Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus" is a brief supplementary update to David Quammen's earlier book

Author David Quammen has followed up his previous book (“Spillover”, Oct. 23) with a supplement, “Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus”.  It is published by Norton, with ISBN 978-0-393-35155-2 for paperback, 119 pages, indexed, and is in 21 “sections” with an Introduction and an Epilogue.

The book does repeat some material from “Spillover” but also brings the history of the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa up to date as of early September 2014.  It does not cover the cases that were treated in Texas (including the two nurses at Texas Presbyterian) or New York City, since these occurred after the book went to press.  That’s a problem with non-fiction book publishing.
Quammen would obviously discourage public health policies that would discourage doctors and nurses from going to West Africa to help treat Ebola patients.  But perhaps a 21-day observation or quarantine period would be negotiated into an assignment, and be paid for. 

Quammen discusses the lurid hyperbolic discussions of the clinical course of Ebola in his 1994 book “The Hot Zone”, which also describes Ebola Reston (which affected chimps only).  No, people don’t really turn to slime alive and dissolve in their beds.  Many cases, even fatal ones, don’t even involve bleeding.  However, the virus does so much damage to the blood supply of vital organs that multiple organ failures often occur.
I bought “The Hot Zone” in the cafeteria at a one-day book fair where I worked in 1994 (at USLICO Corporation, soon to become ReliaStar).  After I brought it into the office and shared it, others called me “Ebola Bill”, having no idea how prophetic the book would become. 
He also provides more details on how the virus may persist in animal reservoirs, especially bats, which are much more numerous than we realize, and whose immune systems are sufficiently different from ours that they can host the virus without becoming ill from it.  The virus seems adapted to these ancient hosts, but not to humans. 
Ebola has several subtypes, and another filiovirus, Marburg, is closely related and causes very similar disease.  Quammen says that the tick-born Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic fever (caused by a different family of virus) is even more gruesome than Ebola or Marburg. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

David Quammen's "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic" follows on Garret's book in the 90s

Author: David Quammen

Title: "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic"

Publication: W.W. Norton. 2012, ISBN 978-0-393-06680-7, 588 pages, indexed, 9 long chapters, 115 short sections.
Amazon link here
Quammen, well known for non-fiction for National Geographic, has provided a detailed historical examination of almost all major infectious disease capable of causing pandemics. 

One of the most obvious reactions is the variability of the way infectious disease works and plays out.  Epidemiology principles are similar for viruses, bacteria, fungi or protists.  Many but not all infectious agents have reservoirs in animal hosts, and some are brought to humans by insects. Others arrive at the human body through cultural practices in hunting and preparing food, or sometimes having poultry or animals in close proximity to households.  Diseases spread in a variety of ways, but the three main patterns are airborne, direct blood or body fluid contact on any surface or in extremely close contact, and sexual contact or other very deep contact such as with intravenous needles.

Quammen discusses many agents that are relatively obscure, starting with Hendra in horses in Australia. But in time he gets to the important and well known epidemics.  He gives a detailed history of SARS, in Singapore and southeast Asia, where contact tracing did get it under control.  It isn’t long before he gets into the mathematics of epidemiology, with a touch of differential equations.  
In chapter 6, he discusses how viral infections work and why RNA viruses mutate more rapidly than DNA viruses.  Among RNA viruses, retroviruses behave very differently because of the use of reverse transcriptase and the use of the nucleus of the cell to create more copies. 

The book predates the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and the recent cases in the United States (in Dallas, and as of today, New York City).  The author gives two detailed case histories of Marburg (Europeans who explored caves in Uganda frequented by bats) one of whom survived only to lose her hair, to have it grow back gray afterwards.  

There has been controversy in the media about speculation as to whether Ebola could become more contagious (it doesn’t naturally go to the respiratory tract), or whether the incubation period is longer than supposed, and maybe even asymptotically indefinite. I see that Quammen has a new short book “Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus”, published Oct. 20, 2014, which I have just ordered.  (It’s on Kindle, too.) 

