Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Aphrodite Jones: Michael Jackson Conspiracy (review)

Author: Aphrodite Jones.
Title: Michael Jackson Conspiracy, with Foreword by Tom Meserau (Mr. Jackson’s defense attorney)
Publication: 2007, Aphrodite Jones Books (imprint of iUniverse), ISBN 978-0-9795498-0-9, 296 pages, hardcover

This book has the a publication company named after the author, which then states that the trade name is an imprint of iUniverse, which does cooperative and self-publishing for authors. This is the first time I have seen an author use their own imprint name and apparently own ISBN sequence. Many iUniverse titles are published as “Writers Club Press” and some are republications from the Author’s Guild.

The book is one of a number of books on famous trials in the past few years. The Michael Jackson trial can be compare to that of OJ Simpson (I have Marcia Clark’s book Without a Doubt, from Viking Press), or the Kathleen Ann Soliah story about a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who would live under an alias for years (the book is by Sharon D. Hendry, Soliah: The Sara Jane Olson Story, Cable Publishing, 2002); the author presented this at a writer’s conference in Minneapolis in 2003 and commented on the difficulty in getting reviews for self-published books). I have to admit that when I first saw this title on the iUniverse home page, what hit my mind’s eye was “OJ Simpson”, before I noticed the words “Michael Jackson.” I do recall the barrage of talk show hosts (Vicki Jones in Silver Spring MD, “the British Lady”, getting all kinds of speculations from call-ins on OJ’s when it was silly breaking news of the mid 1990s – “What a Mess” one Time issue cover said.

The author here is a well-known crime reporter with a number of other titles. Her thesis here is that the Michael Jackson trial, which ended in acquittal in June 2005, resulted from fabricated charges against the “King of Pop.” The political motives seem to resemble those of Michael Nifong in the Duke lacrosse players case. I would expect that Ms. Jones will write a book about the Duke incident next. (Although the boys will surely be invited to write books on their own.) In these cases, there is a tendency for the police or district attorneys, and then media, to want to jump on a case because of the socially unacceptable appearance created by someone’s behavior, even if not objectively criminal. It is true that Michael Jackson make provocative statements about liking children and sometimes engaged in publicly outrageous behavior (such as in Germany).

In the Michael Jackson case, there were complications created by a documentary film by Martin Bashir, “Living with Michael Jackson: A Tonight Special”. (Review.) There are lots of complications involving the Arvizo family and the cancer patient and minor teen, Gavin Arvizo, and all of the speculations about what might have happened (but apparently didn’t) on the Neverland Ranch. The book goes into journalists’ shield issues, and also gag orders on journalists. The testimony of “Home Alone” star Macaulay Culkin is discussed in detail. The book has two sequences of black and white photos, many at the Neverland Ranch, so numerous as to constitute a “filmstrip.”

I do recall that Michael Jackson did an impersonation of a US Marine at the half-time show at the 1993 NFL Super Bowl, right after President Clinton had been inaugurated and already started trying to lift the ban on gays in the military. Jackson, however, officially is straight. That is what he tells.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fun with Dick and Jane

I was perusing amazon.com the other day when I looked at the entry for “The Storybook Treasury of Dick and Jane.” I did look at it, but somehow the Amazon system generated a rush UPS book order, without sending me through the checkout process. I’ll have to check with them about this, because I did order another book and the site worked properly. But this anthology is an interesting item to discuss anyway.

In first grade in 1949, I recall three paperback “Dick and Jane” readers, known now to have be called “Elson-Gray” readers published by Addison-Wesley and using the trademarked imprint Scott, Foresman and Company I believe that the first one was “We Look and See”, had a red cover, and ran 48 pages. The second one was “We Work and Play” and had, as I recall, an orange cover and ran 64 pages. The last was “We Come and Go” and had a blue or green cover and ran 72 pages. I remember being fascinated with the appearance to the page numbers and the font used. How well do most of us remember first grade? School ended around 12:30 PM, and at mid morning we would have a milk break. We could choose white or chocolate milk, and white milk was “better for you,” and idea that certainly, in retrospect, has social overtones.

