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04 December 2009 @ 11:06 am
Book I Have an Issue With:

SuperFreakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

I knew I was in trouble with this book during the first chapter, which is on prostitution, the glories thereof. (At least for white women.) They reviewed a single study and talked to two prostitutes, one a street walker and the other a higher-priced prostitute, and came to the conclusion that, even though the study and the streetwalker suggested no such thing, prostitution is really pretty awesome for the ladies! As long as they like sex! They finish up the chapter in oh-gee bewilderment that more women aren't out there getting this awesome, terrific job of prostitution, which pays so well and has such keen hours and all. Women must be really dumb! Or hate sex!

But, okay, here's the thing: I am not an economist, and I can still read the statistics here. Women aren't actually dumb, and I can offer approximately nine billion data points on that one - research! Empirical evidence! Anecdotal evidence! A cluebat! And I can't put my finger on any research supporting it right now, but I can tell you that many women do in fact like sex. I happen to like it myself, for example, since we're willing to accept anecdotal evidence now, what with that lone happy hooker standing in for all women everywhere. In fact, let me take several steps up in rigor from SuperFreakonomics and do a poll on this one:

Poll #1494493 SuperFreakonomics


I am a woman and I like sex.
I am a woman and am totally not a fan of sex.
Not a woman but still fond of sex.
Not a woman and not into that whole sex thing.


I am a woman and I'm smart!
I am a woman and I am not at all smart.
Not a woman but still smart!
Not a woman and not at all smart.

And yet so many of these smart, sex-loving women aren't prostitutes. Huh. If I were the authors of SuperFreakonomics, I would stop there, but, um, wouldn't it make more sense to say, hey, according to what we think, something should be happening, but it isn't happening in reality, so maybe there's a factor we're missing? Some reason why women don't want to be prostitutes? Maybe, instead of just talking to two prostitutes, one of whom enjoys the work, and calling it science, we should talk to some other people! Like, other women! Non-prostitutes!

I understand both authors are married. They could start by asking their wives why they never pursued this incredible job opportunity. Or, hey! They could ask me.

In high school, I did everything stupid it was possible to do, almost. I did loads of drugs and had lots of the kind of promiscuous sex where I didn't actually know the name of the guy(s) involved and I hung out in dangerous places and I drove like a moron and I broke many many laws and hung out with hallucinating people who were armed - wow, seriously, name the bad choice, I can point you to the place where I did it.

But here's the thing: I used to walk along streets in a rather unsafe and unsavory district of town, late at night. (Yet another bad choice!) And men used to pull their cars over and offer me money or drugs if I would have sex with them - hundreds of dollars, usually, and once more than a thousand (although, to be fair, that was for me and the male friend I was walking with at the time). I was young enough that those seemed like incredible, phenomenal sums of money. And I was having sex with everyone voluntarily anyway - anyone who asked and didn't offer me money was in, basically. I was cheerfully flexible about what I'd do - oral, anal, vaginal, manual, kink, whatever. And I was the queen of bad decisions. And I liked breaking rules. And laws.

I said no. Every time, without hesitation. It was the only sex I said no to at that time in my life. So, hey, authors of SuperFreakonomics, maybe you should come interview me! I can tell you exactly why I didn't take up that fabulous opportunity, and you'll have a chapter for your next book, since you claim to be statisticians but keep acting like a single interview actually produces data.

And that is not the only problem, mind you. That's the first chapter. I could continue, but mostly, my issues are: it's wandering and poorly written, it's not especially interesting, it's not even remotely scientifically accurate, and in a lot of places, it's so stupid you start looking around for the hidden camera.

Book I Actually Like:

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex.

I spent the last year trying to get people to read this book. "It's awesome!" I would say in that intense, slightly terrifying tone people get when they're trying to shove a book or a religion or a coupon for half-off a show on you. "You should read it! Because it is SO AWESOME!"

In general, people nodded and smiled and continued not to read it. And it's not that I blame them - I had the book for about six months before I actually read it, possibly because Smekday sounds like an unfortunate genital disease - it's just that I want to weep for them. This book is so incredibly good, and everyone should read it, and yet I don't see huge True Meaning of Smekday Appreciation Clubs forming all over the English-speaking world. It's a puzzlement.

So, here's a partial list of those who will enjoy The True Meaning of Smekday. Simply check any that apply to you.

Poll #1494494 Smekday

Whoooooo are you?

A young adult.
An adult.
Fond of laughter.
Fond of graphic novels.
Fond of science fiction.
Long wanted to read a book about an alien named J. Lo.
A fan.
A fan of tentacles.
A fan of bubbles.
Wrote a dissertation on the interstate highway system.
Really hate the interstate highway system.
Fond of cats.
Allergic to cats.
Concerned about cloning.
Enjoy a good road trip.
Enjoy a bad road trip.
Enjoy stories about road trips.
Still dream of the day I get my first flying car.
An extreme weather fan.
Left-handed fan of musical theater.

