Thursday, March 15, 2018

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

 Here is a piano transcription of Jean-Pillippe Rameau's Nouvelle Suites performed by Alexandre Tharaud.

We have had some rain, which I like, but what I don't like is the small moat that develops on our walkway between the mailbox and the house.

Absalom, Absalom!Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know if I'm just getting the hang of William Faulkner's style of expression, but so far I have enjoyed this novel the best of all of the ones I have read so far (which only includes As I Lay Dying and The Sound and The Fury).

Even so, this novel is written far differently than the others. As I Lay Dying was written from inside of each character's mind, thinking as they would think to themselves without explaining anything to a third party. Each chapter is narrated by a different character and putting all the narrators' thoughts together, the reader is able to come to a conclusion as to what is happening.

The same is true for The Sound and The Fury. The entire book has four chapters which take place over two consecutive days, interrupted by an incident that happened twenty years prior in a chapter in between. Each chapter is narrated by a different person. The first chapter by a mentally retarded thirty year old man. Faulkner enjoys toying with his reader; two characters have the same nickname. They are siblings but different genders. We only gather clues as to what the heck is happening by reading the narrators thoughts and they don't try to clear anything up, since naturally they are only thinking to themselves.

Absalom, Absalom! is different from the previous two in that, while there are different narrators (about four, I think) they are telling their stories, or rather they are telling the same story, to other people in the book which makes for a clearer rendition of the telling for the reader.

Faulkner still likes to hint and suggest and one has to read the entire story to put the pieces together and discover what has happened. I do not want to spoil the story for other people because the ending is rather startling (to me, anyway) but here is a bit of what is going on.

A stranger, Thomas Sutpen comes to Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. This is the fictitious place that Faulkner created that bares no small resemblance to his own home town area in and around Oxford, Mississippi. Like many writers- me, for instance- he wrote characters based on people he knew. Which is why I hope only strangers read my books.

Although God help anyone who actually resembles Faulkner's characters because some of them are formidable.

Thomas Sutpen arrives much to the consternation of the old families. This is before the Civil War when a well-defined Southern Aristocracy existed. He buys up property and calls it Sutpen's Hundred. He marries a local girl from a wealthy family. Everyone is shocked and refuses to come to the wedding.

Sutpen and his wife have a couple of children and pretty much stay hidden on Sutpen's hundred. As various narrators describe life there, we also get a slow but eventually complete picture of Sutpen and the sort of person he is. Without revealing anything, he is a dark, complicated person and so is his progeny.

In the meantime, we get a look at the South before, during and after the Civil War. We see what honor means to a Southern person and how it can become twisted and dark. We see how important it was for a poor, white man to achieve his own family dynasty and how he succeeded and also how he failed.

We see the relations between white and black people and the wheels within wheels that formed those relationships. Nothing is simple in life and neither is it in a Faulkner novel.

One interesting aspect about this book is that every narrator, male or female has the same ponderous, Gothic voice. It doesn't matter who is talking.

Reading Faulkner in some way reminds me of the chanting of a Greek chorus. It is without emotion while it describes highly emotional situations. As a reader I found myself compelled to enter and be swallowed.

I will be interested in seeing how future Faulkner novels compare to the ones I've read so far.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Reports from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France 1925-1939

Please enjoy Faure's Pavane while reading today's post.

Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France, 1925-1939Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France, 1925-1939 by Joseph Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with Roth's book on Berlin, this book is a collection of vignettes, little essays on Roth's thoughts and feelings about his time in France, which were the years in the 1930s up to his death in May 1939.

The first several chapters, Roth is once again describing the landscape of different Parisian neighborhoods, small French towns, the people he encounters and their customs. It is like he is trying to take snapshots of each place and person, to record the pleasure of remembering. Some people will like this approach, others will consider it a little sentimental. But in the context of what was transpiring in Europe in the decade that led up to the Second World War, we realize that Roth is clinging to an era that he knows is about to disappear for good.

