« December 2007 | Main | February 2008 »

Friday, January 25, 2008

Abunga - The Close Minded Bookstore

Abunga LogoIt's Friday afternoon, I'm running out of time to meet my post per week goal, and I just don't have that much motivation, today. So, I'll just briefly discuss a topic that's been on a few other blogs, recently, the new online bookstore, Abunga.com. It was discussed recently on Pharyngula (it even got a follow-up entry), and in an aritcle in the Knoxville News. From their home page, their logo is, "Empowering Decency as your Family Friendly Bookstore. Basically, they "empower decency" by only carrying books that they deem appropriate. Hell, I'll just quote from their site to explain what they do:

Abunga provides three levels of content filtering:
  • Internal Filter – We remove broad classifications of illicit materials by the information classifications set by the publisher. Currently, over 65,000 books are eliminated from our available inventory to protect your family.
  • Individual Customer Block - On any search, any Abunga customer member can click the block button and that particular book will never show up as an offering on their account.
  • Community Block – Abunga records your blocks and if a number of customers block the same product, Abunga will remove it from their offering.

Now, Abunga's perfectly within their rights to run a bookstore this way. I just think it's remarkably silly. As PZ Myers said in his first blog entry on the subject, "This makes no sense to me. There are a lot of books that I deplore, and the way I cope with them is that I don't buy them. I don't go to the manager and tell them that no one else should be allowed to buy them."
In some of the responses I've seen to people defending Abunga, they've brought up the, "but what about the children" defense. It's still silly. We're not talking about a brick and mortar bookstore, here, where a kid could just walk up and start thumbing through An Illustrated History of Pornography. It's an online store. The only way a book is going to be bought is if someone of legal age with a credit card orders it. Who's really being protected, here? And seriously, if you're that worried about your kid ordering illicit material from an online store, what in the hell are you doing letting them on the internet without any oversight?

There is at least one redeeming quality to the company - they donate 5% of every purchase to a charity that the customer chooses (from a list of pre-approved charities).

One last thing I want to point out, if you go visit their page, at least at the time I'm writing this, in the top left corner there's a little picture of a book with one of those "no smoking" type lines through it, right next to the words "Empowering Decency." In fact, I've copied it, and put it at the top of this entry. I think it's a little funny that the first logo you see on a bookstore is a symbol for "no books allowed."

So sure, Abunga has every right to run a bookstore this way, and their customers have every right to shop there. I also have every right to call them a bunch of close minded ignoramuses, and take my business to a company that's a little more open minded, and will let me decide what books I want or don't want to read.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Book Review - The Frog Princess

At my daughter's request (read begging), I recently read The Frog Princess, by E.D. Baker. The book is the first of a series, and I've already promised my daughter that I would read the whole series, so I will post a full review then, and this entry will only be a short review. (Maybe - depending on how the rest of the series shapes up, the final review might not be all that detailed, either.)

This is definitely a children's book - between the Harry Potter, Eragon, and Golden Compass series of books, I've been reading quite a bit of young adult fiction recently, and this book is nowhere close to the level of any of those books. So, don't expect too much. Personally, I thought it was predictable, the characters rather one dimensional, the story not too well developed, and some parts just plain corny, but it was still entertaining, had a few humorous parts, and at least it didn't take very long to read. BUT, I'm not the target audience. My eight year old loves it, and has gone on to read the other books in the series. She's just finished Once Upon a Curse, and started on No Place for Magic. But, keep in mind that she's not reading it entirely voluntarily. For school, she has a weekly reading log, and must read for at least 100 minutes a week for full credit. Still, a few weeks, especially when she was nearing the end of Once Upon a Curse, she's read for longer than she's had to, just to see what was going to happen in the story. I've also heard her laugh out loud a few times while reading the books, and a few times she's liked a passage so much that she's asked me to read it.

So, I guess the verdict is that if you're looking for a book for a child that's graduated from some of the simpler early readers (like the Junie B. Jones series), but isn't quite ready for young adult fiction, yet, then this series may be good for them. It's certainly rated very high on Amazon, and my daughter very much enjoys it. However, it's been so long since I've read any other children's fiction (like one of my favorites as a kid, Edith Nesbit's Five Children and It), that I don't really know how it compares to what else is out there.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sad News

I have no energy this week to get worked up over the things I normally write about on this blog. I just got some sad news. A friend of our family has been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer, and has only a few weeks left to live, at the most. He wasn't a super close friend, which is why we didn't find out until now - the last we saw him in person was over the summer, but my wife had been keeping in touch with his wife through e-mail every couple months or so, and we always had fun every time we got together. It was the type of situation where you always said that you needed to get together more often, but somehow never found the time to do so.

