Banned Book Club: Stuck in the Middle

Title: Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age

Published: 2007

Author: Ariel Schrag (Editor)

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #22 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2011 “Stuck in the Middle” was challenged in the Dixfield, Maine school district. It was kept on the shelves but students need to get parental permission before they can borrow the book from the library. The complaint cited language, sexual materials, and drug references. More info here.

First line: “Rebecca Ziff and I were best friends.”


“Stuck in the Middle” is a collection of short comic-style stories about adolescence. Some of them are poignant, others more simplistically banal, but they all share a certain awkwardness of emotion many of us remember from late-childhood/early-teenager-dom.

Most of the stories have some silliness and humor woven in, others are dark and foreboding. Almost all of them invoked the “I just don’t fit in” sentiment. Eric Enright’s “Anxiety”, simply drawn about a stressed out little boy, made me sad – as did some of the other representations of kids struggling to deal with bullies, poverty, or biology. Gabrielle Bell’s “Hit Me”, a depiction of kids with an unstable home life was well-done.

But my favorite was Ariel Bordeaux’s “The Disco Prairie Rebellion of ’81”. You get down with yo’ bad self, in your schoolbus yellow mullti-zippered pants and purple t-shirt, new-waving your way past the horde of preppies at your suburban school. Such a nice moment, even if just in a comic, when a person realizes that not only do they not fit in with the in-crowd, but they like their own path better.

Banned Book Club: Blankets

Title: Blankets

Published: 2003

Author: Craig Thompson

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #21 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2006 the book was challenged was challenged in the Marshall, Missouri Public Library, the complaint alleged the book contained pornographic images that might be seen by children, and that people who frequented pornographic bookstores might start showing up at the library. The board of trustees of the library ultimately voted to retain Blankets, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

First line: “When we were very young, my little brother Phil and I shared the same bed.”


592 pages! That is a LONG comic book. But the book isn’t long in a “look at me, I’m spinning this out so it will take you a long time to read” way, it’s long in a “I’m taking my time to paint a picture” way. Blankets is an award winning (3 Harvey awards and 2 Eisner awards in 2004) autobiographical graphic novel, that takes us through Craig’s coming of age, growing up in Christianity, falling in love, and then falling out of love (both with his first love and with his faith).

There are definitely some uncomfortable spots; regrets on his relationship with his younger brother, some early traumas and disappointments, and challenges in his relationships with his parents. While his experience and voice is unique, we can all relate to those key events from childhood that shaped that time and who we’ve become.

Most interesting is the depiction of Craig’s “letting go”. As he heads-off to art school he lets go of his past; he releases his childhood, his family dramas, lost love, and lost faith – and experiments, and tries to figure out what his new path is. I love this scene where he’s moved to the big city:

“On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.”

*I’m allowed to read any book* [he thinks to himself].

“I gorged myself until my tummy ached.”

*…and yet, I’m still hungry.*

I love this imagery of gorging oneself on new ideas. Obviously I can related a bit, this summer, as I’ve been trying to max out my library card. I can relate to the strange feeling of gluttony of being immersed in these amazing worlds that writers have created for us. Though the books I’m reading are new, the library-induced joy/exhilaration makes me feel connected to an old feeling.

In the end, though, I think Craig decides that we don’t escape our past so much as identify patterns in our overall narrative, and choose which patterns to repeat (as ritual, or incorporated into our sense of self) versus patterns we try find new and subtle variations on.

Banned Book Club: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Title: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Published: 2002

Author: Frank Miller & Lynn Varley

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #20 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2010 the book was challenged in an Ohio library for containing offensive language, sexism, & being “inappropriate for age group”. The book was retained and now there are TWO copies in the young adult section. Yeah Canton, Ohio! More info here.

First line: “It’s been three years since, in the eyes of those who live above, I died.”


From Henry Miller to Frank Miller, yeah baby. This a Batman of a near-future, dystopian world full of inane talking heads all spewing variants of the same message, heros underground or in hiding, and Lex Luthor with the whole world on remote control. We get to meet the super-daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, Catgirl, and the controversial “Superchix” – a band on the verge of getting banned. And Batman is gritty, and Wonder Woman is truly a queen of the Amazons, and Superman is conflicted…and there’s the Green Lantern, and the Flash, and Plastic Man…

The book keeps a relentless, frenetic pace, with the art as jagged and clipped and “noisy” as the constant sidelong commentary of the new media. Which makes it feel…timely.

