Friday, September 22, 2006

Congrats to Lambda Rising

Lambda Rising is a well-known independent bookstore serving the GLBT community in the mid-Atlantic area. It has stores in Washington, Baltimore, Rehoboth Beach, and Norfolk. Like all independent bookstores, it has had to deal with the tremendous powers and economies of scale of the big chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders (Amazon), even Booksamillion.

In 2006, Lambda Rising was voted "Best Bookstore in DC" in the W*USA 9 2006 A-List Contest. You can check the details by visiting the store's homepage and blogs.

Today, Lambda Rising discusses "Banned Books Week 2006" and mentions Choke, by Chuck Palnhiuk, in which the protagonist sets up a real-world scam to pay for eldercare for his mother. To find the book discussed on Lambda Rising's site is interesting. As I have noted on other blogs, filial responsibility laws in many states could become a not so hidden iceberg for GLBT people. You have to have equal rights to take care of other people. Equal rights can affect and support personal freedom in this paradoxical way.

I haven't gotten the book yet, but I'll have to look into it.

Note: Please visit this blog's archives, links to the left. All of the postings are there. They drop off the main display page after about ten entries.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Two Cato books on health care

Title: Medicare Meets Mehpistopheles
Author: David A. Hyman
Publisher: Cato Institute, Washington DC, 2006
ISBN 1-930865-92-9
138 pages, paper.

The author presented this book at a forum on Sept. 21, 2006 in the "Ice Palace" Building owned by Cato in Washington. The book is a bit of a spoof on the Medicare program, recalling the last movement perhaps of Liszt's "A Faust Symphony." The author organizes the book around The Seven Deadly Sins (like the 1995 movie Se7en). He points out that Medicare might confound attempts to have universal health insurance because doing so could reduce benefits of those now favored. There is the point that Medicare was intended to be a pay-as-you-go program, but is effectively a Ponzi scheme where a younger generation pays for the elderly. He also points out that the anti-fraud regulations are so draconian and pose such risk of strict liability that potential providers are driven away. He does discuss potential reforms.

Title: Healthy Competition: What's Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.
Authors: Michael F. Cannon, Michael D. Tanner, Foreword by George P. Schultz.
Publisher: Cato Institute, 2005
ISBN 1-930865-81-3
182 pages, paper

The authors describe the technical superiority of American health care, which is able to deliver cutting edge treatments to the very ill with little rationing. Most other western countries have essentially single payer system and have waiting lists, although that situation may be improving. His books is in three parts: "The State of the American Health Care System", "Misdiagnosis" "Underlying Diseases, Strong Medicine." He favors health savings accounts and analyzes many current fads and proposals such as employer mandates and managed competition. He accepts the idea of moral hazard and personal responsibility (although many other economists claim that moral hazard does not really exist with a service whose need people cannot predict). Philosophically, he believes that it is wrong for one person's or one group's needs to restrict another's freedom.

What kind of books sell -- a question of culture

We see a lot of books and memoirs by celebrities and politicians. It always seems like they are hitting moving targets. Some of them, like Bill Clinton's My Life or Colin Powell's My American Dream, do provide sharp insights into the debates that went on regarding policy issues, such as homosexuals in the military as vetted in 1993. A lot of them seem to be hitting a moving target. Carolyn Kennedy's (and Ellen Aldermans') "The Right to Privacy" comes to mind.

The general rule seems to be you have to make the name for yourself in something else first, then you can produce best sellers.

It takes real originality for an unknown to come up with a breakout idea, as with Donald Maass and Writing the Breakout Novel. Yet Stephen King started it off in 1973.

And college age Christopher Paolini has started it out with his fanatasy novels Eragon (to be followed by Eldest, as part of The Inheritance Trilogy), with the first novel to become a movie late in 2006, from 20th Century Fox.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

James Frey's A Million Little Pieces

Title: A Million Little Pieces
Author: James Frey
Publisher: Anchor
ISBN 1-4000-3108-7

I bought this book from an Amazon reseller, at it has the orange and red "Oprah's Book Club" sticker on it. It looks like something out of James Joyce, without paragraph indentation. It's pretty avant garde and existential and all that. And it depicts chemical dependency (to use a mild word) in graphic terms. It became a bestseller.