I recall some of the other readers. In third grade I think we had "Streets and Roads" and "More Streets and Roads". As time went by, fewer pages had pictures on them. We even read a simplified version of Grimm’s Rumpelstiltskin by the end of that grade.

Grosset & Dunlap offers an anthology of the three volumes, in an attractive yellow hardcover, oversized, published in 2006, ISBN 0-448-43340-0, for about 9 bucks on Amazon. The original page counts are maintained, and the stories and illustrations seem to be the same. The original paperback cover is reproduced as a page before each section. But the last two sections are resequences.

Here is the list now:
We Look and See,” by William S. Gray, Dorothy Baruch, and Elizabeth Rider Montgomery, illustrated by Eleanor Campbell, 1947, red “cover”.

We Come and Go,” by William S. Gray, Dorothy Baruch, Elizabetg Rider Montgomery, illustrated by Miriam Story Hurford, 1940(?), blue “cover” – this was actually the third booklet.

The New “We Work and Play,” by William S. Gray, Marion Monroe, A. Sterl Artley, Mary Hill Arbuthnot, 1956, yellow “cover”.

Of course, these were basic readers, drilling one word at a time, often in repetition. The first words to be learned are “look” and “oh”. Each “story” is told in pictures, to reinforce the words. When Spot and Puff are introduced, the differences between canine and feline behavior show up in the pictures. The “Puff and Dick” story starts with a picture of Spot looking at tree with Puff not in sight. Only on the next page does the reader see the concept of a cat stranded in a tree.

The readers, of course, reinforce the idea of the cohesive, two-parent nuclear (European American) family with children, and pets, and with every one having his natural “role.” This would not sit well with everyone today. In a sense, the readers anticipate the style of the Alyson books “Heather Has Two Mommies” by Leslea Newman and Diana Souza, and “Daddy’s Roommate” by Michael Willhoite, that would stir up controversy in the 1990s.

After graduating my senior year in high school and starting college (that’s another story) I took “notehand” (a baby shorthand) in summer school, the theory being that would help with college. We made a trip to GW for an afternoon summer class in “children’s literature” to practice our “skills.” I get emails on “learn to write for children” to make money, as if it were a well-organized market. On the other hand, some literary agents do not work with children’s material.

There have been two versions of "Fun with Dick and Jane" in movies, in 1977 and 2005, where financially stressed adults go on crime sprees (hardly the intent of the readers). The second film makes light of the Enron and Worldcomm scandals, and uses cute language from the readers ("Run, Dickm run!") for rather obvious humor. Short review is on this file.

Remember that Paul Rosenfels, at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, had his cerebral definition of "fun". (Review in the April 2006 archive on this blog.)

Note on punctuation: typically in these blogs, I often both quote and italicize a book or movie title to make it stand out to the browsing eye. I do realize that in formal English one does one or the other, not both (quotes for articles, italics or underline for books and movies).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

National Geographic on Maya, New Orleans, and parental leave; Harry Potter flap

The August 2007 issue of National Geographic is a socially relevant issue that would make Al Gore and Participant Productions proud.

The cover story is “Maya: How a Great Culture Rose and Fell: The Maya Glory and Ruin: Saga of a civilization in three parts: The rise, the monumental splendor, and the collapse,” by Guy Gugliotta, with photography by Kennett Garrett and Vania Zouravliov, with maps. The presentation is divided into three more essays, one for each phase. The Mayan civilization ruled its world for about a millennium. It did not fall suddenly at the arrival of the Spaniards, an idea suggested by Mel Gibson’s 2006 Touchstone film “Apocalypto”. Instead, starting in the eighth century there was a gradual collapse related to over use of natural resources, climate change (“an inconvenient truth”) wars and rivalries that at first led to stalemates but that in time caused a loss of equilibrium and stability.

