Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Books and Authors at CPAC 2010

Last weekend I covered the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., for The Metro Herald and for my two blogs, Rick Sincere News and Thoughts and the one you are reading.

Over the two days I was there, I had several opportunities to speak with authors who were selling and inscribing their books for the 10,000 or so attendees from around the United States.

I asked each author to give me an "elevator speech": introduce himself (they all turned out to be male, but that was not by design), describe the book, and explain why a viewer or listener will want to buy the book.

Among the authors I recorded were the chairman of the Cato Institute, Robert Levy; the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist; former White House speech writer Matt Latimer; and 14-year-old wunderkind Jonathan Krohn. You'll see the others in the list below, in alphabetical order.

John Fund, on the revised and updated edition of his book, Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy:
Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, on his book Grandma's Not Shovel-Ready!, an illustrated account of the Tea Party 9/12 March on Washington in September 2009:
Jonathan Krohn, the loquacious teenaged author of Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back:
Former presidential speech writer Matt Latimer has written a memoir about his time in the George W. Bush administration called Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor:
Bob Levy is co-author, with Chip Mellor, of The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom:
Political activist Grover Norquist has written a book about the "Leave Us Alone Coalition" entitled, naturally, Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives:
Finally, Heritage Foundation constitutional scholar Matthew Spalding is the author of We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future:

VaBook10: Countdown to Virginia Festival of the Book

Monday, February 15, 2010

'Shattered Mirrors,' by Monroe Price

This book review first appeared in The Washington Times on Monday, September 25, 1989.

Can our civil rights survive AIDS?

By Monroe Price
Harvard University Press
$19.95, l60 pages

In “Shattered Mirrors: Our Search for Identity and Community in the AIDS Era,” Monroe Price, dean of the law school at Yeshiva University, takes an interdisciplinary approach to explore values and behavior during the AIDS years.

Though the topic is specifically AIDS, this slim volume actually contains a wide-ranging reflection upon the sources of contemporary American culture. It also focuses on the contradictory forces that influence our society and the paradoxes that ensue.

Mr. Price argues that AIDS has had an irreversible, if sometimes unapparent, impact upon our culture. To some this might seem to be an irrefutable assertion. Indeed, since millions of people may be carrying the AIDS virus (HIV) and many thousands of those are likely to become ill and die from the disease, the reverberations from AIDS are being felt widely and deeply However, Mr. Price’s argument rests upon an assumption that AIDS, either as an illness or as a social phenomenon, has been much more pervasive than is actually the case.

Because of this faulty assumption, one of the two main themes explored in” Shattered Mirrors” — whether the First Amendment can survive the health crisis — seems misguided. The other major theme, which, appropriately for a lawyer, focuses on the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection (primarily under the 14th Amendment), travels on much firmer ground.

Mr. Price asserts that “the AIDS crisis has jolted our confidence” in the concept of the marketplace of ideas, which ‘gives the nod to the winner in ideology in cultural styles, and in advocacy of various modes of consumption” (that is, in political speech, artistic and literary speech, and commercial speech). Insofar as this marketplace of ideas is “unfettered, it has produced cultural ideas and habits that are a risk to the public’s health.”

Because the government has seen fit to offer advice and counsel on personal behavior during the AIDS crisis, and may in the future, if it has not already done so, join forces with organized religious groups in an effort to influence cultural norms, Mr. Price believes that First Amendment freedoms of speech and of the press are threatened.

This assertion deserves much scrutiny, Certainly, we already have seen some self-censorship in the media: James Bond has fewer ladies to love, condoms are used to comic effect in movies and on television, rock musicians sing about delaying sexual gratification. There has been, fortunately, no attempt by the state to coerce such censorship. It has been a marketing decision. If Hollywood believes that sex doesn’t sell as well as it used to, let it act on that belief. Hollywood could, after all, be entirely mistaken and too cautious.

The government’s entry into the AIDS debate, and into an educational role (aimed both at children and adults), is not significantly different from the government’s role in public discussions or education on other issues.

To support his assertions that AIDS poses a threat to traditional First Amendment values and protections, Mr. Price invokes an “AIDS-as-war” simile that simply does not wash. AIDS is not comparable to the Black Death, to the influenza epidemic of 1918, or to belligerent attacks by a foreign power. The disease is quite difficult to transmit, far less contagious than influenza or the bubonic plague.

Indeed, the numbers of people affected —at least in the United States, which is the sole focus of this study — are far narrower than such comparisons suppose. There has not been, and if Michael Fumento is correct, there will not be, the long-anticipated breakout of the disease into the larger population beyond the two groups that have been primarily affected, homosexual men and intravenous drug users.

Because of this, however, Mr. Price has a much stronger argument when he says that the AIDS crisis poses a threat to the Constitution’s equal-protection guarantees. Two groups of people, long marginalized by society turn out to be those most affected by a deadly disease. There are attempts by other citizens — including national leaders — to play upon archaic prejudices in order to isolate these groups even more.

Featuring Congressional Record screeds by Rep. William Dannemeyer of California and Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, this movement takes special aim at homosexual men, mostly because — unlike intravenous drug users, who tend to come from the underclass and the politically irrelevant — the homosexual community is large, organized and affluent. To the New Right, the homosexual community and its allies pose a threat to hallowed values. Add to this the hysteria whipped up by political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche, and we have a recipe for a civil-liberties disaster.

These trends explain why, as Mr. Price argues, “one of the greatest dangers of AIDS to the national consciousness is the threat to the principle, so arduously achieved, that baseless discrimination should be officially condemned and that pnvate biases must not have public expression.”

