Friday, November 24, 2006

Smaller book chains into online ordering

The Thanksgiving Day Business Section of The Washington Post Nov 23 2006 featured an article by Yuki Noguchi, “Mom-and-Pops, All Grwon Up: To Survive, Online Sellers Evolve Into Full-Time, High-Stress Businesses.”

One area we hear a lot about this is booksellers. Small, independent stores or smaller chains with specialized customer audiences are having trouble competing with the large chain booksellers (Barnes and Noble, Borders) which can often offer huge discounts. I have discount/membership cards with Barnes and Noble and Books*A*Million. Typically, these pay the sales tax or shipping and a little more. In the past year or so, Amazon has been offering much larger discounts on many books than previously.

Lambda Rising, as noted earlier in this blog, has long catered to the interests of LGBT consumers. Like many smaller chains or stores, they would have to feel the competition from large chains and online ordering. So, like many small companies, they have gone into the online catalogue selling like the large companies.

One advantage of smaller bookstores is the frequency of booksigning parties and the chance to meet and talk to the authors. I missed a chance to go to the signing for Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (Harper Collins, ISBN 0060188774, 294 pages, indexed, hardbound, blocked red white and blue dust jacket. So I tried ordering this by the Lambda website, and followed with Geoffrey R. Stone: Title: Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, Norton, ISBN 0393058808. I did not price compare this time. (I will the next time.) I found that Lambda was offering pretty much the same mainstream selection of books as everyone else.

These two books (that I ordered) are relevant to my involvement in the COPA case, described on another blog. The most interesting part of Sullivan’s book is his explanation of religious fundamentalism, as a belief system that protects the believer by being immune from challenge, either by openness to other speakers, and by not tolerating personal behavior anywhere that contradicts the religious belief system.

The Stone book traces suppression of free speech through six national crises: the “half war” with France that resulted in the Sedition Act of 1798, the Civil War, World War I, which resulted in the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 (a lot of it motivated by draft resistance), World War II and Japanese internment, the Cold War with “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy and the blacklists, and the Vietnam War, with the draft card burning, protests, and Watergate. Stone relentlessly examines the subjectivity of laws that control free speech because of perceived indirect threats to security, with problems like “fact or opinion” in assessing “malicious libel”, and the “heckler’s veto” in assessing indirect threats to free speech.

The Lambda Rising search site is this.

When you search by author, you use the last name and notice the search box in the middle of the page (use this one, not the one below the ISBN).

The Lambda Rising blog is this.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer: AWOL; indeed a moral debate

Authors: Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer; Foreword by General Tommy Franks
Title: AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service ** and How It Hurts Our Country
Publisher: Collins, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-088859-8
238 pages, hardbound

This book was mentioned in a Washington Times syndicated column by Suzanne Fields, Nov. 6, 2006, the column titled “Not-so-smart college boys: The military teaches what universities don’t”.

I think you can tell the tone of the book from the title, and indeed that is the case. This book deals with the unequal burden of the risks and sacrifices it takes to protect freedom and democracy. At the end, not surprisingly, the authors discuss ideas for national service, with Mr. Schaeffer particularly willing to make it rather compulsory and rather tough. There is a bit of “rite of passage” mentality here, perhaps, though for both men and women. Compulsory service could become the great equalizer.

All of this sounds anti-libertarian, because it smacks of involuntary servitude. Actually, it gets into another area of morality that we used to understand, but have somehow forgotten in the past few decades of increasing individualism and demands for narrowing of the law. That is, you don’t take what you have for granted, and you share burdens.

We have cast this, software-like, as personal responsibility, except that for purposes of factoring it into libertarian or objectivistic terms, you could call proving that you can take care of other people and share in common efforts (“pay your dues”) as part of personal responsibility.

The authors mention the military don’t ask don’t tell policy for gays early (particularly in discussing the refusal of some universities to admit recruiters because of the Solomon Amendment). But the real place that I wonder about it is what would happen if the draft really came back (the reserve retention policy for Iraq amounts to a “back door draft”), or if military service was a preferred option in national service (which it probably would be).

In the early 1990s I took a computer programming job with a company that specialized in selling life insurance to the military. Now when President Clinton proposed lifting the ban on gays in the military, I decided to become involved in the debate. I had been thrown out of a civilian college (William and Mary) in 1961 for telling the Dean of Men that I was gay, but I served in the Army 1968-1970 without incident, although I did not go to Vietnam and share the sacrifice with my own body. I decided to do my own book, well documented elsewhere, and that presented a conflict of interest. Fortunately, the company was bought by a larger company, and I made a corporate transfer to avoid the conflict and moved to another city. When my mother ran into problems, my absence could have threatened her care. I don’t want to go into too much personal detail here about that, but a sensitive point was that I did not feel that I should derive income directly or indirectly from the military if it could say publicly that I was not morally worthy of service were it to be necessary. That would have been true ultimately even if I had not written the book.

Social issues have been presented with surrogate problems narrow in scope (abortion, gay marriage, etc) that cover up the debate on deeper problems about how burdens and sacrifices are to be shared. Indeed, that debate must connect to our respect to human life. In the meantime, our individualism can be carried to such an extreme that with, one mistake, a person is through. (Indeed, in drawing our laws into narrow focus, we sometimes throw people who cross certain legal lines to the wolves – see the previous book in this blog.)