Saturday, July 18, 2009

What I've been reading

- Panicology is a statistician's (two, actually) take on the alarmist issues of today.  I like statistics, and I also dislike the alarmist take by the media, so I had high hopes, but the book seems weak in some areas and only stronger in others by relative comparison.  I did enjoy a few of the transportation sections, however-- one on the inherent safety of transportation, and another on cell phone usage while driving.  It is a decent jumping off point for a range off issues-- if I'm close by, borrow it from me when you need it or fire me an email about one of their topics, don't go buy your own.

- I'm just getting into Violence; if this is categorized as a sociology book, it's the best I've read in quite some time, if not ever.  It reads as a micro-foundations approach to all-things violent interaction, and the author explains it as such.  Making generalized statements about violence often mischaracterizes violent confrontations from the get go; as such, just about anything you've read making wide-ranging claims about violence (say, ethnic violence or racial violence) is probably wrong, and not by a little bit.  Here's the best one-liner I can give to sum it up (thus far, anyway):

"Most existing explanations of violence fall into the category of background explanations: factors outside the situation that lead up to and cause the observed violence...My objection across the board is that such explanations assume violence is easy once the motivation exists.  Micro-situational evidence, to the contrary, shows that violence is hard."

Frequency of violence tends to be a function not of the individuals but the overarching resolution framework to the situation; kids fight a lot because adults can provide resolution, prisoners fight frequently because guards can provide resolution, adults in society fight infrequently due to the lack of such a framework per the previous two examples.  That's a vast oversimplification (on my part); there's just a lot to go after in this book.  I highly recommend.

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