One-Minute Book Reviews

October 6, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – FBI and CIA Bloggers Use WordPress and Other Things I Learned at New York WordCamp 2008

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:27 pm
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This is Part I of an interview with Jan Harayda, a journalist and the editor-in-chief of One-Minute Book Reviews, about yesterday’s New York WordCamp. Part II will appear on “Late Night With Jan Harayda” on Tuesday night. It will deal with bread-and-butter topics covered at WordCamp, such as how to market your blog and use video on WordPress.

WordCamp started at 9:30 on a beautiful Sunday morning in New York. Did anybody show up?
O, ye of little faith! About 100 of us spent more than 8 hours in a conference room at Sun Microsystems in midtown. Well before the day ended, some of the bloggers announced that they had found a bar where people could continue their education in the finer points of WordPress after hours. Those of us who had to catch buses back to New Jersey never found out how many were sober when their training was complete. Clearly WordCamp was a success.

A hundred people on a Sunday morning? Was WordCamp, like, free?
It cost $30. But that got you bagels and Danish for breakfast and a sack lunch: a sandwich, salad, fruit, and an oversized chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookie. And we got some nice stretchy orange-and-brown WordPress T-shirts that, so they would fit you even if you ate a lot of the mini cherry pastries at breakfast.

Why do you think so many people showed up for WordCamp?
I’ll quote Matt Mullenweg ma.tt/about/, founding developer of WordPress, who dealt with that question during his keynote address: “I believe WordPress users are smarter and more attractive than the general population.”

Was that Matt’s best joke?
No. Matt’s best joke was his entertaining imitation of how the CNN anchor Anderson Cooper almost got blown away while reporting on a recent hurricane. “They should get, like, a heavier person to cover hurricanes,” Matt said, leaning to one side. [Note: My notes say that Matt actually said: “They should put, like, a heavier person to cover hurricanes," but my version sounds better, don't you think?]

So Matt’s jokes were the best part of WordCamp?
The best part of WordCamp was that the program had something for everybody. At least a third of the participants said that they considered themselves Web developers or designers. Most of the rest were rank-and-file bloggers like me. A few said, in effect, that they didn’t have blogs yet but had come realize that this was a tragic mistake that they planned to undo.

What did you learn about WordPress from WordCamp?
WordPress is one of the largest open-source projects on the Web along with Firefox and a few others. It has about 4 million blogs, and version 2.7 will come out in November. The most popular page among bloggers on WordPress is the stats page. The most popular plug-in is Akismet spam protection.

WordPress also offers a lot of colorful, free themes, which combine display and plug-in features and help to determine the look of your site. Unfortunately, some con artists on the Web falsely claim to offer legal alternatives to these. If you download their fake themes, they put evil codes on your site that load it with spam or worse. So if you don’t like the free WordPress themes, you should buy a Premium theme from WordPress or have somebody you trust design one for you.

Another piece of bad news was that in China censors have sometimes removed as many as 80 percent of WordPress posts.

Did anybody mention that rumor that the CIA uses WordPress?
Isn’t that fascinating? It’s true, apparently. Matt said in his speech that the U.S. government agencies that have WordPress blogs include the following: the Air Force, the Army, the CIA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security. And he wasn’t joking the way he was about Anderson Cooper and the hurricane. That so many government agencies use WordPress shows you how secure it is compared with some other blogging platforms. Will the Oval Office be next?

You’ll find more WordCamp New York wordcamp.info/2008/10/05/october-2008-upcoming-wordcamps/ and on the New York WordPress Meetup wordpress.meetup.com/169/calendar/8858860/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 10, 2008

Gunning for Love — ‘Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge’

Love didn’t go by the book for two FBI agents, one of them a specialist in undercover work

Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge. By Caitlin Rother with John Hess. Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 281 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

You know the old Woody Allen joke about how the great thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chances of getting a Saturday-night date? This book reminds us that it can also halve your chances of getting out of it alive.

Twisted Triangle grew out of a macabre story about two married FBI agents that got splashy coverage in Vanity Fair and elsewhere in the 1990s. Gene Bennett had taken part in two successful undercover operations before he tried to kill his wife, Margo, in the apparent belief that she had become infatuated with the novelist Patricia Cornwell. His past raises interesting questions touched on in the book: Does undercover work – which requires agents to assume a false identity – foster personality disintegration? Can it lead to disassociative disorder, commonly known as multiple personality disorder, to which Gene’s lawyers attributed his violent behavior? Might undercover work attract people predisposed to the condition?

