Monday, January 21, 2008

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition (Paperback)

I am enrolled in a graduate program that, unfortunately, requires all papers to be written in APA format. APA is far and away the least useful or user friendly format ever devised (although a professor friend disagrees and thinks Chicago style is worse), and is largely used by social scientists. Since I am not enrolled in a social science curriculum, you might expect that I would be spared this horror, but someone sold the Dean an APA bill of goods (probably Beelzebub himself.) My theoretical question here is what, exactly, qualifies the American Psychological Association to develop a style and format for research papers? Wouldn't English teachers and linguists be more qualified, as in MLA format? Why is APA more qualified than say The Airline Pilots Association, or The National Prune Anti-Defamation League to develop a writing style? Just a question.
I figured that since I was stuck using this fiendish format, I should learn to use it correctly. My school put out a "Users Guide to APA Format", but it is very general and almost totally ignores documenting electronic (internet) sources; thus, I bought this book. I am generously giving this book two stars inasmuch as most (but not all) reasonable situations are addressed in it, but the format of the book is virtually incomprehensible and frequently sends you to multiple different places to answer a simple question. (This shouldn't surprise me given the lack of logic found in APA style in general, I suppose.)
Unfortunately even the latest (fifth) edition is woefully inadequate in answering very basic questions on documentation of internet sources, particularly addressing situations in which quotations from internet sources are included in a paper. The index is, likewise, next to useless, as looking anything up (if it happens to even be in the index, itself and unlikely development) will result in a wild goose chase of referencing around the book. This is but only one reason the entire format may be more useful to psychologists than those in the hard sciences.
What the guide IS full of is useless trivia, for instance a section on the APA "Policy on Metrication" (needless to say APA mandates metric units), and a definition of "HSD" as "Tukey's honestly significant difference (also referred to as the Tukey a procedure)." While I am not saying that metrication or Tukey's honestly significant difference aren't important (though I am inclined to), I am saying that a book that dwells on minutia like that should definitely cover the basics of references, formats and citations first. Like I said, most (but not all) of the information actually is here, but good luck finding it.
Perhaps APA should put out a guide for using this guide. Better yet, perhaps any format so cumbersome to use and needlessly intricate should be dumped altogether for a better format, like MLA. At this point I'm even willing to try Chicago style.


Plum Lucky (Stephanie Plum Novels) (Hardcover) by Janet Evanovich (Author)

Statisically speaking, luck has a normal distribution, that is, it has a bell shaped curve. Most people are in the middle with an average amount of luck, but some people are at an extreme point on the curve and are unlucky all the time (like that character in Lil Abner who walked around with a black cloud over his head), and some are at the other end and are lucky all the time. So goes life. It's St. Patrick's Day and there is a rainbow in the air. Grandma Mazur stumbles into a duffle bag full of money - lots of money. She thinks that it is lucky money and hers to keep. Let the good times roll. She is off to Atlantic City. But other people have claims on the money. The story has an interesting cast of characters including an ex-jockey who thinks that he is an invisible leprechaun (he is always lucky, but manages to fumble it away); of course there are Stephi, Lula, and Connie from the bailbonds office; Diesel appears from Stephi's past - another man in her life; a short guy hired by Grandma Mazur; the gangster Delvina; and a horse to add to the adventures and misadventures. Of course there is the money. You will have to read the novel to see how it all shakes out. The novel is not great literature, but is extremely funny. ROFL. Some scenes towards the end had me laughing so hard I had trouble continuing. It is a short novel, and a quick read, at 166 pages with 28 lines per page somewhat widely spaced in easy reading type. It contains what a friend would call earthy language. I would personally classify it as PG-13.


The Appeal (Hardcover)by John Grisham (Author)