In his final chapters he deals more with the looming Nazi threat. An essay he wrote on Jewish children refugees was particularly illuminating and the determined ignorance of people in France and England as to what sort of person Hitler and his henchmen really were.

He also writes about writers from the early part of the century who were already setting the stage with their anti-Semitic writing. There's an interesting study done by an author who I can't remember that asserted that Hitler did not start anti-semitism. He fanned a flame that had already been ignited because he knew it would make him popular. He told the masses what they wanted to hear.

These final chapters alone are worth the price of the book.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Case of the Careless Cupid by Erle Stanley Gardner

A little fun to start the weekend:

Brahms Drei Intermezzi op 117 is playing while I write. The artist is Radu Lupu.  Radu Lupu is a Romanian born pianist who has the distinction of winning three major piano competitions:  the George Enescu International Piano Competition, Van Cliburn Piano Competition and Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. I heard him perform in Chicago at Orchestra Hall (I think it's called Symphony Center now) back in the nineties when I was studying music at Roosevelt University.  

Back then I was a poor college student and could only afford canceled tickets which were offered for ten dollars a couple of hours before the concert.  I bought one for Radu Lupu.  This is often a gamble.  The ticket can be for a seat behind a pole.  This time I hit the jackpot.  I got the front row center seat.  I was so close I could hear Lupu humming while he played. 

Lupu is known for his interpretation of the late Romantic composers like Brahms, Liszt and Shumann.  I hope you enjoy this contemplative piece.
The Case Of The Careless CupidThe Case Of The Careless Cupid by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great Perry Mason. I gobble these up so rapidly it's a wonder I don't get heartburn. Luckily, books don't give you heartburn and Mason novels aren't Jane Austin to be savored and contemplated. They are that bowl of Hershey chocolates that you really shouldn't be scarfing down but can't stop, which is why I was able to run through this story in one sitting.  Jane Austin, on the other hand is French chocolate that you let slowly melt in your mouth.  Am I taking the chocolate/reading analogy too far?  I also compare reading to fine coffee.  Coffee that you grind yourself and make using a French press...I think I am getting off track...

The plot: A distressed woman comes to Mason (aren't they always distressed woman?) because of a complicated situation. She is in love with and engaged to be married to man who is wealthy and also has a gaggle of nieces and nephews who are jealously guarding their Uncle against any gold diggers.

Mrs. Anson is a widow, wealthy in her own right, and is not a gold digger but that has not stopped at least one niece and her fiance from attempting to sabotage Mrs. Anson's plans to marry the Uncle whose name is Mr. Anderson.

How do they go about this? Mrs. Anson's husband died the previous year from food poisoning at a party given by Mr. Anderson due to a crab salad that had been left out all afternoon in warm weather. All the party got food poisoning, which included Mr. Anderson, Mrs. Anson and the nieces and nephews, but only Mrs. Anson's husband died from it.

Or did he? The niece and her fiance say they believe that Mrs. Anson killed her husband and demand that the body be exhumed and examined for poisoning. Because the insurance company would get back the sizeable settlement received by Mrs. Anson, they are more than willing to pursue an investigation. The body is exhumed and sure enough, traces of arsenic are found.

Did Mrs. Anson kill her husband? Perry Mason is going to find out. What follows is an interesting thread on how detectives work through shadowing and what the actual purpose of lie detectors are for as well as how a crime trial is operated through prosecution and defense.

While Mason's mysteries might be a little formulaic, they are certainly satisfying and the best part is how Gardner describes the legal system and function of each player in that system.

Finally I can gobble as much Mason as I want and never get fat.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini; American Lion by Jon Meacham

Here are two biographies of one of our most controversial presidents.  No, not you-know-who, but Old Hickory.  Each book has valuable information of one of America's most pivotal leaders.  and while you're reading listen to this beautiful rendition of Mahler's Symphony no. 5, the slow movement, arranged for the piano and performed by Alexandre Tharaud.