We all heard the story that Frey fabricated some of this, kind of creating himself as an inverted fabulist. This led to litigation, "unpublication," a consumer recall and offer or refund as a publisher's settlement. Here are the details according to CNN.

What's interesting here is not just the idea that the publication purports to be a history and it did not happen. If the book is fiction, it is a form of self-defamation or self-libel. That is, if someone else wrote this as fiction and made Frey an indentifuable character and the story was false, the author could be liable for libel. In some cases, as I have noted in other blogs, self-defamation can raise serious legal issues of their own.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Opposing Viewpoints Series

Greenhaven Press, (Thomson Gale) in Michigan, offers a series of books and papers called The Opposing Viewpoints Series. The link given here is a pretty complete list. The series slogan is "Those who do not know their opponent's arguments do not completely understand their own." Elsewhere, I have suggested that this approach to presenting arguments ought to be developed into a database and offered as educational software.

In 2006, I had a contribution published in Teenage Sexuality: Opposing Viewpoints, edited by Ken R. Wells. My contribution is "Homosexuality Should Be Discussed in High School," on p. 183. This is the first publication of something by me in a book that was published by an independent third party. The opposing viewpoint has a "not" in the title and is by Linda P. Harvey. Various other essays concern the effect of the Internet on teens, age of consent, and whether unwed teens with kids should marry.

The Library of Congress Table of Contents is at this link.
The Amazon link for purchase is this.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nancy Flynn: Blog Rules

Title: Blog Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policy, Public Relations and Legal Issues
Author: Nancy Flynn
Publisher: American Management Association (AMACOM), New York, 2006
ISBN 0-8144-7355-5
226 pages, paper

This new book, being offered also by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) at this link,
is a sobering discussion of the legal and business risks that come both with corporate blogging, and with personal blogs done at home by employees, even with their own time and resources. Much of the "risk" and "opportunity" both come with the same territory, because of the pervasiveness and mathematical effectiveness of search engines.

The book is in six main parts. Major attention is given to employee personal blogging, personal sites, and social networking profiles, as posing possible risks. The most obvious risk is disclosure of confidential information or trade secrets. Other risks could include contributing to a hostile workplace or embarassment in front of customers or clients who could find offending material through search engines.

The author reports that several hundred people are known to have been fired ("dooced") or have resigned from positions because of offending material (usually compromising discussions about the employer or other people at work, sometimes because of disclosure of secrets or securities law violations, sometimes because of pornography). In a few unusual cases there have been lawsuits, as blogs have to follow the same intellectual property law (as with defamation, even self-defamation) as do other media.

The author recommends that all employers adopt and publish employee blogging policies, and she proposes several. My own feeling is that blogging policies should be tailored to the specific job responsibilities, even within one organization, and should be posted on a corporate web site and acknowledged whenever anyone applies for a job online.

This book is a quick and sobering turnaround from earlier books like Rebecca Blood's The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Weblog (2002, Perseus), and David Kline and Dan Burstein, Blog! How the Newest Media Revolution Is Changing Business, Politics, and Culture (2005, Squibnocket Partners).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

David A. Rich: 7 Biblical Truths

Title: 7 Biblical Truths You Won't Hear in Church But Might Change Your Life
Author: David A. Rich
Publisher: Harvest House, Eugene Origin
Date: 2006

I saw this book on a spindle rack at a service plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the plaza near Sideling Hill, as I recall. The book is by a man from Allentown, PA whose original name was Matalico.

The seven truths bring a bit of objectivism to Christianity, to concepts that are usually seen as matters of faith. In a sense this sounds a bit like mixing concepts of faith -- the reassurances of a Rick Warren ("The Purpose-Driven Life") with the merciless logic of an Ayn Rand. I won't repeat all the principles here, but he does start out by saying that God doesn't grade on a curve, doesn't give part-credit.

He stays away from polarizing social issues (so does Warren) to focus on his principles. Right and wrong in the real world are often mixed with social prejudcies and the political climate, but not in God's view, where the moral playing field is a carpenter's level.