High schools now require world history and teach the histories of non-European peoples. Mayan political history is long, non-linear, and complicated, and hard to grasp as a continuum. It did not evolve beyond city-states into a modern state system that probably supported technological progress and eventually led to political revolutions (American and French) and modern ideas of liberty.

Whatever the splendor of the cities and the mathematical and astronomical accomplishments of the priesthoods, it does not see that individual liberty was an issue that could grab history and drive it the way ours does.

As archeologists and anthropologists warn us repeatedly, the history of the Maya provides us with a reminder that we can fail. Today, descendents of the Maya live in poverty in Central America and southern Mexico. A book review on June 2 on this blog (see archive link) also refers to the Maya, and a water project now going on in Guatemala.

This issue of Geographic has two other important features. One is an analysis of “resettlement” of New Orleans, with color-coded maps showing settlement density relative to elevation. The article is “A Perilous Future: The sinking city faces rising seas and stronger hurricanes, protected only by dwindling wetlands and flawed levees. Yet people are trickling back to the place they call home, rebuilding in harm’s way,” by Joel K. Bourne, Jr. and photography by Tyrone Turner.

Also, on p 33 Geographic offers a Mercator map with a color graph, “Who Gives Parents a Break?” Underneath is a legend, “Guaranteed Leave for Mothers, 2006.” Among advanced countries, only the United States and Australia bat .000. Still, this is not a call for Michael Moore-like socialism. It does raise questions about the paradoxes of individualism.

This posting will be a Grindhouse double feature. Today Kendra Marr has an article on Page D1, Business, of the Wednesday Jul 18 The Washington Post, “Potter Fans’ New Nemesis: The Web.” Apparently some pages from the last Harry Potter novel “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” have leaked out through Photobucket onto some other websites or Bit Torrent sites. The book is due at 12:01 Saturday July 21. There was even a news story about a printing company and heavy railroad branch line traffic feeding it at Crawfordsville, IN. The publisher Scholastic has subpoenaed some companies trying to locate individuals who leaked copyrighted material.

Kids become experts in the details of all the intricacies of J. K. Rowling 's Potter novels. Many high school English teachers give detailed "reading quizzes" each class as the students read curriculum standard novels (Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird (more controversial) etc; we had to deal with Silas Marner) and find the attention to detail required in reading assigned material more challenging. (Although they do get to read Jurrasic Park).

Of course, we’re all wondering what happens to Harry. My guess is, “He Lives” but I could be wrong.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Audacia Ray has comprehensive book on women and the Internet

Sunday afternoon July 15, 2007 I wandered into Lambda Rising Bookstore at Dupont Circle in Washington and, hoping to support an independent bookstore, picked up a green and black book about the Internet that seemed, when all was said and done, mainly to be about straight women and the Internet.

Before getting into the obvious explicit stuff, the book gives a surprisingly interesting history of the early days. As early as the 1980s, some people were dialing into user groups by phone modem (probably 2400 baud), and even then groups had problems with “flamers” – people who would join just to show up others. (In 2000, I participated a lot on AOL’s “Movie Grill” group, and one flamer told the group that I belonged in a therapist’s couch because of the interpretation I gave of the film “The Perfect Storm” and the flamer mixed up the director and book author. Another listserver with the Minnesota Libertarian Party had to deal with the taunts of just one poster.) Those were the days of proprietary content on AOL and Prodigy, and before http was the most popular protocol (there was even gopher). I can also remember in 1994 how one techie followed the course of our corporate merger with his own dialup to Compuserve.

She goes on to narrate how some women by the mid 90s had set up webcams to let others watch their daily lives, as a concern for privacy got mixed up with a new kind of narcissism. All of the facilities of the Internet morphed, eventually toward Web 2.0 and user generated content. But women, particularly, caught on to the social networking early. But their use seemed to be social, and they knew the dangers of being found by their employers, long before the major media outlets started talking about Myspace and Facebook hazards.