The Life of Andrew JacksonThe Life of Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love Andrew Jackson or hate him, and there's good reason for doing both, one thing you can never do is yawn at him.

The important thing about history is to realize that nothing new is happening. Andrew Jackson could give Donald Trump a run for his money as far as colorful personalities go.

Raised from humble beginnings, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Jackson brought himself up by his own boot straps and worked his way into politics.

He fought in the 1812 War and lead his troops into New Orleans where they defeated the British, thus securing his reputation as a formidable military leader.

Later he became president and an ardent federalist. He destroyed the National Bank because he believed that private business exploited the under-privileged while promoting elitism. Jackson believed that only a large government represented everyone's interests and had fail-safe locks in the structure to keep corruption and self-interested individuals out. A rather naive assumption on his part, but to his dying day he fought those like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster who believed in limited government.

It is easy to see the origins of the Democratic platforms. In fact, the Democratic party was developed under Jackson. They use the same rhetoric about being for the common man as they do today. How much of that is believable depends on each person.

The book did help develop an understanding to the Trail of Tears which is a sad mark in our nation's history. It was also more complicated than I realize. Americans kept moving westward and the Indians retaliated by butchering people in newly erected towns. Who was right and who was wrong is an academic point today. Our energies now would be better spent in trying to solve the poverty and drug and alcohol abuse common on Native Reservations rather than pointing fingers at people long dead or their descendants who had nothing to do with it.

Prone to duels of honor and defending the "Sacred name" of his wife. Politics in the Jacksonian era could just as ugly as today. Smears of sex scandals, corrupt dealings and lies to defame each other's character was just as prevalent then as today.

I highly recommend this book as it will increase your appreciation of today's political landscape from reading our past's.

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American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White HouseAmerican Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"History has been ransacked to find examples of tyrants sufficiently odious to illustrate him by comparison. Language has been tortured to find epithets sufficiently strong to paint him in description. Imagination has been exhausted in her efforts to deck him with revolting and inhuman attributes. tyrant, despot, usurper; destroyer of the liberties of his country; rash ignorant, imbecile; endangering the public peace with all foreign nations; destroying domestic prosperity at home..."

While some of you may be assuming I have quoted a contemporary political commentator, and our current political climate has certainly taken on the dizzying aspects of a three ringed circus, I am in fact quoting Thomas Hart Benton, a devoted partisan to Andrew Jackson who is describing "Old Hickory's" enemies, of which there was no shortage.

Surprisingly, thirty years earlier, during the War of 1812, Benton was one of those enemies who got into such a fierce altercation with then General Jackson, that they tried to kill each other in a duel.

Ron Meacham's excellent biography of one of our most controversial presidents does not record Jackson's life before becoming the seventh president of the United States but starts with his first years after becoming president. This is perhaps a pity because those years are quite spectacular and give valuable context to how Jackson became the sort of president he was, but one will have to go to Robert Remini's more thorough Life of Andrew Jackson.

But we see the drama, the color, and Jackson's legacy. We also see how nullification and secession was broiling in the South back in the 1830s. We also are given clearer understanding as to what caused those feelings of succession. Slavery was not actually on the table then since only a few Christian missionaries and abolitionists (also Christian) were the only outspoken opponents of slavery.

What the South decried was they considered to be unfair taxation of their produce. This may or may not be valid, but one will have to go to another source of information because neither Meacham nor Remini provide enough to allow the reader to form a conclusion as to whether the taxes on Southern goods was fair or not.

We do know, according to Meacham that Jackson made some concessions and partially lowered the tax rate but not to the satisfaction of the South, nor John C. Calhoun, Jackson's former vice president.

Yes, Jackson had two vice presidents because the first, Calhoun, turned on him and decided to run a bid for the presidency against him. Van Buren became Jackson's second president and also the nation's succeeding president.

