Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was a kid - probably when I was 12. I made my way through the other books in the series as well, so I know I loved it. As an adult, I saw the movie and it ruined the story for me. But having sufficiently forgotten the movie now, I read the book again and I found that it mostly stands up.

Also, I googled the word "tesseract" and I enjoy the crazy internet rabbit hole it takes you down: geometry, architecture, religion, science.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Return of Tarzan (Tarzan, #2)The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Very strange, very racist conclusion to part 1 of Tarzan. If you were unsatisfied with the ending of the first one, this will conclude the story more completely, so there's that. I know it sounds like I shouldn't be excited to read the third one, but the third one is called Beasts of Tarzan so I'm actually really excited to read it.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life InsuranceSuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate this book a little (like the previous one) because it's making me challenge some of my strongly held liberal beliefs. But I'm going to breathe through it and educate myself more on the topics that concern me.

I will say, that again, the writers seem to have left out a lot of things in service to their particular points. For example there was no discussion in all of their positive talk about global climate change that while we wait for solutions certain species are disappearing from the planet while other invasive species are doing a lot of damage in the wrong- suddenly warmer climates. The latter is fixable but the former is possibly permanent, especially for species that have not been genetically mapped.

Also, wash your hands, people!

I know I've been reading especially quickly lately, but I have insomnia and what else am I going to do?

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Freakonomics, #1)Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I read this book years ago, but (re?)reading it today, I'm not sure I actually did read it before. It deals a lot with the causes of crime (with regards to abortion, bagels, crack dealing, and guns) cheating (in education, real estate, and um, sumo wrestling), and the prevalence of racism.

The thing that I like about this book is that it relies on data for it arguments on cause and effect in public policy with little to no regard for whether the results happen to align with liberal or conservative ideologies. For years I've argued that our political parties are a mish-mosh of beliefs that don't necessarily fit together in any logical way.

There are a number of things I don't like about this book:

1) It explains some general statistics and regression analysis only towards the end of the book, even though a lot of the data referenced in the book depends on an understanding of this. When they finally explain correlation, even where their isn't a relationship of causation, the authors offer a number of guesses about why the two factors are correlated. Can we do better than guesses? Also these correlation guesses also seem to bias the reader.

2) For those of us who do have some understanding of statistics and studies, the authors don't provide enough information about the studies and data to let us decide for ourselves how accurate the data, or how rigorous the studies are. This despite the fact that the authors talk at length about inaccurate causes from other sources.

3) Because the book jumps around between topics with "no unifying theme" as the authors claim, there is no real deep examination of any issue that allows the reader to form a fully informed thought on an issue. Certainly I'm more interested in the causes of crime now, but I don't particularly have a handle on all the available information or applications of the information. For example, on the issue of guns, the writers present a number of interesting points. Gun ownership in Switzerland is high and they don't have as high a crime rate so "guns don't cause crime." Okay, but do guns cause more death? Why isn't there a comparison with Japan which has no guns, but still has crime- and compare how many crimes result in death? Data divorced of real context is pretty useless. Unfortunately the book jumps around too much to provide adequate context and data for any of the issues it discusses.

4) I understand that morality is not the job of economists but at the same time some application of some moral system is necessary when examining these issues. A number of time the writers joke that a sufficiently high disincentive would cure the problem. For example, if you want to cure bagel theft, you could consistently apply the death penalty. (I'm not sure if this was an actual example in the book but it's close.) Of course the writers are joking! Sort of. They're not joking that would work but they concede that it's out of bounds for most politicians. This leaves the reader unmoored in the very real world of their statistics of cause and effect. It's not enough to say that "some Americans are uncomfortable with number of citizens" in jail, but to apply a real analysis to applying the solutions of imprisonment instead of increasing education, opportunity, and quality of life. Instead the writers seem to dash those off by negating the effects of an improved economy. Is it possible that the gains of a good economy are not affecting all equally for example? Likewise, the emphasis the writers place on abortion is not in any way balanced by the same exploration of increased opportunities, contraception, education, or even incentives to put babies up for adoption for disadvantaged populations.

I get it, data is king. I'm a believer. But failing to paint a complete portrait of the issues results in the partial data. This partial data can be just as misleading as the absence of data. By focusing on one problem at a time and considering all the related issues and data for thinking about the problem holistically the writers might help clarify thought rather than just further confusing it.

Still 4 stars.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov

Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire, #3)Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my favorite one in the Galactic Empire series, and you don't need to read the other two to understand this one. It's basically unrelated except that it exists in the same universe.

This story is about the intersection of racism, science, religion, intergalactic colonialism, and biological warfare. So it's a pretty advanced little novel.

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