" for her non-existent drug problem.  Her mom played the part of suffering martyr well.  Step-dad remained evil.  To her credit, Cyndy kept it real under impossible circumstances.

sapphoq reviews says: Straightling is an excellent book with an honest and straightforward style.  Anyone involved in fighting the troubled teen industry and its' culture of abuse ought to read this book.  Highly recommended.

More info on Straight, Inc.:

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life inside Scientology and my Harrowing Escape, Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer.  New York: Harper Collins Publishers/William Morrow, 2013.  e-book, 356 pps.

When I spied Beyond Belief, I immediately got on the list to buy it the first day it was available to the general public.  I've read a bunch of books on Scientology, Mormonism, gurus, and thought-blocking in connection with some extended research that I've been doing.  I was curious about this latest entry in ex-Scientologist memoirs and waited rather impatiently for the thing to load on my e-reader.

[To those who are against e-readers: I don't like the idea of them either.  The problem is that I cannot read regular printed books for any length of time due to the brain damage and resultant perception problems].

Beyond Belief started out with Jenna as an infant and toddler living an average life until her dad impulsively decided to join up with Sea Org and signed a billion year contract.  Her mother then had to join also.  Couples could not remain married if one was in and one was out.  Thus started apartments and nannies and then living and working at The Ranch for Jenna and her older brother.  Jenna included very specific information about her relationships with her family, including her uncle David Miscavige, which served to underscore the difficulties that she had in untangling herself from the Sea Org and from Scientology itself.  Although Jenna was not aware of the human rights violations carried out under her uncle's predecessor, she gradually woke up to the things that were happening under her uncle's reign.  It is to her credit that she was able to get out at all.

Jenna addressed the role of Anonymous in her awakening and specifically thanked Anonymous for picketing and getting the word out about Scientology and its' history of human rights violations.  None of the other memoirs that I read did this.  I was surprised and happy that Jenna had thought to include Anonymous in her memoir.  

I came away from Beyond Belief with a visceral sense of who Jenna Miscavige Hill is as a human being.  I was delighted to discover that she is one of the co-founders of the most excellent website

sapphoq reviews says: Although Beyond Belief didn't detail the abusive nature of Scientology in the same manner that other memoirs did, this book is a valuable addition to the library of anyone seeking information on the subject matter.  Jenna was in a unique position as the niece of the current head of Scientology, and this position would of course reflect the differences in her experiences from those of other ex-Scientologists who also authored books.  There were some familiar names in Jenna's book.  Beyond Belief is a story of the coming of age of a sheltered Scientology kid.  Worth a read for anyone struggling with the hold of any abusive religion as well as for those who enjoy unusual memoirs about experiences that are beyond the realm of "average." Highly recommended.