Continue reading

Banned Book Club: Tropic of Cancer

Title: Tropic of Cancer

Published: Published in Paris in 1934; banned in many English-speaking countries, then published in US in 1961

Author: Henry Valentine Miller (1891-1980)

Challenge status: #84 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #19 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: That Tropic of Cancer’s graphic treatment of sexuality is “frank” or “candid” is an understatement (the book revels in it), immediately upon publication in France (1934) the book was banned in the US and thus prohibited from being imported by US Customs (similar situation w/Joyce’s Ulysses, discussed earlier on this blog). In 1961 when Grove Press published the book in the US, over 60 obscenity lawsuits in over 21 states were brought against booksellers that sold it. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein overruled state court findings that Tropic of Cancer was obscene. The book was banned in Turkey in 1986.

First line: “I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.”


Self-indulgent. That was a vague feeling I had as I read through Henry Miller’s roughly autobiographical account of his time as a bohemian artist living in Paris in the early-30’s. The reader is pitched into a garish, seemingly infinite loop of sex, drinking, and schmoozing from the basest, most amoral and disinterested point of view. All the sex and drinking and hijinks are what got this booked labeled as obscenity, of course, but it’s not long before the details drop from salacious to simply dirty – and more mechanical than passionate. Miller even makes sure to account the details of the socially transmitted infections and the treatments required, as his characters continue their merry rampages with good girls, bad girls, and working girls. It is base, but it is boring.

Which is, of course, Miller’s point.

Continue reading

Risk: Models, Frameworks, Diagrams, & other Unicorn-lair maps

Risk modeling, while it sounds specific, is actually super-contextual. I think my own perspective on the topic (the different types of modeling, what they are good for) was best summed-up in a paper/presentation combo I worked on with Alex Hutton for Black Hat & SOURCE Barcelona in 2010. Probably video from Barcelona is the best reference if you want to look that up (yes, lazy blogger is lazy), but let me summarize by the (from my perspective) three general purposes of risk models:

  • Design: Aligned most with system theory. The models try to summarize the inputs (threats, vulns, motives, protections) and the outputs (generally, loss and in some cases “gains”) of a system, based on some understanding of mechanisms in the system that will allow or impede inputs as catalysts/diffusers of outputs. Generally I would lump attack tree modeling and threat modeling into this family, just a different perspective on a system as a network architecture or design of a protocol, software, or network stack. Outside of risk/security, a general “business model” is equivalent, which attempts to clarify the scope, size, cost,and expected performance of the project.
  • Management: Aligned most with the security/risk metrics movement, and (to some extent) aligned with “GRC”-type work, management-focused risk models are set-up to measure and estimate performance, i.e. to answer a questions about “how well are controls mitigating risk” or “to how much risk are we exposed”. One could think of the output of the design phase being a view as to what types of outcomes to expect, and then the management phase will provide a view on what outcomes are actually being generated by a system/organization. Outside of risk/security, a good example of a management model is the adoption of annual/quarterly/ongoing quality goals, and regular review of performance against targets.
  • Operations: Operational models are a different beast. And my favorite. Operational models aren’t trying to describe a system, they are embedded into the system, they influence the activities taking place in the system, often in real-time. I suppose any set of heuristics could be included in this definition, including ACL’s. I prefer to focus on models that take multiple variables into consideration – not necessarily complex variables – and generate scores or vectors of scores. Why? Because generally the quality of decision (model fit, accuracy, performance, cost/benefit trade-off) will be more optimized, i.e. better. Outside of risk/security, a good example is dynamic traffic routing used in intelligent transport systems.

“Framework” is another term that I’ve heard used in a number of different ways but it seems to really be an explanation of a selected approach to modeling, and then some bits on process – how models and processes will be applied in an ongoing approach to administer the system. Even Wikipedia shies away from an over-arching definition, the closest we get is “conceptual framework“: described as an outline of possible courses of action or to present a preferred approach to an idea or thought. They suggest we also look at the definition for scaffolding: “a structure used as a guide to build something” – (yes, thank you, I want us to start discussing risk scaffolding when we review architecture, pls)

Continue reading

Banned Book Club: Persepolis

Title: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Published: 2003

Author: Marjane Satrapi

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #18 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2013 (i.e. this year), Persepolis was removed from classrooms in the Chicago area. This case is a bit confusing as there seem to have been some attempts to remove it from school libraries as well as (specifically) seventh-grade classrooms. The book was considered inappropriate for seventh (and potentially 8th-10th graders) due to graphic depictions of violence & torture.