These questions have a relevance that may extend beyond the Bennett case to those involved in covert operations in places like Afghanistan. So you wish Caitlin Rother and John Hess had gotten better material from Margo, whose story they tell.

The essential problem surfaces in the subtitle, A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge. Margo Bennett says repeatedly that she and Cornwell had two intimate “encounters” — or what sounds like a two-night stand — and Cornwell has confirmed it in interviews. On the witness stand, Margo corrected a lawyer who said she’d had “an adulterous lesbian affair” with Patricia Cornwell: “I said I had two encounters with Ms. Cornwell.”

So why is Twisted Triangle billed as the story of “a lesbian love affair”? The publisher may have imposed that subtitle on the authors. But Margo comes across as such an unreliable source that the unreliable subtitle, in a sense, represents a book driven by what sound like rationalizations instead of explanations. Margo signed phony documents in a home-relocation scam because, she says, Gene threatened to leave her if she didn’t. She lied on the witness stand when he was tried for the fraud because, she says, she was afraid he would hurt their children if she didn’t. To explain other unflattering actions, she invokes the Stockholm syndrome and — you guessed it — her “fragile self-esteem.” But if Margo lied under oath to protect her children, how do we know she didn’t try to protect them again by distorting the facts when she was interviewed for this book?

Rother and Hess confirmed some of what Margo told them through court documents and other sources. But much of this book has a “he said, she said” quality. Margo complains that a 1996 Washington Post story made her seem “very careless, uncaring, and crazy on my own.” Twisted Triangle does little to correct that impression and, in some ways, deepens it. In the Post story, Karl Vick expressed the theme of the Bennett case in seven words. Those words also sum up the moral of this book: “Sometimes, homo sapiens behave very, very badly.”

Best line: “Louis Freeh, who had just been appointed director [of the FBI], had instituted a zero-tolerance approach and was taking a hard line on disciplinary issues. Some agents described him as Hoover without the compassion.”

Worst line: Margo says that after working as an FBI agent for a few years, she learned that her husband had $60,000 in cash that he insisted was a gift from his dead father: “Gene claimed that his father had given him $60,000 in cash, which he’d kept in a suitcase in his mother’s attic. He said that his father had told him not to put it in the bank, so Margo figured his father had never reported it to the IRS, and this was his way of protecting Gene, who said he would take the old bills to the bank and exchange them for new ones so that no one would question any transaction or track the income.

“At the time, Margo took Gene at his word.”
This passage shows one of the many hard-to-believe rationalizations that Margo Bennett gives for why she accepted her husband’s shady behavior.

Published: April 2008 www.catilinrother.com

If you like true crime, consider reading instead: Stanley Alpert’s The Birthday Party (Putnam, 2007) www.stanleyalpert.com, a memoir by a former federal prosecutor abducted on a Manhattan street and held for 25 hours by captors who showed a gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight ineptitude. A review appeared on this site on Jan. 30, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/30/ and a reading group guide on Feb. 4, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/.

Furthermore: The Bennetts met while working in the Atlanta office of the FBI. Margo is a campus police captain at the University of California at Berkeley. Gene is serving a 23-year sentence in a Virginia prison. Patricia Cornwell has responded to Twisted Triangle in an Advocate article www.advocate.com/issue_story_ektid54596.asp.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She does not accept books, catalogs, advance reading copies, press releases or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, authors or agents.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 7, 2008

‘Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge’ – Coming This Week

Filed under: News,True Crime — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:53 pm
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One morning in July of 1996, readers of the Washington Post saw a tantalizing headline on the Style section front: “The Ex Files: Here’s What Can Happen When Two Heavily Armed People Fall Out of Love. A Story of Sex, Guns and a Crime Novelist’s Nightmare.” The article dealt with the failed marriage of two FBI agents, one of whom would later go to jail for attempting to murder his wife, whom he believed was infatuated with the bestselling author Patricia Cornwell. Caitlin Rother tells the story of the intended victim, Margo Bennett, in her new Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 281 pp., $26.95) www.caitlinrother.com, written with John Hess. One-Minute Book Reviews will review the book later this week.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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