Dry Bones in the Valley

[Amazon Link]

This is the first book in Tom Bouman's series with hero cop, Henry Farrell. Put on my to-read list thanks to Tom Nolan naming the third book in the series (The Bramble and the Rose) on his Best Mysteries of 2020 list. So…

Henry is a sad cop, operating in his old home town in rural Pennsylvania, outside Scranton. It's a changing world, drug use and poverty are rife, and the whole area is set atop the Marcellus Shale, and the frackers are doing their thing, causing environmental destruction and weird diseases in the populace. (Including Henry's wife. He's a widower now.) There's a lot of conflict potential.

Things kick off when a long-dead corpse is found on the land of an old eccentric. It's anyone's guess as to the dead guy's identity. Henry is left to inquire with the colorful neighbors, who all seem to have secrets, dysfunctions, and hidden bad behavior of their own. Worse, Henry's deputy goes missing, and Henry has to look for him as well. (The search result just provides another crime to solve.)

It's all dark and moody. And there are a lot of characters, most of them suspects. At my age, it was hard to keep track of 'em all. Not really my cup of tea, but Tom Bouman is a fine writer with a gift for describing the… well, the dark and moody.

Priceless

The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

[Amazon Link]

I'm pretty sure I heard good things about this book at some point in the recent past, which caused me to plunk it on my get-at-library list. I was slightly disappointed.

The author, William Poundstone, has a mission accurately summed up in his subtitle: prices are a shared illusion, easily manipulated by dinking with the all-too-human psychology of buyers and sellers. The book has 57 chapters, some only a couple of pages. Each purports to draw lessons from psychological studies. Poundstone is especially (and deservedly) reverent toward the groundbreaking research carried out by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

The main problem stems from the book's age: published in 2010. So the author is not exactly breaking fresh ground. Daniel Kahneman's own book, Thinking Fast and Slow, came out in 2011. And if you've read that (as I have), then you'll have already seen a lot of stuff that's discussed in Priceless.

But it's worse than just being old. Poundstone assumes that all those studies he quotes are reliable. That was a reasonable position to take in 2010, but not so much today. For example, the work on "priming": where exposure to an idea, a suggestion, an image … whatever, causes our unconscious mind to make it more likely to raise future occurrences to our mental attention. Sounds nice, plausible, … but the research that purported to demonstrate it turned out out to be irreproducible.

Since I, as a 2021 reader, knew that already, it cast a cloud over the dozens of studies Poundstone cites to bolster his thesis. I kept wondering has anyone tried reproducing this? This guy seems to think a lot of the other research in social psychology is bunk.

I'm not one to judge. (But it does help my cognitive bias a lot, I get to auto-dismiss research when I don't like the results.) So I recommend reading Poundstone's book with a lot of healthy skepticism.

But (hey) he could be right. So next time you enter into a price negotiation, try his "anchoring" strategy: be the first one to mention a price, set it "too high" if you're the seller, "too low" if you're the buyer. You won't get what you want, but what you get will be more in your favor. Allegedly.


Last Modified 2021-06-24 10:39 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-24

  • Linus Grew Up to be Bernie Sanders. Our Eye Candy du Jour is the Peanuts comic from August 1, 1959:

    [Other People's Money]

    [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Suggested via an LTE in a recent Wall Street Journal, which was (in turn) suggested by a book review of Charlie Brown’s America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts by Blake Scott Ball. Amazon link at (your) right. From the review:

    The author argues, sometimes in unattractive academic jargon, that many of the strip’s “most recognizable devices were born out of Cold War anxiety.” Linus’s “security blanket,” for instance, originates from a term first used in World War II to describe the “military’s secrecy surrounding troop movements in Europe.” Yet Schulz moves the phrase’s meaning from “an exterior confrontation of military maneuvering” to an idiosyncratic strategy for “containing one’s own mental and emotional ‘weaknesses’ for the good of a stable and prosperous democratic society.” Lucy’s psychiatry booth (“The Doctor Is ‘In’ ”) is another brilliantly realized device, and rich in ambiguity. Readers identified with the “openness and vulnerability” of Lucy’s most trusting patient, Charlie Brown, but also with Lucy’s savvy cashing-in on the postwar vogue for analysis instead of running a “more conventional childhood lemonade stand.”

    Sounds like a hoot! I was a big Peanuts fan back in my younger days. Didn't care for the TV specials, though.