First line: “This is me when I was 10 years old”


Persepolis is an amazing book, a memoir and coming-of-age story set in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. Originally published in France (2000), the book was released in English in 2003 and immediately drew praise (made Time Magazine  and NY Times lists for notable books of the year it was published). It was also adapted to a feature length movie (animated) in 2007 (nominated for an Oscar and won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize).

Marji is a student, a prophet, a trouble-maker, a revolutionary, a martyr, a matchmaker, and a punk rocker. In other words she’s a little girl in the process of growing up. Growing-up in a country that is in the is in the process of transitioning from something rigid, to something chaotic, and morphing into something even more fervent and confusing. Marjane Satrapi teases out insightful, clever vignettes that illustrate the hilarious and the heartbreaking with equal grace. How eye-opening to see both the small realities (introduction of the veil, how children played, how michael jackson was interpreted by iranian hipsters) and the more dramatic turns of fate (routine bombings, cultural vigilantes, disappearing friends and relatives).

I guess what I like about Persepolis is that it provides a clear illustration how quickly cultures can change around us: initially Marji was growing up in a progressive, modern culture that encouraged her mind and gave her freedom to explore. She had many advantages simply due to her family’s outlook and philosophy, but also because society-at-large flexed enough to allow for some independent growth and experimentation. And as culture morphed, as fear became more pervasive, small freedoms previously assumed disappeared or became restricted enough that growth became difficult and experimentation dangerous. And sadly this new danger appeared for Marji just as she was in adolescence and full of questions, wildness, and rebellion.

Another takeaway for me is how small freedoms were sacrificed for personal safety, and then most freedoms and all personal safety were also lost. But how could things have turned out differently? I wonder about this. This was not a story of a small, meek populace suddenly overwhelmed by oil money & greed, my impression has always been that there were well-educated and strong-willed people that ended-up undermined by both profits and prophets.

Understanding the context and influences in play would obviously require more work, more history, and probably some classes in political science. The power of Persepolis is something more subtle: the personal narrative and experience intertwined with cultural phenomena as they occurred.

Marjane, I love that you became an aerobics instructor. Punk rock forever.

Banned Book Club: Ice Haven

Title: Ice Haven

Published: 2001

Author: Daniel Clowes

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #17 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: The case study refers to a Connecticut case wherein a parent of a student (a high-school freshman who selected the book to read for a class project from a number of options in the classroom library) filed complaints with both the school and the police, describing the book as pornographic and making allegations against the teacher for making the book available to students (suggested predatory motives). The teacher resigned. No charges were filed.

First line: “It’s not as cold here as it sounds.”


Ice Haven is a funny little book (funny strange more so than funny ha ha), it is a series of short comics that are vaguely related, occurring around the same time in the same town. The main unifying influence is that a local boy goes missing; a few of the characters are directly involved or interested in his disappearance. Other than that what connects the comics is that the characters are profoundly disconnected (socially) and seem to be very lonely.

If the art style seems familiar, it is probably because Clowes also wrote “Ghost World“, which became fairly popular especially when it was turned into a movie (starring Thora, Scarlett, and Steve Buscemi). I like the Leopold & Loeb tie-in, and the appearance of the nerdy but informative comic book critic (Clowes decides to forego subtlety and write-in a character to break down the fourth wall in defense of comic books and the narrative style of the book.

Banned Book Club: Fun Home

Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Published: 2006

Author: Alison Bechdel

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #16 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: The case study refers to a Missouri public library’s challenge of the book for obscene images.

First line: “Like many fathers, mine could occasionally be prevailed on for a spot of ‘airplane’”.


Fun Home is a memoir, a coming of age tale – with a twist. Bechdel describes her complex and often difficult relationship with her father, from childhood through high-school and college. The twist is, as Bechdel enters college and begins exploring her sexuality, she realizes her true orientation and, as she comes out to her parents, finds out that her father is also confronting and coming clean about his own sexual preferences. But the full impact of these revelations go unresolved with her father’s sudden death, so Bechdel is left to analyze her past, present, and future without clear answers to many of her questions.

