Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Booknote: Health Care Reform

I knew when I started reading this that I wanted to share this book. Now that I finished it, I do want to share the book with others. I think it is an excellent book on the topic for general readers. Apparently the book is so good that some people feel threatened by it. I borrowed the copy I read from the local public library. Our public library is not always known to be a bastion of open exchange of ideas. So, when I checked the book out, and I finally opened the first page to read it, this is what I found:

Yes, that is a photo of the first page as I found it when I got it from the public library. Apparently they don't check books very well when they are returned. Anyhow, a helpful local reader decided to make it his or her duty to let me know the following: "This book is heavily slanted toward a left-wing philosophy." I guess that the desire to educate others about better health care services and reform is a left-leaning cause. Has to be since right wingers pretty much do not believe in the common good. And I am willing to bet the "helpful" reader is probably a Medicare beneficiary (this is based on local demographic, which is heavy in terms of seniors. Aside from some children, I may well be one of the youngest readers the library gets). At any rate, I did feel the need to share that little tidbit as it is a reflection of the kind of nonsense I get to put up with on a close to daily basis. In the end, as tempted as I was to write back, "did you know that Richard Nixon proposed universal health care (he called it "comprehensive") at one point?" It is tempting, but I am simply removing the sticky note before I turn it in. The next reader does deserve a clean book.

Here is my review as I posted it to my GoodReads profile:

Health Care ReformHealth Care Reform by Jonathan Gruber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a must-buy for public libraries; a few academic libraries may probably want to acquire it as well, especially to have handy for freshmen writing research papers relating to health care reform issues.

The book is a basic explanation of the Affordable Care Act as well as an argument for the need of reform in American health care. However, do think that just because I say "basic" it is a simplistic book. Actually, the book provides very good, clear, concise explanations. It starts by laying out the current situation, the need for reform, and how the ACA moves towards that reform. The author is an economics scholar and one of the people who helped craft Massachusetts new health reform plan. The book also does a pretty good job to dispel the various myths and fear statements that opponents of reform have used to prevent reform from happening.

The books graphics are good. They are in black and white. Nothing fancy here, but the visual elements complements the content very nicely. If you want to learn more about the topic, this is certainly a very good place to start. If you have neighbors or friends who think it is all a conspiracy, that it is just "socialism in medicine," a government takeover, or other nonsense, hand them this book. It should help clear their objections. To be honest, maybe this is the kind of material we need for other forms of major legislation where the public needs to be educated. The book certainly is designed to educate the general reader on the topic, and it succeeds at that.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Booknote: And a Bottle of Rum

Here is my review of this very good book as I posted it to my GoodReads profile. Before the review, I am making a quick note on books that have similar appeal. Maybe it will help those reader's advisors out there, or maybe just give my four readers other reading ideas. By the way, the books I am listing are books that I have actually read. There are plenty of other books that would make good read-a-likes for the Curtis book.

  • Kyle Jarrard, Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit
  • Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses.
  • Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.
The review: 

And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten CocktailsAnd a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I definitely recommend. If you like rum, or you enjoy rum drinks, you will probably enjoy this book that will teach you more about the history of this spirit. If you are history buff or reader, you will enjoy the book as well.

The book is organized in chapters named after a different rum drink. Each chapter provides a history of the drink in question as well as a history of the New World in the process. Together, the chapters provide not only a narrative of where rum came from, where it has been, where it is now, and where it is headed. You also get a good amount of history overall from Colonial America to today. The book is a good example of the microhistory genre: it takes a single thing, and it explores its history in depth. However, this kind of book also provides a look at history overall. There is trivia. There is history. There are curious facts. And there is even a little adventure on the high seas. I personally enjoy this kind of book because I often learn more about other things besides the one item in question. A neat thing about this book is that it dispels some of the myths people may associate with rum.

Curtis' narrative is pretty easy to read, and the book as a whole is pretty entertaining. From pirates and buccaneers to Captain Morgan (the mascot; the real Captain Morgan was not a jolly fellow with a big red coat)to Ernest Hemingway and tiki bars. You get it all here. This is a book that will have you longing for some rum, and I do not mean just the mass produced varieties like Bacardi.

As a bonus, the end of the book features a section of rum drink recipes so you can try them out and add a bit more to the reading experience. So, get yourself a good bottle of rum, a sour or two, a weak or two, and a sweet or two, fix your favorite cocktail, be it Rum and Coke or a Mai Tai, and just enjoy this excellent book.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Booknote: Are we there yet?

This is a book that is worth reading, so I am sharing my review from GoodReads here on the blog as well. Sessions Rugh's book not only tells the story of the Americans on vacation in the early to middle part of the 20th century. She also tells about the politics of the time, the rise of civil rights struggles, and of the children who grew up being taken (or dragged if you ask some of them today) on vacations to see the U.S. It was an endeavor that had nationalistic significance, a way to build up patriotism as well as a leisure activity. It was also a consumerist endeavor as well. So, go ahead, read the review and consider giving the book a look.

Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family VacationsAre We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations by Susan Sessions Rugh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very good book looking at a specific time in American history: the family vacation from about the post-World War II era to about the 1970s. This was the era when families loaded up the family station wagon and went out on road trips to see the United States. It is a time that is idealized by many Baby Boomers, but their children probably differ when it comes to that idealization. It is a time that some see with nostalgia and others are glad it is over. But whether you loved or hate the station wagon road trip, this was a pivotal time for American culture and history in terms of consumerism, civil rights, and social growth. And yes, not all the travel happened on station wagons, but the basic idea was to load up the car and go.

The author does a very good job with the research. She draws on a lot of archival material, and she also notes where there are gaps in the records. One of the strengths of the book is in telling the story of the groups marginalized during this time such as Blacks (due to Jim Crow) and Jews (due to anti-semitism). The author goes on to show how these groups, while suffering humiliations and even hardships on the road, also adapted, creating their own resource networks, camp grounds, resorts, so on.

The basic story is that after the war, many vets came home. They got jobs. Got married. Had children. And they had relatively generous benefits, including good vacation. That is a contrast to today where you are lucky if your stingy employer gives you more than a week, maybe two at the most (and even then you can't take it all at once). So, loading up the family car to go to Disneyland or a resort or a National Park was relatively easy to do. Keep in mind it was relatively easy if you were White and part of the prosperous middle class (you know, the middle class that is now in danger of extinction). Now, if you were Black or Jew (or other minority), even if you were solid middle class, you might find some difficulties on the road, but that did not deter minorities from hitting the road as well.

The vacation was not just leisure however. It was also an economic engine. Oil companies gave away free maps and travel information in order to market their gasoline and products to motorists. Cities and municipalities promoted their tourists attractions. Resorts were built, and even celebrities got in by investing in amusement parks. A lot of jobs would be created from Americans vacationing.

However, time did march on, and tastes and dynamics changes. What the parents saw as thrilling-- the family vacation that brought all the family together-- their kids saw as a drag and thus avoided. Also, air travel and the Internet changed things as well. The authors does touch on this as well.

Overall, it is an interesting topic. The book can be a bit dry at time however, which is why I did not rate it higher. It is worth a look. It does include some good photos as well. Plus, like many good microhistories, you learn not only about vacations, but in this case about a time in American history that also allows us to reflect on our own time. Maybe there is the real value of the book.

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Signs the economy is bad, February 10, 2012 edition

It's Friday, and my four readers know what that means around here. It is possible we may have another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. And sure enough, we've got a few signs this week, including stuff that we have seen before making a return appearance. I will note that except for one item, all items this week are related to education somehow. It seems education is a proverbial canary in the mineshaft when it comes to the bad economy.

  • Oh look, we are back with the issue of advertising in schools. Dallas (TX) ISD may be moving to allow advertisements in their classrooms. Via NBC 5. 
  • And we are back with the issue of colleges selling naming rights to make ends meet. And yes, once again, they are selling rights to name bathrooms.The article from Inside Higher Ed has an account of a few colleges who have been or plan to sell naming rights to bathrooms in order to raise funds. My personal favorite has to be the example from Pennsylvannia, where the donor demanded that "the walls be lined with plaques reading, 'The relief you are now experiencing is made possible by a gift from Michael Zinman.'”
  • Student loan debt is driving more graduates into bankruptcy. The big problem? Student loan debt is the one debt you cannot discharge in bankruptcy court. Yea, you can thank the sleazeball lobbyists from banks for that one. Story via The Los Angeles Times. On a related note, I can't recall where I read it, but I did read that many bankruptcy lawyers are not paid very well when compared to other law specialties. It is a field that has a lot of volume, and it is not glamorous. New lawyers are often saddled with high student loans as well, and thus, bankruptcy lawyers are often in the same boat as their clients in terms of the student loan serfdom. The fact that a society chooses not to invest in the education of its youth but instead allows said youth to fall into financial slavery makes a very poor comment on society.
  • Another report is out on how Dollar Stores are growing in the bad economy. It seems they are the one sector that so far can grow in this bad economic climate. How bad is the climate? According to the summary, we have "the rapid evaporation of wealth, both real and perceived, has profoundly changed the way Americans shop, how they think about the buying experience, and how they define value." We can certainly attribute that to things like stagnating wages and overall just people losing their jobs or having to work at lower paying jobs as corporations outsourced overseas. Report found via Full Text Reports. This is a sign of the bad economy I have pointed out before.

    Monday, February 06, 2012

    Booknote: God, No!