In a passage that has relevance far beyond the realm of public-health concerns, Mr Price notes that “the constitutional notion of equal protection is complex, though the term is often invoked. We do not live in a system in which some constitutional talisman tells us the ‘right’ method of distributing wealth or health.

“Ours is, for better or for worse, s society that presumes, indeed thrives on, inequities that arise not out of the denial of opportunity itself but out of the differences in the way opportunity is seized. We know that the Constitution does not mean that every person will fare equally well, Yet, when we evaluate a course of government action — at least according to Constitutional traditions — we must ask whether a higher level of scrutiny ought to be exercised because of the very nature of the risk groups affected by the AIDS crisis.”

Citing Justice Harlan Stone, Mr. Price asserts that just as racial minorities can be identified if they are targets of discrimination. “those at risk of obtaining AIDS are subject to the kind of ‘prejudice against discrete and insular minorities’ that tends to affect the operation of political processes in a manner contrary to our basic values.” Mr. Price’s warning from all this: “We should be particularly suspicious when government approach disadvantages a group which, for longstanding reasons, those in control of the legislative process may seek to injure.”

As might be expected, Mr. Price praises the recommendation from the Watkins Commission — the President’s Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome — that Congress should forbid discrimination against those who have AIDS or who are perceived to carry the AIDS virus. President Bush has endorsed this approach. It has become clear in recent years that AIDS-phobia has been used as a thin veil to justify anti-homosexual discrimination in areas where such discrimination is patently unjustified. (Indeed, one must wonder if it ever is justified.)

While these legal and constitutional issues make up the core of Monroe Price’s book, the author has collected many readable anecdotes, microportraits of our culture on the cusp of the l990s. Although some of his arguments fall short of expectations, Mr. Price raises a number of questions that deserve further exploration. In fact, one could read this book not as a definitive description of “identity and community in the AIDS era,” but as a memorandum of suggestions for future research.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based issues analyst and writer.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

News from the Book Review World

Jordan Michael Smith reports in this week's Jewish Daily Forward that a new book review journal will be launched next week (with February 15 the scheduled publication date).  The new periodical will be called the Jewish Review of Books, and, from the illustration that accompanies the Forward article, it looks like its format and appearance will be much like the New York Review of Books.

Smith writes:
A quarterly magazine devoted to Jewish literary and political affairs, the JRB boasts heavy hitters on its editorial board, such as Michael Walzer, Leon Wieseltier and Ruth Wisse. An oversized, stapled newsprint magazine like the New York Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement, the JRB will open with an issue that features contributions from Ron Rosenbaum, Adam Kirsch and Harvey Pekar....

Abraham Socher, the editor ... took a leave from his spot as chair of the Jewish studies program at Oberlin College’s department of religion to launch the JRB. He’s both optimistic about the future of journals of ideas and opinions and well aware of the pitfalls that await any print publication in the 21st century.

“Magazines of ideas, which are willing to address a subject at as much length as is called for, which are willing to let writers be writerly, can remain print publications,” Socher said. Those readers attracted to long-form writing prefer to read their lengthier articles in print and are willing to pay for the privilege, Socher believes. “The great threat to print may be a far greater threat to newspapers and news magazines than it is to literary journals, journals of opinions and policy journals,” he said. The print JRB will be complemented by a Web presence before the end of February.
Given today's unsteady, uncertain environment for print media, launching a new publication -- especially a journal of ideas rather than, say, a gossip, sports, or entertainment magazine -- requires a large measure of bravery and even more confidence.  Not to say chutzpah.

(Cross-posted to Rick Sincere News and Thoughts)

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Digression for VaBook10

Let me interrupt the usual format of this web log to point to a couple of exciting (at least from my perspective) developments.

First, the 2010 Virginia Festival of the Book is coming up next month.  From Wednesday, March 17, through Sunday, March 21, dozens of authors representing a wide range of genres will be in Charlottesville (at multiple venues including City Council chambers, various bookstores, and the Culbreth Theatre on the grounds of the University of Virginia) to discuss their books.  Examples include Karen Spears Zacharias, Bob Zellner, and Elizabeth Zelvin -- and those are just the Z's.  (A complete alphabetical listing can be found here, and listings by topic -- crime wave, family, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and publishing -- are also available.)

It will be my pleasure to be one of four guest book bloggers for the Festival.  The others are Elizabeth McCullough (Cville Words), Bethanne Patrick (The Book Studio), and John Reinhart (Biblio's Bloggins).

I am currently reading one the books whose author will be speaking at the Festival, and I hope to publish a fresh review of that book here soon.

I also hope that, during the Festival, I will be able to conduct short video interviews with some of the authors at the Virginia Festival of the Book, as I did at the National Press Club last November with Frank Aukofer, Joan Biskupic, Ann Coulter, Haynes Johnson, James Reston, Deborah Tannen, Henry Waxman, and others.

For those so inclined, there is a fan page for the 2010 Virginia Festival of the Book on Facebook, and a rather inactive Twitter feed for it, too.  (Don't forget the hash tag, #vabook.)

In other book review news, I will be hosting the Book Review Blog Carnival on March 28.  The current carnival is at Kitsch-Slapped.  The next edition is scheduled to appear on Valentine's Day (February 14) at Mysteries in Paradise.  (The 35th edition of the Book Review Blog Carnival, hosted by Home School Dad, led off with a mention of my review of Rose Marie's memoir, Hold the Roses.)

A news conference to announce some of the events and activities anticipated at the 2010 Virginia Festival of the Book was scheduled for February 10 but postponed because of the inclement weather (that is, the largest snow dump on Central Virginia in recent memory).  It has been rescheduled for February 18 and I plan to be there.

If all goes well, the next post you will find here will be a book review, old or new.