The jury was ready. After forty-two hours of deliberations that followed seventy-one days of trial that included 530 hours of testimony from four dozen witnesses, and after a lifetime of sitting silently as the lawyers haggled and the judge lectured and the spectators watched like hawks for telltale signs, the jury was ready. Locked away in the jury room, secluded and secure, ten of them proudly signed their names to the verdict while the other two pouted in their corners, detached and miserable in their dissension. There were hugs and smiles and no small measure of self-congratulation because they had survived this little war and could now march proudly back into the arena with a decision they had rescued through sheer determination and the dogged pursuit of compromise. Their ordeal was over; their civic duty complete. They had served above and beyond. They were ready. The foreman knocked on the door and rustled Uncle Joe from his slumbers. Uncle Joe, the ancient bailiff, had guarded them while he also arranged their meals, heard their complaints, and quietly slipped their messages to the judge. In his younger years, back when his hearing was better, Uncle Joe was rumored to also eavesdrop on his juries through a ?imsy pine door he and he alone had selected and installed. But his listening days were over, and, as he had con?ded to no one but his wife, after the ordeal of this particular trial he might just hang up his old pistol once and for all. The strain of controlling justice was wearing him down.--From Chapter One of The Appeal
Politics has always been a dirty game.Now justice is, too.In a crowded courtroom in Mississippi, a jury returns a shocking verdict against a chemical company accused of dumping toxic waste into a small town’s water supply, causing the worst “cancer cluster” in history. The company appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, whose nine justices will one day either approve the verdict or reverse it.Who are the nine? How will they vote? Can one be replaced before the case is ultimately decided?The chemical company is owned by a Wall Street predator named Carl Trudeau, and Mr. Trudeau is convinced the Court is not friendly enough. With judicial elections looming, he decides to try to purchase himself a seat on the Court. The cost is a few million dollars, a drop in the bucket for a billionaire like Mr. Trudeau. Through an intricate web of conspiracy and deceit, his political operatives recruit a young, unsuspecting candidate. They finance him, manipulate him, market him, and mold him into a potential Supreme Court justice. Their Supreme Court justice.The Appeal is a powerful, timely, and shocking story of political and legal intrigue, a story that will leave readers unable to think about our electoral process or judicial system in quite the same way ever again

About the Author

JOHN GRISHAM has written nineteen previous novels and one work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, published in 2006. He lives in Virginia and Mississippi.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Secret (Hardcover) by Rhonda Byrne Review !!!

I have been interested in the power of the mind for many years now, and I was very excited to see this video. It was just awful, and for the life of me I can't understand what others are seeing in it. It rang like an infomercial to me. You've seen the ones, get wealthy with little effort, eat what you want and never gain weight. I think the power of the mind can help us deal with the strife in our lives, and to me that is the real secret. Anyone who is going through hard times can focus their mind on their many blessings and start to feel grateful. It isn't that your life around you changes as much as your perception does. Let me give an example: A close friend's mother was dying of a incurable disease. My friend was heartbroken and extremely angry that this was happening to her. Over time, she started to look at the blessings that were a result of the situation. Some of the blessings included the fact that she still had time to spend getting to know her mother better, a wake up call that her own time on earth is precious, the nourishment of the soul that occurs when you care for another person. Did her thoughts manifest a perfect reality where the illness didn't occur? No. Did her thoughts imbue this experience with meaning? Yes. This is how our thoughts can turn a situation around for us. I am so offended at the "get rich" aspect of the video. That we all just have to focus on having a new car, money and mansions and it will happen. Some of my greatest lessons in gratitude have come from realizing I have enough now. I believe we should use our positive thoughts to find meaning in the existence we already have and to enrich our spiritual lives. Doubtless, positive thoughts and believing you are worthy of love and abundance will open you up to receive more of the same, but it is not some kind of magic spell and it is not a secret. Which leads me to another complaint. Whatever happened to taking action? They show a little boy wishing for a bike. How about earning money and saving for it? Then there were the adults who said they wouldn't look at their bills or the guy who said he just thought about getting checks in the mail! You have to work for your goals. Positive thinking can help you envision succeeding and make you open to new opportunities, but it won't magically pay your bills. By far the most offensive part of the message is the suggestion that people who have pain in their lives are somehow attracting it with their thoughts. Darfur rape victims did not ask for it. Children who are molested did not ask for it. Starving Africans did not ask for it. To suggest that their "incorrect thinking" is the cause of this is sickening. Positive thoughts may help you endure pain, and help you find meaning in it, but it will not end random violence, illness and war. Shame on anyone who tells a sick person that they are manifesting it themselves, that they don't want to get well badly enough. For much better texts on the power of thought check out the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz or Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Or go to a 12 step program which has many of the same ideas. I've only scratched the surface of my complaints. I didn't touch on the poor acting, the twisting of historical facts, the contradictions of some of the speakers. I dearly wish I could take back my money, and I hope my words will stop someone else from supporting this muck. If you must watch it, borrow it from your library or watch it online at a cheaper cost. But I honestly can't recommend it to anyone.