One point that seems like a corollary. Any one can be subject to temptation. That is not sin. Giving in to temptation, however, is sin and has consequences. Yet sometimes our society and legal system can confuse temptation with "intent" and "propensity." But one sin is not worse than another just because of public reaction or emotion.

This blog is not necessarily focused upon religion, but I wanted to provide some balance against the last review, since religious ideology is driving so many world events (and horrible ones) right now.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam; Islam at the Crossroads

Title: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam
Author: Yahiya Emerick
Publisher: Alpha: Complete Idiot's Guides series, 2002
ISBN 0-02-864233-3
LOC: 2001095921

I usually don't review entries in "how-to" series. The Idiot's Guide is a series similar in concept to "for Dummies" from IDG. As such, it is a brand name and strongly trademarked as a book series. It may not be as familiar to casual bookstore customers as IDG.

But this book is particularly relevant to the sometimes contentious debate in the media, especially conservative newspapers, about the meaning of Islam and its ideology, as in the recent film "Islam: What the West Needs to Know" at another of my blogs.

The book explains Islam in simple terms, and makes it look like a mainstream religion with reasonable beliefs from both theological and moral terms. There are obvious differences with Christianity, such as denial of original sin (Islam maintains that we are born pure -- Pakistan is, after all, "The Land of the Pure.")

There is ample discussion of Muslim theology, history, and social and legal practice. For the afterlife there is a diagram of a bridge called the Sirat, which must be traversed at Judgment Day. The author claims that Islam does not have a problem with the existence of Israel, but that it does with "injustice" (the taking of land by force) and Jerusalem. The author provides the Muslim account of Jesus, who allegedly did not die (taken to Paradise) but someone was crucified in his place.

The author also claims that Islam itself preaches equality for women, and that the oppression of women is either based on stereotypes or corruption in various Muslim world societies. The author, on p. 250, cites an episode of TheWB's Seventh Heaven and the film Not Without My Daughter as giving misleading impressions about the role of women in Islam. I will rent the film and comment later.
For 7th Heaven see my TV blog.

A related book is Islam at the Crossroads: Understanding Its Beliefs, History and Customs, by Paul Marshall, Roberta Greem, and Lela Glibert, from Baker Books, 2002, 121 pages, paper, ISBN 0-8010-6416-3.
I purchased this at a reception at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in early 2006 at a Wednesday night program about ethics in journalism, in view of the controversy over religion. The book provides a level summary is Islamic beliefs and history before going on to discuss radical Islam, especially Wahhabism, The Muslim Brotherhood, and Radical Shiites.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Irwin Redlener: Americans at Risk

Full title: Americans at Risk: Why We Are Not Prepared for Megadisasters and What We Can Do Now.
Publisher: Alred A. Knopf, New York
Date: 2006

ISBN: 0-307-26526-9

The author is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and is president of the Children’s Health Fund. He has promoted the book on network television in the summer of 2006.

Cable television subscribers know that the History Channel has recently used the term “mega disasters” for its series on a number of terrible possibilities, like huge earthquakes, monster hurricanes (like Katrina), and tsunamis (a much greater danger, even on the East Coast than a lot of people realize, from a possible landslide near a volcano in the Azores), as well as the obvious concern about terrorist attacks with WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction)

The book is in four parts, and it covers some of the well known natural disaster (and terror) scenarios in some detail, with simulations (such as a monstrous earthquake in Seattle) in boldface font. The discusses avian influenza and points out that the greatest danger could come from biological combination of "pandemic" H5N1 with more conventional seasonal influenza – an argument for ordinary immunization as a critical public health measure. The author criticizes the disorganization of our vaccine industry, and our lack of ability to protect manufacturers from contingent liability.

Redlener makes a couple of really salient points. One is that the WMD threat today is qualitatively different from MAD (mutually assured destruction) of the Cold War era. In the struggle with the Soviets, the risk was total destruction of civilization, with nuclear winter. With Al Qeada, the risk is more that there could mass destruction in one city, or a sequence of threats over cities, one at a time.

Redlener also talks about the importance of government coordination of citizen preparation. Still, he calls for "family resiliency." This is a difficult concept for some people in these individualistic times, when many people are single and want to live so independently. But "resiliency" could occur within a neighborbood or city block, and within a same-sex couple as well as within a conventional nuclear or extended family.