Why aren’t there more corn dogs? It’s a question scientists have been neglecting for years. It’s well known that we have an ample supply of corn, and you can make hot dogs out of just about anything, so what’s the hold up? I mean, sure, I’m not making any corn dogs, but then again I’m not the one complaining.
The history of corn dogs is a brief and uninteresting one. Basically, in around 1927, a guy invented them. How? Well, obviously he took a hot dog and figured out how to put corn around it. Then he got a little ahead of himself and tried it with other stuff: Continue reading »
In case you missed Part I of our analysis of the decade’s best nonfiction, you can check it out here.
9/11, Pirates and Emperors, Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, et. al. – Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky has always been prolific in his political writings, but the aftermath of 9/11 saw an increase in the relevance of his criticisms of American foreign policy. As an unabashed radical and critic of American interventionism, Chomsky’s writings express points of view that are virtually unrepresented in the mainstream discourse. For those who agree and those who disagree, Chomsky represents important challenges to American foreign policy that need to be addressed, given the country’s ongoing role in violent global affairs.
Moneyball - Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is arguably the best nonfiction writer of the Aughts, and Moneyball is one of the best nonfiction books of the Aughts. Lewis made Billy Beane and sabermetrics (i.e. baseball statistical analysis) into a superstar and super-method. No other book has had as much effect on the general management of a sport than Moneyball has had on baseball. OPS shifted from undervalued to properly or even overvalued (and, you know what’s next) and teams continued to hire Art Howe (well, that wasn’t a good thing). More than simply chronicling Beane’s (general) managerial philosophy, Lewis extracted meaningful themes from it such as capitalism’s push for efficiency as reflected in baseball and overcoming the deleterious effects of dogmatic insiders.
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One clear development in nonfiction during the Aughts has been the rise of popular economics. Popular economics nonfiction existed before this decade, but the genre proliferated in 2005 with the wild success of Freakonomics. Discover Your Inner Economist, More Sex is Safer Sex, Predictably Irrational, The Economic Naturalist, and SuperFreakonomics among others followed.
What is popular economics? Well, this nonfiction is popular in the sense that it’s written in a way that any moderately intelligent person could understand the material without any previous exposure to economics. While none of the authors of these books have writing skills as superb as Malcolm Gladwell’s or Michael Lewis’, several of the authors employ quite deft prose. Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics were co-written by a journalist, Stephen Dubner, which explains why they’re the best of the bunch in terms of writing style. Their focus on anecdotes to tease out concepts and findings is a method used to some degree by all of the authors to make their books accessible. But, perhaps the best part of their writing is their explication of their findings. For instance, they explain why the correlation between blacker names and lower income is not causal:
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In this week’s New York Times Magazine—“The School Issue”—there is a short piece debating whether or not a college education is “worth it.” David Leonhardt outlines various schools of thought: On the one hand, people who earn a college degree earn substantially more than those who do not, far more than the cost of the degree itself. On the other hand, though, college-bound high school graduates are likely a more intelligent/driven bunch than those who don’t go to school at all; this group would probably be more successful even without college.
While it seems obvious to me, and to Leonhardt by the end of the piece, that a college degree is worth the hefty price, it’s less clear to me how the price should affect the choice of a particular school. Continue reading »
For as long as I can remember reading Sports Illustrated, I’ve always looked forward to the “Sign of the Apocalypse” section. This week’s sign is “A Long Island company is offering insurance to fantasy football owners that allows them to recoup their league fees if a player on their team gets hurt.” Sports Illustrated isn’t the only one not showering the new insurance scheme with praise. Deadspin isn’t a fan either.
The Wall Street Journal offers a solid description of Fantasy Sports Insurance’s (FSI) scheme:
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Through the 1990s, elementary school cafeterias across the country were pervaded with ambitious young children frantically flipping through multiple binders full of baseball cards. Many children also had the Beckett Baseball Price Guide, which listed the value of virtually every card and was often consulted during a trade to determine whether one was about to get ripped off.* Children became young economists in addition to sports fans, trading based on market value.
*One problem with the Beckett Price Guide is that it encouraged children to trade not based on their preferences but on some dubious market value. But frankly, for more than almost anyone, preferences really do matter for children. A Mets fan is going to get way more pleasure out of a Jason Isringhausen rookie card (this was my favorite card as a child) than a Yankees fan. The fact that this card may be fifty cents less in value than a Jimmy Key rookie card does not mean I shouldn’t have traded for it. Yet, Beckett sometimes would promote this non-pleasure maximizing behavior. (H/T to John S. for reminding me of this Beckett criticism.)
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John writes, “Technology has so dramatically decreased the lag-time between one person knowing something and everyone knowing it (Brown himself has a joke about re-tweets counting as plagiarism), that I wonder if ‘breaking a story’ is eventually going to be one of those outdated achievements….” This is an interesting question, but I think just as interesting of a question is if the net amount of journalistic information available will decrease as the result of aggregation, blogging, and other technological developments. We already are seeing newspapers, magazines, and other news organizations cutting back on foreign correspondents and new hires. But, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that, in the long-run, less information will be available. It may simply be provided through a different means. The journalistic model will change. Here are four possible alternatives to the current model for information gathering*:
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For anyone interested in what happened at AIG last year, Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair story is a must-read. Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker, is very good at making complicated investment procedures intelligible to the uninitiated.
The most interesting thing about the story is how it illustrates the grand lesson of last year’s economic collapse: Everyone screwed up and no one person is to blame.
Compare, as Lewis does, the AIG collapse, which has largely vanished from the public memory, to the Bernie Madoff case, which arouses everyone’s ire. Madoff is a simple, if tragic, story: One guy conned a bunch of people into giving him money, and then used the money for himself and his family, leaving nothing for his clients. Madoff is a thief and a criminal and deserves to serve every year of the 150 on his sentence. Continue reading »