  • The New Hampshire Libertarian Party is a Dumpster Fire. And probably the national party too. You can read all about it thanks to Brian Doherty's reporting at Reason: Inside the Battle over the Soul of the Libertarian Party.

    Joseph Bishop-Henchman resigned Friday as chair of the Libertarian National Committee (LNC), after a controversy that began three months ago with provocative tweets, intensified two weeks ago with an attempted schism of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party (LPNH), and has now turned into a battle for the soul of America's third-largest political party.

    Two other members of the 17-person LNC, Tucker Coburn and Francis Wendt, have also resigned in wake of the tumult. The long-influential Pragmatist Caucus, associated with the two presidential campaigns of Gary Johnson, has dissolved as a direct result. And one of the party's few elected officials, DeKalb, Illinois, City Clerk Sasha Cohen, resigned from the national Libertarian Party (L.P.) in protest, saying in an LNC Zoom meeting that "we are a big tent party, but no tent is big enough to hold racists and people of color, transphobes and trans people, bigots and their victims."

    For a political party that only managed to get 1.64% of the popular vote in New Hampshire and 1.18% nationwide (against two very unattractive major party candidates), the infighting seems pretty pointless and stupid.

    And I say this as someone who nearly always votes for Libertarian Party candidates when given the chance. Yes, they can be wacky. But the Rs and Ds are wacky too, and often more dangerous.


  • Anti-Religious Bigots Hardest Hit. Jeff Jacoby looks at one of the Supremes' Greatest Hits, and it's not "Baby Love": Again the Supreme Court Defends Religious Believers. Again It's Unanimous.

    WHEN THE NATION'S highest court issued a 9-0 decision last week upholding a Catholic social-service agency's right to participate in Philadelphia's foster care program, it provoked a mordant comment from Case Western law professor Jonathan Adler:

    "Supreme Court rules UNANIMOUSLY against Philadelphia in Fulton religious liberty case; opinion by [Chief Justice] Roberts," Adler tweeted. "So tell me again, who are the extremists?"

    It was an apt comment. Throughout this case, Catholic Social Services and its supporters had been portrayed as the aggressors, hostile to gay and lesbian equality and outrageously demanding the right to be closed-minded and intolerant. By their unanimous verdict, the justices made clear just which side they thought had behaved outrageously. It wasn't the church.

    The ACLU was on the zero side of the nine-zero decision, showing that it really only cares about some civil liberties.


  • It's Not a Hard Question. Alexandra DeSanctis has a query: The ‘Right to Choose’ What, Jen Psaki?.

    During a White House press briefing earlier this week, a reporter asked Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki a most verboten question: Does President Biden believe “that a 15-week-old unborn baby is a human being?”

    The nerve.

    Psaki, who is skilled at nothing if not the art of the dizzying pivot, responded, “Are you asking me if the president supports a woman’s right to choose? He does.”

    The reporter was not, of course, asking Psaki if Biden supports the “right to choose.” She asked something entirely different, a very clear question: Does the president subscribe to the belief that an unborn child — or, if one prefers, a fetus — is a human being, at least at some stage of pre-birth development? Put another way: Is the president willing to acknowledge a basic fact of biology, or does his ideology preclude him from doing so?

    Is baby-killing a tough and divisive issue? You bet. Does dishonest evasion reveal proponents' awareness of how honest direct answers to questions like the above would undermine their position? Yes, that too.


  • Government Demanding That Taxpayers Solve Government-Caused Problems. Veronique de Rugy writes her column on Infrastructure Insanity.

    In the event that a group of U.S. senators cannot agree on committing enough money to a bipartisan infrastructure plan, Democrats are reportedly considering a $6 trillion plan of their own. It would probably be best described as a package full of progressive items wrapped in magical thinking paper.

    Most people would consider $6 trillion a lot of money to drop on infrastructure. That's because most of us still have an outdated notion of what infrastructure is. In fact, for most people, the word infrastructure conjures up images of roads, bridges, dams and waterways. However, as we've discovered during the last few weeks of discussions, for elected Democrats, infrastructure can be so much more than that.

    Not long ago, for instance, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted: "Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure." So it's not surprising to see Politico report that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hopes to include an expansion of Medicare in the Democrats' plan. That expansion would include, among other things, a reduction of the Medicare eligibility age to 60 or even 55.

    "Insanity" is (probably) inaccurate. Insane people aren't responsible for their crazy beliefs. Bernie and Kirsten are responsible people who know what they're doing.

    At least in theory.