What is most bittersweet in the book are not the accountings of the father-daughter differences (his obsession with the never-ending decorating projects, her disinterest in dresses and “looking pretty”), but instead the experiences that connected them. I loved how the two of them connected through literature – simple memories of him picking out books for her to read, sharing his treasures. And references to books, authors, and the arts continue throughout the story. (Since I’ve been reading a ton lately, I found the allusions and references to be pretty cool; a neat addition to the story)

“Fun home” is the pet name the kids have given the family business, the local funeral parlor. It provides a shot of darkness, but is a neutral (rather than a depressing or creepy) element in the story. It provides some depth to the family’s day-to-day routine, and gives the readers an angle to consider, when death is such a routine part of life, how the characters might have unique perspectives on death, change, and chance.


Recently, I was interviewed for the ActiveState blog on DevOps & Platform as a Service (PaaS); that interview made it to (here). A discussion on the topic was timely, as I’ve been thinking about DevOps and other agile delivery chain mechanisms quite a bit lately, mainly as I am applying them in my current gig which my colleagues are I describe as “Business Ops”. Next month at Nordic Security 2013 I’ll be presenting “Operating * By the Numbers” (If you’re wondering why there’s no abstract, it’s because I’m still perfecting “Just In Time” deck development…just kidding. Sort of.*)

Anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to explain What I’m Talking About When I Talk About DevOps (apologies to the incomparable Haruki Murakami). This will be my first time trying to explain where I’m going with this whole DevOps thing, so it might get fuzzy. Bear with me. I reserve the right to change my mind later, of course (I’m cognitively agile that way, haha), so if you have comments or criticisms I’m very open to hearing your thoughts.

Connection between DevOps & Risk

DevOps, if you’ve not heard of it before, is a concept/approach to managing large-scale software deployments. It seems to be most popular/effective at software-based or online services, and it is “big” at highly scaled out companies like Google, Etsy, and Netflix. Whether consumer-facing or B2B, these services need to be fast and highly-reliable/available. The DevOps movement is one where deployments and maintenance are simplified (simplicity is easier to maintain than complexity) through standardization and automation, lots of instrumentation & monitoring, and an integration of process across teams (most specifically, Dev, QA & Ops). More on “QA” later.

But…the thing about DevOps is, that while it is a new concept in the world of online services, it draws heavily from Operations Management, which is not new. The field of Operations Research was forged in manufacturing but the core concepts are easily applied across other product development cycles. In fact this extension is largely overdue, since a scan through semi-recent texts on operations management shows IT largely described as an enabling function (e.g. ERP) but not a product class in and of itself. (BTW, in some curriculums, Operations Management is cross-listed or referred to as Decision Science, which is a core component of risk/security analytics.)

Continue reading

Banned Book Club: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Title: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Published: 1962

Author: Ken Kesey (1935-2001)

Challenge status: #28 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #15 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.


  • Challenges of this book have been for a variety of creative reasons, including complaints that the book was “pornographic,” and “glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination” (Strongsville, OH), that the book promotes “secular humanism” (Aberdeen, WA) and also Placentia-Yorba Linda, CA parents explained that teachers “can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again.”
  • Banned from the an Idaho high school and the instructor fired. The teacher sued, but the final decision in the case was not published.

First line: “They’re out there.”


Everyone has asked me if I watched the movie before reading the book – and the answer is no. I plan to, though, because as I read the book I can imagine Jack Nicholoson inhabiting the role of McMurphy quite well, it seems like a role that was made for him. I kept hearing his voice and seeing that jaw clenched smile in the character as the book progressed.

Nominally, this is a book about patients in a mental health facility, the roles they have come to play out in their closed loop neighborhood. But it is really about power, freedom, and fear. Power struggles within social structures, freedom versus compliance, fear versus accountability. The residents are clearly hiding out from the world more than they are getting useful therapeutic treatment. In psychiatry in the 60’s, EST (electro-shock therapy) and lobotomies were somewhat falling out of favor, and newly in vogue were more experimental pharmacological options, including hallucinogenic drugs. In any case it is unclear whether or not any of the patients are getting better – or if they even want to, or if the staff thinks such change is even possible.

Continue reading