Atonement (Paperback) by Ian Mcewan Review

I picked up this good-looking book with no advance knowledge of its plot - just a liking for other works of its author - and I'm grateful for that, and won't give away the story here. I was grabbed by its first description, and held closely throughout. McEwan has created characters who are so fully realized that I felt as if I had known them for years. It's an amazing story, though not at all far-fetched. It's slyly easy to read - think "page-turner" - but it is about vitally important things. In addition considerable historic research went into it, and that's a delicious plus.
McEwan invites you into an English world that you will smell, hear, feel, and taste - and your mind and emotions will be fully engaged. The family has money and servants but this is nothing you've seen on television or the movies. The story is told with discipline and control, and from several points of view. The people are palpably real. It's a tightly organized and satisfying assemblage of the things that matter, among them family life, childhood, debt and obligation, loyalty, imagination, faith and hope, innocence and guilt, love, desire, varieties of destruction - and the urge to make a difference. Finally: war and peace. (In fact, you might be reminded of Tolstoy in more than a few ways.) In addition it's a fierce and moving meditation on the life of the mind and creativity. At the same time, McEwan's powers of description are such that all of your senses are never anything but fully engaged. English country life in the 1930's - a heat wave, and the fragrance of wildflowers, the feel of a silk dress that is sticking to skin, the thick dark of a moonless summer night - through the horrors of the Second World War (Dunkirk most dramatically and effectively) and beyond. It is either sheer brilliance, or a deeply humane urge, or maybe just a workmanlike sense, but McEwan takes full responsibility for each of his characters- and sees them through to the end.
Nearly every page has something unselfconsciously remarkable to think about - or to reconsider. I used my pencil throughout; there is so much that is wise or just plain awe-inspiring in this book. McEwan has accomplished something amazing. I'm telling friends to read the book first, reviews second. The story is so terrific, and so moving and important - and might unfold best for the reader who comes to it blissfully uninformed. It's not very often that I've felt transformed by a novel. Read it as soon as you can.


The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Paperback) by Michael Pollan Review !!!