What is one to make of Andrew Jackson? We know about the Trail of Tears enforced by him. His documents show that he saw clear incompatibility with the Native and American cultures but insisted that if the American Indians conformed to American society they could keep their land and stay. This was a false promise. The Indians that chose to stay and conform soon found themselves thrust on to the Trail to the West. Certainly a blot on our history.

Yet Jackson adopted an Indian boy and raised him for many years (until the boy in teenage years became ill and died).

Jackson was not against slavery. He had slaves and he did not free them when he died. But he was vehemently against secession. He passionately believed in the Federation.

In fact he firmly believed so much in the Federation and that as president he was the Federation. The people had elected him. He represented their interests and nothing was going to interfere with that. He apparently did not believe that members of the House or Senate represented the people because he made a record number of executive orders, setting the ground work for later presidents.

He destroyed the National Bank for this reason. He believed that a private bank was corrupt and would exploit the people. As the people's spokesman he acted believing that everything he did was in the American citizen's interest. How he possessed this special knowledge of the will of the people he never explained and often it seemed as though he confused his personal will with the people's will. As a result he had the habit of ram-rodding over anyone that conflicted with his intentions.

The main legacy Jackson left was the groundwork for the Democratic Party as we know it today. He firmly believed it was the government's job to provide for and protect the people.

It was under Jackson's presidency that Texas became encouraged to join the Union. Stephen F. Austin pleaded with Jackson to send in troops and protect the U.S. citizens living inside the Texas territory from the marauding Mexican gangs that were over running American cattle farms and General Santa Ana who was determined to make Texas a part of Mexico. Jackson inexorably reminded Austin that Texas was not a part of the United States and therefore was not entitled to U.S. protection. The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal moment in Texas history that led to Texas becoming a member of the United States of America.

Towards the end of his life, Jackson experienced a kind of conversion. He had always considered himself a Christian, although he refused to join a church because he thought the leader of the country should be religiously neutral. However, there was a radical change in his attitude and beliefs towards the end of his life. He joined a church and on his death bed gathered his family and slaves around them.

"'God will take of you for me.' He was speaking not only to his relations and the children, but to the slaves who had gathered in the room to mark the end. Jackson said: 'Do not cry; I hope to meet you all in Heaven- yes, all in Heaven, white and black.'.

Near death, Jackson sought comfort in the promises of the faith he had embraced in retirement. 'My conversation is for you all,' he said and then renewed his talk of the world to come. ' Christ has no respect to color,' Jackson said. 'I am in God and God is in me....'"

As are most people, Jackson was a complicated person, but, love him or hate him, one cannot deny that he set in motion significant events that propelled us to the country as we know it today.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Case of the Worried Waitress and Cut Thin to Win by Erle Stanley Gardner

Josh and I spent this last weekend in Oklahoma inside the Choctaw Nation at a Bed and Breakfast.  As we drove the two hours north to our destination, we were doing our best to out run the torrential rain.  Flash flood warnings accompanied us most of the day.

There is not much to do at Broken Bow unless you like to hunt and fish.  We, however, planned to walk along the several trails through the woods.

As you can see, our plans were thwarted by the rain which beat us to the punch.  It was the end of the road for us.  We backed up and turned around.

No swinging here today.

Even with the rain and grey skies it was still beautiful.  And, really, what made the trip worth it was the most comfortable Bed and Breakfast we have stayed in to date.

This one was a modern house, but it had a fireplace, love seat, jacuzzi in the bathroom and the best mattress I've ever slept on.  In the evening, after gorging ourselves at the House of Blues Burger restaurant where we feasted on hamburgers to Blues Music (which probably goes without saying), we got comfortable on the love seat in front of the fire place, and watched the Hercule Poirot mystery we brought with us.

Broken Bow is also home to several wineries and we visited them all, tasted their wine, and returned home on Sunday a few bottles the richer.  I'm no Sommelier, but the wines we chose are some of the smoothest I've tasted.

