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Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Time Event
10:52p
It's super-freaky, Yow...
Oh, yeah, tell me you don't hear Rick James' funk classic when the title of this book comes up! I don't know exactly what prompted me to order Levitt & Dubner's SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, except that I'd read its predecessor, Freakonomics a few months back. As is often the case in the movie biz, the sequel seemed (to me, at least) much weaker than the original.

The subjects here, while "fascinating" in their own rights, I suppose, were (generally speaking) more diffuse and less pointed than those of the first book. The first chapter, nominally about prostitution, started out strongly enough (especially for a Chicagoan) in dealing with the Everleigh Club, and wandered into comparisons of top-end escorts vs. street whores, then looked at pimps in relation to Realtors, and eventually got into the career options for modern women, which somehow led to the conclusion that one of the challenges the country has been having is that top-notch women, who in generations past would have been likely to have ended up as stellar school teachers, are now ending up with MBAs and pursuing a wide range of other options, leaving the teaching jobs to, well (as the old saw would have it) "those who can't". Again, this drifts around quite a bit, and one keeps wondering where the actual focus is. The second chapter, supposedly on terrorists, also begins oddly looking at sports and birth dates and family relations, before moving into terrorism (with the observation that, like many "name" revolutionaries, most terrorists come from the mid-to-upper class, and that one can "think of terrorism as civic passion on steroids"), and veering into the aftermath of 9/11 and from there into a look at Craig Feied's efforts with emergency medicine and computer systems, which then led back into a look at how to use computers to profile the likely terrorists in any given population! The third chapter looks at "apathy and altruism", and is largely anchored by the Kitty Genovese story (the "apathy factor" of which appears to have been greatly exaggerated by the press at the time), moves into a look at various social situations (like every time the ACLU wins some "prison rights" case, the crime in the involved state tends to spike), and a wide array of psychological experiments dealing with these factors. The fourth chapter is on "cheap and simple", and goes from Ignatz Semmelweis (the guy who first got doctors washing their hands to prevent infection) to various economies of food, and fuel, and into vaccines and how governments are usually the worst agents (due to "the law of unintended consequences") to enact effective change, this then tails into the question of seat belts (and studies that were done which showed that seat belts are at least as effective as protecting kids as car seats), and eventually into talking about Nathan Myhrvold and his system for simply and cheaply controlling hurricanes.

This sets up the "best" chapter in the book, both in terms of "gee whiz!" factors, and in terms of getting people's panties in a knot. Chapter 5 deals with "climate change" and how over-blown, exaggerated, politicized and sensationalized it has been. I'm surprised the Vegans haven't picked up the book as their new rallying point, as the authors very clearly show that cows, pigs, sheep, goats, etc. have far more effect on the climate than factories, trucks, and SUV's, and that (by extension) the whole thrust of the current "global warming" alarmism is economic, aimed at harming 1st world societies, and not actually addressing the problem (such as it is), which leads into a look at what economists call "externalities". This also comes back to Nathan Myhrvold and his partners in Intellectual Ventures (including Bill Gates, with projects like the laser mosquito killing device just recently featured at a TED conference), and some of the (again) cheap and simple solutions that they have come up with to easily control climate issues. Needless to say, the true believers in the scam Church Of Climate Change (whose favorite "nightmare scenarios" the book quotes the I.V. guys saying "don't have any basis in physical reality in any reasonable time frame ... no climate model shows them happening") are as apoplectic over this as various interest groups were on things in the first book!

Again, SuperFreakonomics is both informative and entertaining, but is really not up to the punch of its predecessor, drifting and meandering from data point to data point, losing a lot of "oomph" on the way. Of course, it is well worth having, if for nothing other than watching Al Gore fans bust blood vessels over the "heresies" involved in showing that their crusade is largely a scam! It's only been out a few months, so is no doubt available via your local brick-and-mortal book vendor, although Amazon has it for a whopping 42% discount (which, in the book biz foodchain, is almost the price the wholesaler buys books from the distributor), which is pretty hard to pass up. While I found this weaker than Freakonomics, it's certainly a good read, and I'm happy to have it both in my head and in my library!


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