I didn't expect to learn much from Michael Pollan's new book, _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ - since I write and talk regularly about the problems of industrial agriculture, local food production and sustainability, I thought that while I'd probably enjoy his writing (I took a great deal of pleasure in his prior books on gardening), his book would be enlightening to a rather different audience than myself. But, in fact, I did learn a great deal. Pollan's gift is to entertainingly present complexities, without being weighed down by his own excellent scholarship - it is a gift, to know that much about something and to know which bits of evidence will compell and which will merely bore. He's an enormously erudite guy, without being even slightly dull. Several people I know who are far less engaged by food issues than I say they found it compelling and readable. I will add up front, that one of the two things that most irritated me about this book was that in the mid-1980s, Margaret Visser, a brilliant food writer, wrote a very similar book, _Much Depends on Dinner_. Neither the book nor the author were particularly obscure - the book won several awards, and Visser went on to write another one about table manners (great book, btw, and highly recommended), and the books were published by Pollan's own publisher. And yet, Pollan's book does not cite or acknowledge the book, even though many of the chapters (those on chicken and corn especially) were very similar in their approach and analysis. Someone, either Pollan in his research (which, I think, was otherwise good), or his editor missed something - because the concept of eating a meal and being outraged by the history of its context is not his. Visser's book, particularly the chapter on rice, which I read in high school, was my biggest early influence in thinking about food, so it rankles me (even though these things happen in books) that Pollan ignored her. But returning to the main point, I did learn a great deal from Pollan - I found out, among other things, exactly what Xanthan gum is (hadn't you always wondered, even if you knew it couldn't be good?), made a connection I'd never perceived before between the widespread alcoholism in America in the 19th century and the widespread obesity of today (both due to the need to use up agricultural excesses of corn) and heard as concise and compelling an account of the complexities of farm subsidies as I've heard before. I hadn't thought, for example that anyone could give me any more reasons not to eat at McDonalds, but Pollan added a couple. The first section of the book traces a meal at McDonalds back to its basic ingredient - corn. From the corn that feeds the chickens to the xanthan gum in the milkshake to the sweetener in the ketchup and oil in which the fries are cooked, McDonalds is mostly corn. Since Fast Food Nation and the other exposes, I don't think there's anyone who cares who doesn't know how gross fast food is, and Pollan admirably stays away from the yuckiness factor (not that there isn't reason to go there, but it has been rather overdone of late). Instead, he goes to the aesthetic one, accusing Americans who eat fast food of having become like koalas, capable of absorbing only corn, to terrible cost. In some sense, as someone who likes to eat, his description of our reliance upon (and the costs thereof) corn is more grotesque than any expose of slaughterhouses could be. He then describes the history of two organic meals, one of them bought on a trip to whole foods, and an industrially produced organic meal, the other local, sustainable and produced to a large degree from Joel Salatin's Polyface farm, where he acted as reporter/farm hand for a week. It may be here that Pollan's book is most valuable, because it makes a distinction that your average Mom who buys at Whole foods has never made - that industrial organic food is more industrial than organic. This book has been roundly hyped on NPR and in the New York Times, and has the potential to change a lot of minds - and despite my later critiques, I will be enormously grateful if Pollan can simply convince people to look beyond the word organic and think about the costs of their food to the environment and the people who grow it. This is a potentially influential book, and Pollan does not make the mistake that many, many food writers make, of reading the word "organic" to mean sustainable. While acknowledges that large scale, organic, industrial food is better than nothing, he doesn't cut it a lot of slack for its drenching in fossil fuels, use and sometimes misuse of migrant labor, and general unsustainability. Perhaps his best writing in the book is when he attempts to analyze whether it is possible to grow food sustainably and well on any scale at all, and when he concludes that you can't, someone like me, who is trying to grow food on a small scale, looks up ready to cheer. Because such a conclusion should lead inevitably to the next step - ie, to the idea that the only solution to the problem of industrial agriculture is that a lot more people have to grow food, both for sale and at home. But he never quite gets there, and that may be the great flaw of the book. Still, however, I think that the line that the distinctions Pollan does draw are deeply helpful, and could potentially change things a great deal. In the final section, Pollan eats a meal that he has hunted, or gathered, or grown himself. In doing this, he spends a lot of time coming to terms with hunting and meat eating (he kills his own chicken for dinner at Polyface farm, and also purchases a steer destined for McDonalds, although its final end is as much of a mystery as such things could possibly ever be). Here is where, I expected, Pollan will figure out how we might reasonably eat, humanely and sustainably. But in fact, the last chapter could be described as "Yuppie Jewish guy goes hunting for the first time" - and not just any kind of hunting, but hunting for wild boar in the California mountains with a bunch of European chefs bent on recreating the food of their homelands for Chez Panisse. Pollan may be violating the traditions of his Jewish upbringing (Jews don't hunt, not just because they are often urbanites, but because the laws of kashruth forbid it, and the sense of it as unfitting has lingered long past the observation of the law in other respects for many Jews), but he never actually leaves his class behind. And that is one of the deeper problems of the book - the meal he seeks to make is not a deer burger and homemade potato fries, but wine-braised leg of boar with boar liver pate and cherry something or other (admittedly, it sounded terrific). Intermittently throughout the book, Pollan attempts to deal with the problem of elitism - whether or not sustainable food is yuppie food. And there's a legitimate case to be made that there is. Pollan, of course, points out the illogic both of what we spend on food (less than anyone in the world) and the externalities that are not figured into the cost of the McDonalds meal, but he never gets down and dirty with the question of class. He quotes Joel Salatin on the subject that regulation adds more to his cost than organic production, notes the costs of meals and that Salatin's customers are mixed in economic situation, but he never fully addresses who it is who mostly eats fast food and who it is who mostly eats organic, and the all-important whys of that question. When Pollan finally gets down to the ultimate local meal, the chapter is mostly about his angst over killing animals and meat eating (although it was fun to watch Pollan duke it out intellectually with Peter Singer), but it all gets played out over a meal with class overtones so profound and powerful that you cannot escape them. Going boar hunting with a sicilian chef doesn't seem to have much relevance to going deer hunting with a bunch of blue collar guys who live next door, nor is the meal he plans to produce something that anyone could make and eat very often. Speaking as someone who does not hunt (that kosher thing) but whose father did, and who believes that human predation is a perfectly normal thing, and preferrable, say, to having lyme disease from an excess of white-tailed deer (oh, it isn't that easy, of course, but I'll write more on vegetarianism and meat eating another time), I think Pollan ends up using the meal he decided to make as a way of choosing to avoid the logical conclusion of his writing, and the book is the poorer for it. The closing chapter is not about how we could eat, but about the impossibility of producing our own food, and, to a large degree, about the impossibility of even eating sustainably. And I think to a large degree that's because he chose a meal that is unreproducable for millions - as opposed to the simple, ordinary chicken and corn or french fries of his organic and conventional prior meals. His conclusions, drawn from his experiences on Salatin's farm and of hunting and gathering (and presumably of eating at McDonalds) are implicitly that sustainable eating is never going to happen on any great scale. At the end of his section on Salatin's farm, he likens Salatin to Luther, creating his own new denominations of people for whom food quality and healthfulness matters, small niches of (elitist) people who care about their food in the great wilderness. But implying this suggests that most other people (I wonder who - the ones who eat at McDonalds more and are mostly of a different class?) don't actually care deeply about their food's taste, health and environmental cost. And his final set of conclusions are deeply disappointing to me, personally. Because he creates the ground work for a fairly simple conclusion - industrial scale food production, whether organic or non, is a failure, a disaster for those who care about ethics or the environment. In a way, it doesn't matter whether what you care about is the suffering of animals (industrial slaughter) or the suffering of humans (malnutrition), the extermination of songbirds (pesticides) or rising cancer rates (pesticides) or the extermination of everyone due to global warming, the conclusion that Pollan expertly and gracefully leads us to - ie, that many more people need to take a role in their own food systems, both by buying locally, encouraging the creation of millions of new small farms instead of an expanding industrial system, and by growing some of their own (or hunting it, or foraging), is finally left off, in the interest of implying that the problem is irresolvable. This, I think, is rather a cheap ending, and an unfair one to the person who has sorted through the complexities of his arguments and analysis and comes out wanting to know what to do next. Pollan tells us at the very end, referring to his home produced meal and the one from McDonalds, "...these meals are equally unreal and equally unsustainable." But the fact that the home produced meal is unsustainable and unreproducable is his choice - because a dinner of potatoes and eggs with salad, equally local, equally gathered, is sustainable and available to anyone with a bit of backyard if they want it. By implying that self-provisioning is a fantasy in this modern world, Pollan essentially suggests we leave the farming to the farmers - but there simply aren't enough farmers to have a small, local, organic farm everywhere. If we're to reduce our footprint more than anyone can by hopping over to whole foods in the SUV and picking up a box of whole wheat mac and cheese and some organic apples from China, people are going to have to take some responsibility for feeding themselves. No, they don't have to go hunt wild boar. But they might have to grow a garden, or make possible a nearby farm. They might have to encourage their children to grow up to be farmers. And they might have to imagine a world in which feeding oneself is not either a work of magic or a work of industry, but simply the ordinary job that ordinary people have been doing for thousands of years.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