Here is a rub, because I have written that people with certain publicly visible job responsibilities (to speak for a company or make decisions about others) should not blog in an unsupervised manner at all. That’s to avoid “implicit content” problems that could drive away customers or create hostile workplace legal concerns. Now my context for this political blogging, but it seems that the same problem can come up with social networking. But if you tell someone they can’t “speed date” online because of their job, they will maintain that their “privacy” is invaded (because they have to compete socially who do use the Internet to find partners), but with an Internet around, nothing is private.

The book is Audacia Ray. Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing In on Internet Sexploitation. Publication data San Francisco: Seal, 2007. ISBN 1-58005-209-6, 321 pages, paper with URLs, glossary, and notes. Website is http://www.wakingvixen.com/

But yet a lot of this book is not about sex at all, but rather many of the technical and ethical problems that pertain particularly to women (but they also pertain to men). She goes on to give a pretty complete summary of all of the self-promotion tools available, including, besides blogging, but vlogging (video blogging), podcasts and RSS, as well as some insights into the business models behind user defined content (UDC) where there is no scarcity.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ann Coulter: Godless: The Church of Liberalism

Author: Ann Coulter.
Title: Godless: The Church of Liberalism.
Publication: New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007, Paper, 326 pages, indexed, with new Afterword. ISBN 978-1-40000-5421-3, with 11 Chapters.

The book was first published in hardcover in January and then reprinted in paper in June with the Afterword, which tries to debunk the idea that Democrats tried to do anything constructive at all about Al Qaeda during the Clinton terms.

Coulter’s reputation as a columnist with a conservative bite is well known. Perhaps she is like a female Rush Limbaugh. Here, her basic thesis that liberalism is a pseudo-religion (I think one of the televangelists in the 80s had a booklet that called liberalism “a rope of sand”) based on suppositions about equality that seem to come from hyper rationalism but that lead inevitably to contradictions. So, one might as well accept the idea of a Supreme Being who makes moral laws that allow for inherited inequality but help us love together in both freedom and kindness – but it means giving up some intellectual pride.

Coulter’s book goes into quite a bit of detail on a number of issues: criminal sentencing including capital punishment (and racial disparities); abortion; the CIA leak scandal; the track record of liberals on terror; the spoiling of teachers (she gives a comparison of teacher “misconduct” with that of Catholic priests that seems horrible in the numbers, but statistics can be deceiving) along with the sundering of public education (she sees urban public schools as largely warehousing delinquents). She gives a somewhat truncated defense of the arguments by Richard J. Herrnstein and the now libertarian Charles Murray in his book “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” (Free Press, 1995) regarding IQ and race. She debunks the political comforting notion, often circulated in the mid to late 1980s, that AIDS and HIV could eventually become a credible threat to prudent heterosexuals. The book maintains that C. Everett Koop testified in the late 1980s under oath that only 4% of AIDS cases worldwide were accounted for by heterosexual transmission (how does one explain AIDS in Africa, then?) and 2.3% in the United States.

But the most provocative part of the book deals with evolution. She maintains that Darwin cannot, and never tried, to explain the sudden appearance of completely new species or even new biological structures (mitochondria). She does make a good case that intelligent design can comport well with science, and then toward the end she suggests that there is a connection between Darwinism and fascism or Nazism that approaches becoming ineluctable. The idea that some people are naturally “better” can be used to shield people from disquieting community or familial attachments, but it can also redefine a culture’s moral sense to the extent that people become expendable. Of course, in Nazi Germany this happened to whole classes of people, not to people just as individuals. Christian morality buffers society against this, but then one wonders what happened to the Christian (Lutheran and Catholic) churches in Germany in the 1930s. The pastor of the First Baptist Church of Washington DC, Edward H. Pruden, during the 1950s took that question up in his 1951 Judson Press book, “Interpreters Needed.”