But the most interesting part of the book is the history of HIV (“The Chimp and the River”), which splits into the history of several viruses.  There was a virus called HTLV-1, which causes leukemia, known before HTLV-III which became called HIV.  The author traces the original infection of man by primates in Africa, in the area known as the Congo, back in 1908.   The virus slowly percolated, causing immune dysfunction that would not be noticed at first in a society with so many diseases.  But when hypodermics were introduced (and reused because of cost), infection probably increased rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s.  Quammen maintains that infection was probably propagated then my mostly heterosexual sex.  Although transmission from women to men was not as efficient as from men to women (or to other men in anal intercourse), it was probably sufficient to sustain the epidemic (according to his calculus homework, anyway) in Africa.

I’ve often related the scary history of the politics of AIDS in Texas in the early 1980s, especially before HIV was identified and a test could be developed.  Some members of the religious right (the “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS”) tried to introduce some very draconian anti-gay legislation in 1983, claiming that gay men, as a closed group practicing anal intercourse, “amplified” the presence of the (then) putative virus to the point that I might mutate and threaten the general population.  Quammen’s book shows that the history of viruses, especially slow viruses like HIV, is so pervasive that this idea is just nonsense. 
Quammen’s penultimate chapter does deal with influenza, particular swine and bird flu, and the issue of whether avian influenza would ever become efficiently transmitted from human to human. 
Quammen’s verbal description of life in Africa is often quite detailed and colorful. 
The book is a logical sequel to Laurie Garrett's "The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance" (1995, Penguin) and even Robert Preston's "The Hot Zone" (1994).
Also consider the ABC TV movie "Fatal Contact" Bird Flu in America" (2005) by David Pearce.   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Jenise Brown: "Down Low Sister on Top": a "re-clothed novel" about African American bisexual women, from VA Pride

Author: Jenise Brown

Title: “Down Low Sister on Top: Celebrating the African American Bisexual Woman

Publication: Jenise, Richmond VA, ISBN 978-0-9904187-5-7, paper, 196 pages, 4 long chapters

I met the author at her booth at Virginia Pride on Brown’s Island in Richmond on Sept. 27 of this year.  I deposited the price at the table and got the book in the mail, and I don’t find the book on Amazon.  I’ve talked here about the idea of selling your own book yourself at fairs and festivals.  I did some of that with my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in 1997;  I did my own first printing, and didn’t go to POD until 2000.  In fact, I handled all orders myself from Minneapolis (where I moved in September) until January 1998.  After I got home from recovering from my accidental hip fracture, I put the book on Amazon (and BN ad Borders) for the first time, in those days not realizing how desirable that would be. I also had a distributor in Minneapolis, the Bookmen.

The Website for the book is here.  I see that she links to a Paypal page, an issue that I discussed recently here (Oct. 4), a rather bizarre coincidence.   

To get to Denise’s book, it comprises and introduction and four long chapters with autobiographical narrative, and then first person narratives of a number of other bisexual women, including at least one Muslim, whom she says are “fictitious”.  So literally, the book is more a collection of stories than a novel, although it is rather bridge-like in form. Remember how early novels were often in the form of letters, and some writers, like Thomas Carlyle, experimented with form considerably in early fiction (see Dec. 2, 2013).   Back in 1983, I had experimented with the idea of taking a novel and breaking it up into “standalone stories” for flexibibility, as described on Wordpress here.  

