This post's purpose is two fold in nature. First, I wanted to shoot you a review of a book I read recently. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. There is a reason this book is a big seller. I had been meaning to read it for months, and finally got around to it. I regret waiting as long as I did.
I got turned on to Steven and Stephen via their podcasts, which come out very irregularly, but are very interesting. The book is about the research of Mr. Levitt, an economist who looks at the world differently. He claims not to be great at math, and to have a limited understanding of economics in the way that most people think of economics. He says that if someone asks him "what the stock market is going to do", he has little point of reference and little ability to answer that question.
Levitt is interested in economics in a broader sense of the word. He is interested in economics as a way to study human behavior in general. He studies what he says drives us all: incentives. He answers bizarre questions like "what do real estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan have in common?"
The book has no cohesive underlying theme. It is just a few very well written chapters exploring some of the interesting topics that Levitt has studied during his career as a (now) well known and well respected economist.
The book even caused some controversy based on some of the research contained in it. It shows statistical evidence that the rapid decline in the national crime rate starting in the mid 1990's was not due to an increase in police, an increase in imprisonment rates, or even a massive influx of sophisticated crime fighting techniques in major cities around America. Levitt's numbers show that the biggest contributing factor to the drop in the crime rate was the Roe v. Wade supreme court decision which legalized elective abortion in the US. Despite the hubbub created by his assertion, I have seen no evidence anywhere that can readily dispute his research.
The book slaps you in the face with it's candidness. He says simply that, by the numbers, abortions are disproportionately performed for women who are young, poor, and socioeconomically ill prepared for a child. He draws the conclusion that these unborn children would have been the very ones most likely to have entered into a life of crime, because of these conditions. The mid 1990's correlates with the time when those first children to have not been born would have been reaching their "criminal prime", or their late teens and early twenties. Levitt and Dubner, of course, take no side publicly on the abortion debate, but merely state the facts as they see them.
The book also recounts how Levitt helped the Chicago public school system weed out teachers that were blatantly cheating on their students' standardized tests in an effort to mask their own poor performance. The teachers were fired when he was able to prove that they had cheated. His methodology, something you might imagine to be boring or tedious, is actually fascinating when Dubner and Levitt team up to describe it to you in this book. No matter what they are talking about, they keep you turning the page until the end when you wind up wishing there was more to read. I hope they decide to write another book. Seeing as how their first book was so successful, and everyone acts strictly on incentive, I can't imagine why they wouldn't.
I forgot that I was reading a book that (supposedly) had some basis in economic theory, or that I was reading a book based on some guy who gets off on exotic data sets. Levitt and Dubner will help you get off on those same data sets, whether you are a fan of Roe v. Wade or not.
I give this book a rating of five "Charles Heads". Steve and Steve deserve it. And you should read it.
The coveted five head rating
Ok, now that we have that out of the way we can move onto the second portion of this post: you torturing me.
I have recently finished the other book I was reading, and need to start another. Here's where the fun starts. We are having a contest of sorts, in which you get to turn me from this...
"How are we going to torture Charles," you might ask. Here's how: I am going to list three books that I presume to be total crap, and you guys get to vote on which one you want me to get and read. I will get the book tomorrow evening.
Your choices are as follows:
#1- The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama
As is the case with most (99%) of the politicians administrating for the federal government, I find Obama to be another in a long line of scam artists. I am perturbed by much of what he does and even more perturbed by the seemingly arrogant "I know better than anyone else" way in which he does it. He is no real friend to the socially liberal, which is a shame, and he is certainly no friend of anyone who understands that (as Levitt and Dubner would remind us) an economy is run on incentives.
What? We were supposed to just start trusting the government because it had a different face to it all of a sudden?
I don't relish exposing myself to any more of this guy's elitist rhetoric, but I do have an interest in understanding a little more about his background. I'm not one of these jerks who thinks he's an Al Queda plant, and I'm not by any means saying he's worse than W. Bush. I'm just saying that the worst parts of the Patriot Act were extended by him, he hasn't taken us out of a state of war, and his health care plan is a bailout for the insurance companies. Not worse than Bush. If he's better, though, it's only by a thin margin.
#2- Going Rogue, by Sarah Palin
Since I despise both sides of that aisle in American politics pretty much equally, we're balancing Obama's book with this one.
While I anticipate Obama's book to be full of bleeding heart, rich-man-knows-best, Chicago-style partisan crap, I anticipate an equal amount of crap from this woman's book. Every time I hear her talk, I just want to use an electric drill to give myself a lobotomy.
It's not just that she is that very annoying (and she is). It's that she is respected by so many people who make big decisions in our country. I can't believe this woman gets air time at all. I can't believe that republicans and Tea Partiers (sorry about the redundancy there) come out in droves to support her and her cause. If she had stayed in Alaska and been a "hockey mom", maybe I could respect her. But somehow the GOP has engineered her to be palatable to their base as a politician. She appears to be too disconnected from reality to be anything but a brainless GOP puppet (let's mention Bush again here).
The lady represents to me, as usual, more of the same: national level (or aspiring national level) politicians imposing their will on a populace ever weakened by a torrent of mind numbing media designed to keep us from seeing the truth. The two party system-machine is a single installation with a single purpose.
She is prettier than Obama and Bush put together, though. And I hear she can field dress a deer double-quick.
I am sure that it will be painful to get through this book, but I am interested in it in the same way I am interested in Obama's book.
#3- Twilight, by Whoever the Fuck Writes "Twilight"
I don't know. I mean... a whole series based on nothing but pale shirtless boys suffering mal-nutrition and biting each other?
I could just go rent a couple of John Waters movies and actually get a laugh out of stories of intense sexual confusion. Seems easier and more pleasant.
I have said a million times that I would never read this. But here is your chance. If you don't want to hear me go off on political tangents a couple of book reviews from now, then you should vote for this one, so I can instead bag on cross-dressing emo kids and other diseases of youth. (I don't have anything against cross dressers per se, I just think that a self-respecting cross-dresser should have the decency to be a real sexual deviant of the freakiest calibre, not some hungry junior high kid who is sad 'cause he can't throw a football.) I don't at all understand the hype behind this particular portion of the brainwashing machine, but it's always good to know the enemy, so I am willing to give it a read through if that's what you decide. It will hurt, of that I am certain.
So the polling will be open until sometime late tomorrow afternoon. Get your votes in, in the comments section below, and I will get reading ASAP. If you are a supporter of Palin, Obama, or Twilight, unleash your disgust with me by voting for the corresponding book. Or if you just want to make me whine a lot, pick the book which you think I will dislike the most on a personal level.
I promise to be even handed in my review. If I like the book and am proven wrong, I will humbly let you all know. I've been proven wrong before. About 3 billion times, by my count. Happy voting.