iPhone: The Missing Manual [ILLUSTRATED] (Paperback) by David Pogue

When I first saw the release of iPhone: The Missing Manual by David Pogue, I wanted to review it. Never mind that I didn't yet *have* an iPhone... I just like the style of the Missing Manual series. But when my wife surprised me with my very own 8GB iPhone, getting a copy of this book became a priority. And while it's possible to get quite a bit from just the user interface, there *are* things you'll want to know that aren't covered in the "Finger Tips" documentation. Pogue's book absolutely shines when it comes to taking your experience level up a notch... Contents: Part 1 - The iPhone as Phone: The Guided Tour; Phone Calls; Fancy Phone Tricks Part 2 - The iPhone as iPod: Music and Video; Photos and Camera Part 3 - The iPhone Online: Getting Online; The Web; Email; Maps and Apps Part 4 - Beyond iPhone: iTunes for iPhoners; Syncing the iPhone; Add-Ons - Accessories and Web Apps; Settings Part 5 - Appendixes: Setup and Signup; Troubleshooting and Maintenance Index It's a real testimony to the designers of the iPhone that you can pack this much functionality into a device and get away without including a sizable manual. I probably had 60% to 70% of the functions figured out in the first couple of hours with no help. But iPhone: The Missing Manual is perfect for understanding those areas not used as often, as well as gaining some deeper understanding of *why* some things work as they do. For instance, I was a little confused as to why Flash files wouldn't play. But David explains the reasoning behind that (whether you agree with Apple or not is a different story). I also didn't know how much YouTube had done to accommodate iPhone users. And the explanation of how the keyboard works, as well as shortcuts you might not stumble onto yourself, is worth the price of the book alone. I also appreciated his coverage throughout the book on battery life. That was the first thing I noticed about the iPhone when I started using it. Where I could go a week or so before recharging a normal cell phone, I was now looking at recharging the iPhone every couple of days. Pogue does a very good job in pointing out what features are power hogs, which ones are "battery-friendly", and what you can do to conserve your battery time if you're not going to be able to recharge right away. I now know why my fascination with using the web browser was causing nightly recharges... :) Yes, you could download the PDF iPhone manual from Apple and learn most of what's covered here. In fact, it's probably a good idea to do so regardless of whether you buy this book or not. But if you want a non-Apple-biased view of how things work (or don't), iPhone: The Missing Manual will give it to you straight. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go spend some more quality time with my new toy and book...