Our room had a porch where I sat and enjoyed the scenery in the bracing cool temperature.  Do you see all the birds?  No?  That's because every time I got my phone out they flew away, but trust me; hundreds of cardinals, tiny birds with cream and black stripes, red-headed wood peckers, doves, and obnoxious blue jays covered the walls while I sat out there.  A large turtle swam by in the pond.

On there way there and back in the car I read out loud to Josh and here are my reviews:

The Case Of The Worried Waitress ([A Perry Mason Mystery])The Case Of The Worried Waitress by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is for now my favorite Perry Mason. A young waitress comes to the attorney because she is worried something strange is happening in her aunt's house.

Orphaned and penniless, Katherine Ellis comes to live with her Aunt Sophia. Sophia had been married to a wealthy man and, being also wealthy, handed all of her assets over to her husband. After he died suddenly, Sophia discovered that she was not actually married because he husband had failed to divorce the first wife, an honest mistake because the first wife had claimed to file for divorce but had not actually followed through.

This left the widow with all of the husband's assets as well as Sophia's. Therefore both Sophia and Katherine are scraping by, which is why Katherine took as job as a waitress.

Katherine finds her aunt acting in a strange manner. She searches the papers for grocery bargains and buys the cheapest food available, serving only enough to keep them from starving, but, as Katherine accidentally discovered, her aunt is keeping thousands of dollars in hat boxes in her closet. Why?

To further add to the mystery, it is discovered that her aunt takes a taxi to a manufacturing company where she stands outside posing as a blind woman selling pencils. Again, why?

When the aunt is bludgeoned in her house and left for dead, no one knows the motive, but Katherine is the number one suspect. It is Mason's job to get to the bottom of the aunt's mysterious behavior and exonerate his client.

This story had a lot of hooks because there were so many strange things happening that seemed to have no logical explanation. It does all come together at the end with one of the most unexpected plot twists I've read in a while.

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Cut Thin to Win (Cool & Lam)Cut Thin to Win by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man, Clayton Dawson, comes to Donald Lam and Bertha Cool to do some investigating work for him. He claims his daughter, who is wild and unmanageable, was involved in a hit and run. She was inebriated and hit an older woman with her car but drove off.

Dawson wants to protect his daughter and his own reputation by seeing if they can keep the episode out of the newspapers and to offer the victim (who survived with minor injuries) a settlement that would keep her from going to court and causing undesired publicity.

Donald Lam promises to find the victim and scope her out.

As is usual in the Lam/Cool mysteries nothing is at it seems. Without giving away the plot, it turns out that Dawson, is not really Dawson, the girl involved is not really his daughter and furthermore, the "victim" isn't actually who she says she is either.

What is going on and why? Lam finds he must uncover a whole lot more than a simple hit and run and his investigation takes him across some states and into unexpected directions. Just who is really the good guy and who is the bad guy? Are there any good guys?

That's what you will find out if you read the book.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Who? by Algis Budrys

It has been raining steadily here in east Texas for the past few days.  My friends are posting their belly-aching on Facebook.  I personally love the rain.  It is peaceful and the perfect time to feel cozy with a cup of coffee and a good book.  Perhaps it is a strange thing for a Texas (transplant) to say, but I don't much care for the heat.

Today's music is by a Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu: Les Yeux Clos II (Eyes Closed) performed by the pianist, Peter Serkin.

Who?Who? by Algis Budrys

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably one of the best science fiction stories I've ever read. I know it's cliche to say, but I literally read this on the edge of my seat with a finger knuckle in my mouth. I'll briefly break down why I liked it so much, but first a synopsis.

Intelligence man Rogers and the Foreign Ministry man are waiting at the border of a Soviet Union check point. They are waiting to receive a scientist from the west who, while working on the classified K-88, was critically injured through an explosion. Somehow the Soviets got to him first and have had him for four months. The reason is because the Western Allies chose to build this lab near the Soviet Union.  Why they did so is revealed later in the story.

Rogers knows that the Soviets have had their man Azarin doing his utmost to extract information from the scientist, Lucas Martino. Knowing Azarin as he does, Rogers shudders at the thought.