He had just retired a few years ago, and his wife was getting ready to retire this year. Their house was paid off and they were getting their back yard all in order for their kids and grand kids to visit; they'd just recently gotten horses for each of them to ride; they'd already planned a Hawaiin cruise this summer that they'd been putting off for years. Now, they don't get to do any of that. I feel so sorry for him and his wife, and their kids.

It's probably a bit cliche at times like this, but never forget how precious life is. You're only here for a time, and then it's all over. Make the most of it. Enjoy yourself, and enjoy the time you have with the ones you love.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore

Earlier this week, at the bookstore, I decided to have a look to see if they had Lyra's Oxford, a short book written by Phillip Pullman as a kind of mini sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy. I'd already looked the book up on Amazon, and saw that it had a few extras included in it, such as a map of Oxford in Lyra's world, a postcard written by Mary Malone, and a few other things. So, when I saw the card board insert pictured below, at first I thought it was just another of those extras. However, on closer inspection, reading the back, I saw that it wasn't part of the book at all, but a tract produced by the evangelical, creationist organization, Living Waters Ministries.

Golden Compass Collectible Insert
Click on image for larger version, including back of insert - opens in new window

Every single copy of Lyra's Oxford had that insert. When I looked through Pullman's other books, they all had either that insert, or one of the two pictured below. On a hunch, I looked through a few Harry Potter books, and they also all had one of the two inserts pictured below. To see if they were targeting those books specifically, or if it was general propaganda, I checked a few other books at random, but none of the other books I checked had similar inserts.

Million Dollar Insert
Click on image for larger version, including back of insert - opens in new window

Intelligence Test Insert
Click on image for larger version, including back of insert - opens in new window

For those of you not familiar with Living Waters Ministries, it's the organization headed by Ray Comfort. It may not be quite as well known as a few of the other, more prominent creationist organizations, like Answers in Genesis, or the Institute for Creationist Research, but it will always hold a special place for me, since it was a CD made by Ray Comfort that pretty much inspired me to start this blog, and was the topic of my first real blog entry. The arguments were just so ignorant, like mocking the idea of air-breathing fish (bettas, anyone?), that I had to vent somewhere. Since that time, Comfort's gained a little bit of notoriety in the blogosphere. The first I heard of him after my first post was for his argumentum ad bananum, where he tried to use a banana to disprove evolution and prove the literal creation story from Genesis. Not too long ago, when the whole Blasphemy Challenge was causing a minor brouhaha, he challenged the Rational Response Squad, the originators of the whole thing, to a debate, wherein, according to the Christian News Wire, Comfort and his protege, Kirk Cameron, "offered to prove God's existence, absolutely, scientifically, without mentioning the Bible or faith." Needless to say, he did pretty poorly, giving me fodder for another blog entry. In short, Ray Comfort and his organization have pretty much zero credibility with me.

So, imagine my surprise, to flip over what I thought was a bonus feature in a book, and to see WayoftheMasterRadio.com staring back at me. Now, the other two inserts didn't bother me so much. Sure, they're obnoxious, but it's pretty clear that they're not part of the book, and that the publisher didn't put them in there. This Golden Compass Collectible, though, and the way it was disguised, seemed particularly disingenous. And it's not just the insert, itself. Look at the back, at one of the websites it's advertising, www.goldencoNNpass.com. At least they made it so that a person would have to type "n" twice, so it's not such a simple typo, but that's getting awfully close to cybersquatting.

Well, there's not really much commentary to add - these inserts kind of speak for themselves. I do have something else to add, however. When I did a Google search for "Golden Compass Collectible," I found the following page, which is apparently part of an online store for Living Waters Canada. You can buy a 100 pack of these tracts for $7.99. But, if you buy in bulk, they'll let them go for the low, low price of $5.99. Maybe it's just me, but I always thought bulk discounts were for profit making enterprises, to try to convince people to buy more of your product. I would have thought that good Christians would have been selling those tracts for the manufacturing costs, to allow more people to spread the word.

Updated 2013-04-19: I fixed the link to the video of Ray Comfort, the old argumentum ad bananum had been taken down. I also provided a Wayback Machine link to the online store page for the Golden Compass tract. Unfortunately, the Wayback Machine doesn't have a link to the old Living Waters Canada page, but they do have a new website, so I linked to that, instead.

« December 2007 | Main | February 2008 »