According to the author, “Down Low” refers to behavior among African Americans that they feel they have to hide.  Specifically, it refers to black men who pretend to be conventionally heterosexual and have families, but who also have sex with men.  The term has expanded to women, who are bisexual more often than men.
The four chapters are “The Art of Lying”, “The Art of Social Networking”, “The Art in the Power of Influence”, and “The Art of Selfishness”.  One of the women talks about dealing with arranged marriages, and then about being in the military as a lesbian during the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, with a bite that reminds me of some of the accounts in Randy Shilts’s “Conduct Unbecoming”. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

'Journeys out of the Body" by Robert A. Monroe

Author: Robert A. Monroe (1915-1995)
Title: “Journeys out of the Body”

Publication: Broadway Books, 1971, ISBN 0-385-00861-9, 280 pages, paper
This time, I review an older book, that I picked up in the Blue Moon Antique Mall in Lovingston, VA Aug. 23, 2014, after a brief visit to the Monroe Institute.

The author describes a long record of psychic and “out of body” experiences from the 1950s through the 1960s, many of them near or at his home in North Carolina.

The most interesting concept is that of a “Second Stage” or “Second Body”, which is something like a ghost.  It has very low mass, but some sort of physical body, and can feel sensations, even sexual. Oddly, he mentions that there seem to be no hair follicles (or nails) – maybe because these are “dead” projections of skin cells anyway. 

He also describes  “Locale II” and a “Locale III”.  It seems that “Locale II” is something like “The Core”, or the entry into the afterlife, and it has no real physical geography, although there are sometimes some visions.  But “Locale III” seems to be like another world, another planet – maybe in this galaxy, maybe in another universe.  The lifestyles seem like that of the nineteenth century, without electricity, but there are steam trains and wagons that haul many people.  Later he reports disasters, like buildings collapsing and some kind of danger from the air, which may apply to Locale III.  This place sounds like one of the other dominions in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica” (March 28, 2006).
He mentions angels, sometimes as appealing people, who seem to have some powers (a bit like Clark Kent in “Smallville” perhaps).  He also mentions having a Faraday Cage, at one point, which is an odd reference in an older book like this.  A Faraday Cage is supposed to protect electronics from an electromagnetic pulse attack.

My own experience with certain kinds of intense dreams backs up some of his ideas.  I have seen a consistent image of “another world” where most living is communal (in dorms), where there are underground trains (that would seem to require electricity), and where some of the communities are in Venice-like layouts near water.  In my dreams, people are placed in “progressive dinner party” communities with varying levels of technology but expected to develop communications and physical skills on their own.  There have occurred a small number of very intimate encounters with a very limited list of persons over a number of years in dreams that sound very real.  I’ve wondered if the other party knows in these cases.  I suspect that is possible, and if so, “telepathy” is a lot more important that friending on Facebook.
Acquiring the ability to do OBE’s seems to require a lot of meditation, relaxation, and special sound tapes, taught in long sessions at the Monroe Institute. 

There is an appendix in which a VA physician gives a personality assessment of Dr. Monroe, which seems a bit like mine.  

Saturday, October 04, 2014

I can sell copies of my books with Paypal now, for consumers who want to use it; should authors take credit cards directly?

As I explained this morning on my “id” blog, I have found it necessary to reactivate my PayPal account for a particular event. 

That raises an interesting opportunity.  Yes, I do have some sample inventories (of at least a few dozen copies each) of my three “Do Ask Do Tell” books (a few hardcover, too, for the third of these).  So it is possible for any consumer to use PayPal to purchase from me directly, if the consumer prefers not to use Amazon or BN.  That could happen for a consumer without bank accounts or credit cards.

Officially, I’ll set the prices as the lowest among Amazon, BN, which is always Amazon. These would be as follows:

For “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” (DADT-1, 1997-2000), it is $25.16 paper.
For “Do Ask, Do Tell: When Freedom Is Stressed” (DADT-2, 2002), it is $15.26, paper.

For “Do Ask, Do Tell: Speech Is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege” (DADT-3, 2014), it is $17.99, paper or hardcover (the latter very limited). 

The third of these is available on Kindle from Amazon and Nook on BN inexpensively. 

The first two books are published by iUniverse, the third by XLibris (both companies belong to Author Solutions in Bloomington, IN).