Finally a limo on the Soviet side stops at the border. A man exits the vehicle and walks toward Rogers and the Foreign Minister. What they see freezes their blood. Martino is mostly made of metal.

His head is completely covered in metal, his eyes are artificial as are his ears. He speaks and eats through a grill where his mouth should be. His left arm is also artificial, made of metal. He has no heart or lungs. A machine inside does his breathing for him.

This sets in motion the problem that propels the plot through to the end. Is this Martino or is it a Soviet ringer that wants to return to the lab and find out about the K-88. The K-88 is some kind of nuclear device that would turn the Cold War in the West's favor.

Rogers is assigned to find out. How does one prove someone is who he is supposed to be? One can only prove if he's not by catching him in a mistake; but if he doesn't make a mistake, it still doesn't prove the metal man in front of him is Martino.

What makes this story successful is not simply a good plot concept but Budrys' ability to make all the characters human. Rogers is a tough intelligence man in his thirties who can view the (maybe) Martino with compassion but also pragmatism. We also learn about Martino through flashbacks of his life that eventually merge with the present, but don't think you're going to know if the metal man is the real Martino until the very end. And don't cheat! You find yourself caring about Rogers and the maybe Martino. You also get schooling on how Intelligence works in shadowing and tracing people.

What perhaps you don't get is the actual terror that was reigning in the Soviet Union. We in the West did not discover that until the archives were opened in the 1990s. If you want to read shocking accounts of what went on behind the Iron Curtain then read Orlando Figes, "The Whisperers" and Svetlana Alexievich's Second Hand Time. Those two books are non fiction accounts of individual lives that lived during the Soviet era.

Algis Budrys' parents came from Russia in the thirties and, while he was born in Russia, his family moved to America while he was young. Nevertheless, I think that his approach to the Cold War of the fifties, when this story was written, has some personal emotion involved which makes the story all the more compelling.

At just over two hundred pages I defy you to get up before you are finished.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Just a random walk through the woods while in Florida.

I have a good friend, Karen, who co-teaches a Bible study for children with me.  When we first met she was just glowing in her evaluation of my knowledge and insight into the Bible.

"Sharon, you are so wise and smart! I just marvel at your ability to get these teenagers to break down and analyze Scripture.  Your lessons just drive to the essence of the message."

Needless to say, my head swelled to the point I could hardly balance it on my shoulders.

After knowing her for a while it finally occurred to me to learn a  little more about her.

"Karen, what did you do?"

"Oh, I'm a homeschooling mom.  I raised my six kids and now it's just Jeff and me."

"How did you meet your husband?"

"At college."

"Where was that?"

"Carnegie Mellon."

"Oh.  What was your major?  Art?"

"Mechanical Engineering."

"Huh.  But you homeschooled and never worked?"

"Oh I worked while my husband was in Medical School.  That was before we had kids."

"What did you do?"

"I developed software for NASA."

So repeat, "Sharon, you're so smart; you're so insightful" in a childish, whiny voice like your mimicking your mom after she told you to clean your room.

I am rather proud and flattered (with my now fully shrunk head) to have Karen as a teaching partner and friend.  We have lately begun to write each other long e mails, even though we see each other every week.  I have so enjoyed it.  It takes me back to the time when I used to write letters to friends.  On paper, sent through the mail.  Remember those days?

I am also sorry to say that she might be a better writer than me. But, seeing my weakness in the ego department, God has probably put her in my life to keep me humble.

Speaking of geniuses (not me, my friend) here is Glenn Gould performing the Toccata for Clavier in E minor.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am always skeptical of explanations based on hard numbers. Statistics do lie as any one in a career that has anything to do with numbers, averages, and odds would know.

Nevertheless, I found this book to be a worthy read. For one, it was quick. I read it in three sittings.