If you didn't tick any boxes, fine, you're excused. Otherwise, I'm going to keep bringing this up and bringing this up, and I can be really difficult about these things. (I like to pretend that it's like that one song, Whatever Lola Wants, except if it was about a recommender instead of, you know, Lola. I keep telling myself that I'm nothing at all like that one relative who keeps insisting that you should really try the casserole, you'll love it, NO REALLY. Or like the guy standing on the table in the park explaining about how the government is controlling is brain with space lasers. I - I try not to think about those people too much.)

Oh, and if you're one of the people with whom I have had the "Where are all the female characters in SF?" and "Where are all the characters of color in SF?" discussions, READ THIS BOOK. The main character is female, mixed race, and totally and completely awesome. Plus, you will really enjoy the commentary on colonialism.
peeps wanna see peeps boink: heartmusesfool on December 4th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
I *heart* "The True Meaning of Smekday" SO MUCH. I keep recommending it to people, too, but they don't seem to get it (until they read the book). Possibly because I am mostly flaily and incoherent about TIP and J.LO and SLUSHIOUS! Maybe I will reread it again this weekend. Sigh.
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
I know! I think this book is so good that it actually works against itself, reducing people who read it to incoherence so that they can't properly indoctrinate their friends and relations.

J. Lo wishes you to be reading it againsoon this end of week!
best_beloved on December 4th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
Is our copy of The True Meaning of Smekday still missing from the move? *whimper*
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
I believe so. *pats soothingly*
je suis marxiste, tendance Groucho: tbbt raj is thinking what I'm thinkingshinealightonme on December 4th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
I am amused that every single 18-22 year old in my Science for Idiots class could do a pull off a better, more scientific study than Mr. Levitt & Mr. Dubner.
tried to eat the safe banana: Calamity Physicsthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
I am starting to suspect that my dog could pull of a better analysis than they could. It's economics by idiots!
ReginaGiraffereginagiraffe on December 4th, 2009 07:57 pm (UTC)

*puts a hold on it at the library*
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
*cheers wildly*
Always Addledalwaysaddled on December 4th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)

Freakonomics was also dumb in many ways (for example the chapter on parenting which treats IQ points as the be-all and end-all of parenting).
(no subject) - thefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
Csculpin on December 4th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
Have you seen the True Meaning of Smekday training video? The Boov have provided us with a puppet show to help us understand our newly simplified 3-month calendar. Just remember:
329 days has Boovember
And every human should remember
All the rest have 31
Except Humanuary, that has five.
You are lucky we don't kill you.
tried to eat the safe banana: Huh - Mutant Blue Thingthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
I cannot begin to express my joy at this. Would it be wrong to begin adding "you are lucky we don't kill you" to everything I say?
(no subject) - sculpin on December 5th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: One time I called this girl Mom.thefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
*blink blink blink*

J. Lo has been embodied as an angel? I did not know this!
gwyneth: jayne hat sdwolfpupgwyn_r on December 4th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
When I was working at Slate, we did a big thing with Freakonomics, and I remember reading some of that and thinking, wow, I am completely ignorant of proper procedures in this sort of work but even I know that's shoddy research and conclusion-jumping. Some of it was interesting, but that ended up being obscured for me by the fact that they seemed to be supporting their own version of reality very carefully. And I worry that their popularity is just going to make more people believe that they've got it right and use it like some kind of unassailable weapon in discussions about important things. Meh.
tried to eat the safe banana: Orbitalthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
I think that's almost certain to happen with the prostitution article, because it reports something most men would love to believe.


It's the crappy statistics use that gets me as much as anything, you know?
Lu (Not Your Average Retelling)elucreh on December 4th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
Is it a graphic novel book, or a regular book? Because I can't read graphic novels, it's a brain malfunction, but otherwise...
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
Regular book? HAH. It is a SUPER FANTASTIC BOOK. (It is mostly text. With photos and illustrations, some of which are drawn by our new alien overlord!)
Girlfriend Resplendent Valentine: demon!Adamimkalena on December 4th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
Sounds like the SuperFreaks should have read "Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor In The American Black Market," at least, before they wrote that tripe.

Freakonomics was highly entertaining, but some of their conclusions were just plain baffling, so I didn't bother with the new one.
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
I will be honest - I only vaguely remember Freakonomics, but I do at least recollect it being entertaining. This book is neither; it's short and stupid and feels like the bits they cut out of Freakonomics because they sucked. (There's one part where they're talking about the birthday effect, and they say, somewhat defensively, that they had a chapter on this that they wrote for Freakonomics, but they didn't use it, and in the meantime other people published about it, so it might SOUND like old hat, but really, they had it first. I stared at the book, wondering if these people had actually, you know, EVER KNOWN ACADEMIA.)
i teach sunday school, motherfucker.: I don't need to study! by dropsofsunshinrandomeliza on December 4th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
I have been reading Smekday with my kids as a treat when we have extra time in class. I do voices, I make noises. It's kind of awesome.

My kids would rather have me read Smekday to them than just about anything. GREAT BOOK.
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
I TOLD YOU IT WAS AWESOME. (True confession: I used to read out loud to Best Beloved all the time before the earthling was born, and I still do it sometimes. And when I read Smekday out loud, I, too, did voices and noises. You can't not!)