I do not know why iUniverse dropped Kindle on the first two books.  There may be some kind of dispute. I do have them on my own Kindle device.  (I don’t have Nook – not enough time in life to try everything).  If I learn there is some interest in Kindle for these, I will look into why this has happened, and could consider doing the conversions myself.  There are some links as to know to make a Kindle file yourself that Amazon will accept, such as at “Agent Query” (here) and at “The Book Designer” (here).

If I sell books directly, I may have to pay sales tax to Virginia, or in a few cases to other states.   I will monitor this situation (as to volume, for example) to see if this is necessary, as I have no system to do it automatically. I would "eat" the tax for now. I do have a home-based business license with Arlington County, VA (which would also cover online advertising income)   This income is small, but is reportable to the IRS and Virginia.  It has never amounted enough to result in a County tax, but it is reported in March of every year.  

When I self-published my first book in 1997 with a book manufacturer, managing it all myself, I did fill out the paperwork for a sales tax license with Fairfax County, VA (where I lived at the time), as early as January of that year.  I moved to Minnesota in September for work and did not need to fill out any paper work in Minnesota that I recall now.  However, I had to pay Fairfax County some kind of back fee of about $100 in early 1998.  I worked with a distributor in Minneapolis (Bookmen at the time), that eventually sold a lot of my stock.   I often shipped copies to individuals by Priority Mail and was often paid by check (not one check ever bounced, as I recall). A few people sent cash in the mail, and it was never lost. 
As I’ve noted before, I don’t spend a lot of time on “retail” operations.   There was a book author who had a kiosk at Gay Pride in Richmond last weekend, who took cash at the table with an address to mail the book.  I find I need to spend my time on development of new integrated content and networking with other content creators, not on traditional “selling” of copies of single items.  Media business is simply becoming too seamless these days for old marketing models to work.

If someone has a problem with the prices and could afford only a smaller one, let me know.
I wonder if Bitcoin is next.   No, I don’t have it yet.  And I don’t live in Second Life. 

"You" can contact me at JBoushka at aol,com or by Facebook or Twitter for info on how to purchase by Paypal.   (JBoushka on Twitter).  Or you can call at the cell number given at the "contact link" at "".   I'll put more details on my Wordpress Media blog soon.

Update: Oct. 13.

A reminder, I don't take credit cards.  If anyone purchases books from me directly, I don't save the purchaser information anywhere.  (I do have address and phone info for non-commercial personal contacts in "private" harddrive files that are non online -- but they are saved in the Cloud;  I wonder if that could present any real hazard.)

Book self-publishing services seem to assume that many authors will take credit cards individually, at fairs or kiosks, or on their own websites, since they try to sell large numbers of hardcopies to authors.  Because of recent security lapses in the news at large companies, running your own credit card operation seems to have become increasingly risky, something that might well be uninsurable.  It seems as though the self-publishing companies are unaware of the risk; or at least the people that would call me repeatedly (as in 2012) were unaware.
Nevertheless, a few self-published authors (and filmmakers or musicians directly selling their own DVD's or CD's) do take cards, or at least don't put their stuff on Amazon.  As a customer, I find using Amazon much easier, and safer.

Update: Oct. 14

Amazon seems to have restored Kindle access to my first two books, $3.99 each.  Well, on Oct. 15, the Kindles weren't there.  Is this an Amazon problem?  I may eventually make my own conversions.  You can read them fine in HTML online, of course (and that aligns OK on a smartphone).  But Kindle keeps the page numbers and chapters intact.  And users would like to keep all their books on one device.  If I get more feedback asking for it, I'll make the Kindle versions myself if I need to, but I've got to get other things done first.

Update: July 20, 2015

Kindle for the first two books is restored.

Note that all my contact with individual buyers is "informal".  If you go through me, rather than an e-commerce site, I handle it manually.  No purchaser information is kept (so it can't be hacked later).