Of course, in order to sell a book you have to go against the grain of popular or conventional attitudes about a subject, otherwise you wouldn't sell your book. But again, you better provide a convincing argument or at least know how to manipulate words so it sounds as though you are supporting your unique slant on subjects that have been taken for granted by the general populace.

This is what the authors, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner attempt to do. By that I mean that sometimes they support their assertions and sometimes they never get around to really backing up their claims.

The most interesting chapters dealt with cheating teachers, the Ku Kux Klan and drug dealers. In chapter one they discussed how the heavier accountability placed on teachers for the students test scores led to some teachers cheating. There were a variety of ways they could do this- give the answers, help the students along- but the best way to avoid detection was to simply go over the tests and change the students' incorrect answers.

Now the smart teacher did not change every answer or all the students' answers. They are educators, after all, and weren't stupid. But it was suspicious that since the teacher accountability some students with a history of failure were suddenly comparing favorably with their peers. At least for one year. The next year many of them sunk back to their previous level.

Now to suspect a teacher of cheating and proving it are two different things. Correlation does not prove causation as the authors demonstrate throughout the book. The solution was rather involved and I won't attempt to show it here, and anyway, it only resulted in the firing of a handful of teachers, however, it did send a warning call to the rest and the cheating stopped.

The Ku Klux Klan history was very interesting because it showed that their reputation was larger than their actual work of terror, which slowly declined with time. In 1890-1899 there were 1,111 lynchings. This number dwindled until by 1930-1929 there were only 119. For the decade of the sixties there were 3.

One man decided he would rid the country of the Ku Klux Klan and he did it in a surprising way. He ridiculed them. Stetson Kennedy joined the Klan, found out all their secrets then broadcasted them on the radio. All the secret handshakes and crypted messages became common knowledge with children playing good guys, bad guys using the same hand shakes and coded words. No longer were the Klans members a secretive powerful group, but an object of fun, even by their own children. Klan membership plummeted.

Ironically, there has been a resurgence in white supremacy groups as a kind of push-back to the "cry bullying" that wants to make every minority a victim and every white male a villain, but that is a topic for another day.

Another chapter discusses the logistics of drug dealing and gang business. It was fascinating how drug lords ran their business not differently from the hierarchy of Amway. Young kids join the gang and sell the drugs on the streets. They make the least money and run the greatest risk of arrest and death. But if they are successful they can work their way up the ladder until they are a part of the board making an incredible amount of money. The book describes the overhead the Drug Lord pays to his subordinates while keeping most of the money for himself and it's a lot of money.

Of course there are risks involved, such as eventually getting arrested and going to jail for many years, which is what eventually happened to the Drug Lord in this story. The information was accumulated by a Sociology PhD student from the University of Chicago who spent several years with a gang from one of the poorest black neighborhoods in Chicago. His experience is as harrowing as it is engrossing.

The final chapters were on what the statistics have to say about effective parenting. They show hard numbers as to what sort of households had successful children and which kind did not (did a child growing up in a house full of books make a difference? Does Head Start make a difference for underprivileged children? Does staying home during the formative years help?) Not surprisingly, it boils down to parents who are involved in their children's education and those who are not.

An interesting conclusion came from names. Do children with "black" names lack success due to racism? It turns out that a certain demographic names their children certain types of names and it's not the names that provide or steal success but, again, the parents. Apparently there are traceable trends as to what kind of people name their children outlandish names and their correlation to success. Uneducated, people from poor neighborhoods tend to name their children "Rashan" and "Bomquisha" and lest you think that's a color-related issue, white people in trailer parks tend to name their girls "Heavenly" and "Dreamer" and call their boys "Bubba" and "Booger".

While I felt some conclusions were based more on speculation (Since 80% of abortion centers are in poor, black neighborhoods, does abortion really lower the crime rate or the kind of person who would abort their children be the kind to abuse their children and produce a criminal element?) it was still interesting to ponder.

Certainly this book should not be the sole source of any kind of information concerning statistics, but it is certainly a thought-provoking read.

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