*dances in celebration*
But what if I'm a mermaid?: VD - antibiotics FTW!deepbluemermaid on December 4th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
I was interested to read about the prostitution chapter in SuperFreakonomics, because I'm currently writing my PhD thesis on prostitution and STIs in Italy's African colonies. There was a crucial point made in one of the critiques of their approach: the supposedly 'happy hooker' was white, a high earner, working in classy hotel rooms, while the other, less happy woman was probably black (although this apparently isn't specified), and struggling to get by in really unpleasant circumstances. Who would have thought these factors could make a difference? But no, apparently, it was all in the high class prostitute's attitude to sex...

Unfortunately I can't interview any prostitutes, since the period I'm studying ends at WWII (and how exactly do you track down very elderly former prostitutes anyway?). But I'm pretty sure they weren't all doing it for the love of it! In Italy's colonies, most of the women - whether European or African - were made to live in brothels they weren't allowed to leave, had to undergo regular invasive medical examinations, and were forced to go to hospital (which were surrounded by barbed wire fences) when they were found to be infectious. The Army ran its own brothels, and the women serviced dozens of men per day. One Army base in Libya had 800 men, and 3 women at its dedicated brothel. Even if not all the men frequented the brothel, that's still one hell of a client base.

It's possible that some women then, as now, got into prostitution willingly and not out of desperate financial need. It seems that, at least in some African societies at the time, prostitution was an acceptable and not necessarily stigmatised way for widowed or divorced women to make a living. But to assume that you'll enjoy it as long as you enjoy sex, and not to consider any of the other factors governing entry to and participation in the sex industry, is DOING IT WRONG on an epic scale.

tried to eat the safe banana: Daisythefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, hey, your dissertation sounds fascinating! If you turn it into a book, I will totally buy it.

And, yeah, it's kind of amazing how the Freaky boys make it clear that it's all the black (she is, as I recall, explicitly stated to be black) prostitute's fault for just, you know, not liking her work enough and not being smart enough to have a good business plan. (Never mind that LaSheena, the black prostitute, probably did not ever have access to the tools (or the education, or the spare resources, or the breathing space) that Allie, the white one, used to build her business - Allie was a computer programmer before she was a prostitute, they tell us, and used the internet and the tools of her trade to build her selling-her-body business.) If she was just smart! And liked sex! Surely she would be happy and rich and not hanging out on street corners and so on.

The Italian prostitutes in the African colonies sound like they led absolutely hideous lives. How in god's name did they end up in those places?

Also, I admit I find it fascinating that the Italian government felt dedicated brothels were key to success in Africa. I mean, I know about camp followers and all the rest, and I know that prostitutes used to be more of an accepted part of military campaigns and suchlike, but somehow I thought of that in Way Long Ago Time, instead of just Long Ago Time.

But to assume that you'll enjoy it as long as you enjoy sex, and not to consider any of the other factors governing entry to and participation in the sex industry, is DOING IT WRONG on an epic scale.

Indeed it is. Of course, these guys seem to be making careers out of DOING IT WRONG - probably they're planning to change their names from Steven or Stephen to Doing It Wrong Levitt and Dubner. (Called Diw for short!)
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: three globesthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
It does indeed have colonialism! It's a commentary specifically on the colonization of the U.S., but I think an Australian will find it exceptionally familiar. (I'm not sure how much you know about the European invasion of this continent, of course - you might know quite a lot. I'm just saying, even without that, it's not like Australia and the U.S. don't have an awful lot in common in that arena.)

And, see, yes, that's it exactly - sex work is, for most non-sex workers WHO ARE WOMEN, a miserable fantasy. It is not the average healthy person's dream job. I'm not saying there aren't women (and men) who would love the job, or who do love the job. In fact, in high school I knew a number of women who did some kind of sex work, and one of them really did love it. (Of course, she was also heroin-addicted and mentally and emotionally fucked up to a degree that's hard for me to convey without writing a multiple-comment essay entitled Heather As I Came To Know Her, but. She did love the sex work! Until she died at the age of, I think, although she gave us all many different ages, 25.)

If people didn't have to give their credit card details before, how did they pay for phone sex? I admit I have not done an exhaustive investigation here, but I think you've always had to do that for phone sex in the U.S. Of course, the charges probably go on your statement as, like, Total Eclipse Industries or DYID Inc or something unrevealing, but, still, I am pretty sure you have to give the details out.
exceptinsectsexceptinsects on December 4th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
I read it! I think because you recommended it on Goodreads! So that's one!
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 09:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Smekday
YAY! I AM ENORMOUSLY PLEASED. (I hope you enjoyed it!)
Re: Smekday - exceptinsects on December 6th, 2009 06:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
Cimorene: mighty love!minkhollow on December 4th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
I should footnote my answer to the first poll with *inside my relationship, thank you.
tried to eat the safe banana: Violet's assthefourthvine on December 5th, 2009 09:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, certainly. "How much would you like having sex with random strangers who are paying you to submit yourself totally to their needs?" is a whole other question. I am guessing we would not see quite so much enthusiasm for that one.