    Though I may have had a disagreement with the author here or there, do not let that deter you from reading this book. Overall, I enjoyed it, and I think other people might enjoy it as well. So, I am sharing my review as I posted it on GoodReads. The book is pretty easy to read, and since it is organized in short segments, it is the kind of book you can pick up and read a bit here and there.

    God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical TalesGod, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Though overall I liked the book, there were parts of it that I disagreed with Mr. Jillette. I suppose that is not a bad thing in the great scheme of things. The one thing that turned me off was his view that people, all of them (or the great majority) are good. It is something I disagree with because I believe the opposite: people overall are selfish, and if they have a chance to screw others over they will. All I have to do, in addition to point to various despots, tyrants, and dictators and those who enabled them is point to the unethical banking and finance bastards who pretty much ruined the economy in 2008, from which we are still reeling? Does anybody think those people were good? Hell no. They were motivated by greed and self-interest, and damn everybody else. And that is where I often part ways with Libertarians, when they pretty much embrace the "everybody for himself" mentality. I happen to believe things like good social nets and taking care of each other are good things. Contrary to the Libertarian belief, no, churches are just not enough, nor will they never be enough. Do I think government is perfect? Far from it, but it is necessary if for no other reason than to curb the worse excesses of greedy assholes in civilized society. But let me get away from the digression, because that point aside, this is overall a very good book worth reading.

    Mr. Jillette rants, but he can also write pretty well. He can be funny, and he can be moving at times. Those moving passages really bring the reader in and serve to show that the magician and skeptic is a humane person. The story of how he cares for his parents as their health deteriorates, especially his father, is quite a moving statement. He does care for others overall, even if we disagree at times on how to accomplish some things. He makes people think as well. Then, there are the funny things such as having sex while scuba diving and hanging out with Ron Jeremy, who should likely run for President of the U.S. Worth reading as well.

    The book is a combination of commentary and biography/memoir. Mr. Jillette goes over the Ten Commandments, the offers the Ten Atheist Suggestions. In between those segments, he tells stories, anecdotes, and commentaries on various issues that help to illustrate some of his suggestions. They also make for entertaining reading. And for all that some people may say that atheists are arrogant, his simple, "I don't know" is quite the expression of humility. Something to ponder about.

    Fans of Penn & Teller as well as fans of Mr. Jillette's solo work will probably enjoy this book. I know I did, even as I disagreed on some things, I did agree on others. In the end, that may be part of a good conversation, being able to agree to disagree at times. This is a very good book that I think atheists and non-believers will like. Plus, I think a believer here and there may get something out of it as well.

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    Friday, February 03, 2012

    Signs that the economy is bad, February 3, 2012

    We made it to another Friday here at The Itinerant Librarian. Here are this week's signs that the economy is bad. Yes, the job numbers may be better according to recent reports this week, but it does not mean the economy is all honky dory. The signs are still out there: 

    • You know things really have to be bad when Wal-Mart gets rid of their greeters. Yes, it is finally happening. The big box store decided that having nice people greet you when you come in, an idea from Sam Walton to make stores more friendly (and serve as extra eyes to prevent shoplifting), was just not efficient enough. True, they claim they will be reassigned, but you know a few people are going to be losing their jobs. I wonder if Sam Walton is rolling in his grave or rejoicing in whatever afterlife he may be in over how his heirs turned his idea into the evil empire it is now. One can't help but feel it is the end of an era.Via Bizmology
    • This is not so much a sign the economy is bad as a sign of someone making do in the bad economy maybe. Or they just saw there was a market that was not being served. Anyhow, Brazilian swimsuit makers are now making bikinis for women who are not rail thin Victoria's Secret models. Yes, contrary to popular belief, not all Brazilian females look like catalog or Playboy models.  Sure, women with a bit more to love may not want to wear the (in)famous "dental floss" swimsuits, but I am sure they still want something sexy and nice. Article includes a link to one manufacturer's catalog. I thought they looked nice. Via Global Post
    • I have covered before the topic that food banks are bracing themselves for more demand due to the bad economy.  Well, here is more evidence of that and another sign the economy is bad: colleges with food banks for their students. Now, this is not just a community nearby that happens to help out local college students. It is a college setting up their own food pantry for students. According to the story from The Toledo Blade, " what is believed to be the region’s first food pantry for college students is to open in mid-February." People tend to think that students have cushy existences. Far from it. Many make significant sacrifices to go to school, and the life of a college student can be one of poverty. And to add insult to injury, being college students means they usually do not qualify for things like food stamps. So, we want educated people, but in addition to cutting funding for the schools, we are not even willing as a society to let them use safety nets designed for the poor, even though the students are poor, over some elitist notion that college students could not possibly be poor. And then we wonder why this country is headed down a drain. And by the way, let's not even go into how many of those college students, even in "good majors," end up in the unemployment line. The few lucky ones get to move back in with their parents.