Friday, July 06, 2007

Michael A. Smerconish: Muzzled

Thomas Nelson presents itself on the web as a Christian book publisher with a specific cultural niche. The subsidiary Nelson Current seems to venture into current affairs from a conservative to libertarian perspective, with an emphasis on religious liberty.

Author Michael A. Smerconish, (website is http://www.mastalk.com ) with his distinctive appearance (don’t compare him to Lex Luthor) has written a lot about the harm of preoccupation with political correctness, and appeared on talk shows. His comments on Infinity Radio WPHT in Philadelphia, and his latest book is Muzzled: From T-Ball to Terrorism--True Stories that Should Be Fiction. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007. ISBN 1-59555-050-X, 292 pages, hardcover, indexed. Introduction and 28 short chapters.

Something unusual happened with Amazon when I purchased the book. Despite its 2007 date and well-known publisher, there were no copies in stock in Amazon's main link. There was a copy at $5.20 in the reseller (or residuals) list, with Amazon itself the reseller, so I got it for that price with no shipping costs. Maybe someone knows what is happening.

The book gives numerous anecdotes of where people have been fired for creating the appearance of lack of sympathy for the politically protected. He gives some valuable discussion of the slavery reparations issue, with details about how companies are investigated and criticized for their indirect benefit from slave trade two centuries ago. Likewise, he discusses native Americans with the complex politics of gaming. He says essentially, we have to move on with things.

He believes that family values are essential to social justice, but he sees no harm, and probably a benefit, in encouraging and recognizing adult same-sex partnerships. Likewise, he takes a lot of issue with our war on drugs, particularly medical marijuana. Do deflate what he sees as self-destructive arguments from social conservatives about the “harm” of gays to family values, he gives an interesting statistic, that after the proper legislative maneuvering allowed same-sex partners to file claims after 9/11, a number representing less than 1 percent of the victims actually did, although it may be that a much larger number of people working in the Twin Towers were gay but did not have partners.

His approach is a bit like John Stossel’s “Give Me a Break”. He is appealing to almost libertarian rationalism and even objectivism, and asking that it guide us past blinding emotion and specific sympathies for those whom we know have been oppressed by the behavior of past generations.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Oldies but Goodies, and memories of grade school

The last day of school at an alternative high school, when I “sub-taught” there were few students (graduation was over) but a few teachers were giving away old books. Particularly in the ESOL (English as a Second Language) area there were a few old gems. I picked up a couple of these, and they remind me of the hardcover readers we used to have in grade school.

These books pre-date the days of ISBN ‘s (International Standard Book Number) although they have Library of Congress catalog numbers.

One of the books is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic. Little House on the Prairie , all the way back to 1935 (from Harper & Row) illustrations by Garth Williams, 1953, 335 pages, many of them illustrated, with large print. Many people remember the television series, and actor Michael Landon who died of cancer in 1991. The book tells the story of a pioneer family from the viewpoint of one child who never seems to use the word “I”. The family loyalty to one’s own is quite striking, as native Americans are perceived as potential enemies to the settlers, and sometimes the author describes them in terms that wouldn’t be accepted today. Toward the end the family has to deal with the legal realities of all this.

The other that I picked up that day was Bill Severn,. Teacher, Soldier, President: The Life of James A. Garfield , (Ives Washburn) dating to 1964, 177 pages, hardcover. Mr. Garfield had the second shortest term on record as president (four months – it looks like William Henry Harrison had the shortest – go to the White House site ), and his life corresponds to the notion of the Renaissance man that some of our television icons have today. At age 17, James was already teaching school, and sometimes living in the homes of parents of the students, as was the custom of the time.

The first "Dick and Jane" paperback readers (from Elson-Gray) from first grade stick in my mind to this day. The books were red, orange and green, as I remember, and had 48, 64 and 72 pages. Somehow the page numbers and pictures were more interesting than the text. It looks like Amazon has a collector's edition of this in hardcover, available only from resellers, and expensive.