Suppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientistSuppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientist-rationalist husband Michael Verres-Evans. In this world, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres learns the surprising fact of his magical heritage and proceeds into the magical world possessing a strong background in science and logical thinking. How might this change J.K. Rowling's story? What happens when a scientific mind tries to harmonize the world of science with a world in which transfiguration, Time-Turners, and illogical monetary exchange rates hold sway? What happens when game theory, artificial intelligence, ethics, quantum physics, and other scientific (or at least Enlightenment-influenced) ideas are introduced into Rowling's soft-magic world?
The answer is, of course, much poking of fun at the canonical Harry Potter world's magic, frequent in-jokes (often lampshading) referring to canonical-series events that don't happen in this story (or sometimes do, but in substantially different manner). (And many, many references, explicit and implicit, to other works, especially SF/F ones: Ender's Game, Star Wars, Star Trek, and others I can't bring to mind quickly enough -- not to mention the references I doubtless missed.) This is a much darker story than the original, with rationalist Harry regularly tending Machiavellian, or amorally utilitarian, in his actions. But it's still quite good.
As far as potential demerits. This story's fairly heavy in what's clearly the author's viewpoints, but generally they're artfully conveyed within the story itself without being too heavy-handed about it (unlike, say, various Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand works: and to be clear, I was able to enjoy those authors' works even when this happened, or at least to mentally disassociate at such times). The tone varies a fair bit through the course of the story, with occasional arcs that aren't quite resolved cleanly. Somewhere just past the halfway mark, the general consensus seems to be (and I think there's some merit to it) that the story bogs down a little. There's one arc that I think probably could be left out, with the important parts merged into the rest of the story, at little overall cost. And the story is loooooong: fully half again as long (if not more) as the longest Wheel of Time doorstopper. (I have no problem reading long epic fantasy, so this isn't particularly a problem to me [though the glacial increase in percentage read on my Kindle was mildly wearying]. But it is a very slow slog to read the entire thing.) Some of this might be attributable to its basis in fan fiction (though to be clear, I say that almost entirely on the basis of stereotypes, without much direct experience with fanfic myself).
Nonetheless, this is an entirely enjoyable story, as long as you're willing to accept its incredible length. Particularly so if you enjoyed the original Harry Potter (do not read this before reading that -- there are far too many jokes and references that you'll completely miss if you haven't), and especially if you want something a little darker, more systematic, more intelligent, and more adult. (Which is not to say that it exceeds the original: J. K. Rowling is a better writer, her stories' points resonate better, and I think are largely more important and more profound than this story's points.) If you don't typically appreciate hard-SF sorts of literature, tho, you might want to stay away....more
What's to say? It's the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, in their original forms. TheWhat's to say? It's the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, in their original forms. The only adjustment is that portions of the Constitution and amendments changed by subsequent amendments are bracketed and footnoted to indicate which amendment changed them. (So, for example, the Eighteenth Amendment [instituting Prohibition] is bracketed and noted as repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment. Have you ever noticed the alcoholic beverage amendments were 18 and 21? Quite the handy coincidence!) This is an excellent portable version of the original, unmodified text of these foundational documents.
This booklet also includes a brief preface by Roger Pilon of the inestimable Cato Institute, which publishes this booklet. The preface lays out some of the historical background for the Declaration and Constitution, and it discusses their aims and goals. (I wish the preface had also discussed the context and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, given how fundamentally it altered our constitutional structure. Given a desire to keep the preface short, and the complexity of the topic, this absence is understandable. But it's still unfortunate.) Not surprisingly given its Cato provenance, the narrative presented is one of a broadly libertarian, limited government of enumerated powers. In any case it's easily ignored by the reader who disagrees with it, and it doesn't make this edition any less useful than any of the other pocket Constitutions out there....more
The United States tax system is insane. At over 70000 pages and counting, it's impossible for any person to fully understand it. It's riddled with looThe United States tax system is insane. At over 70000 pages and counting, it's impossible for any person to fully understand it. It's riddled with loopholes and special cases, inserted over the years by politicians larding their bills to attract votes. Its incentives distort individual choices by making evasion and avoidance more attractive, it stimulates rent-seeking, and it's spawned entire industries devoted to addressing the deadweight loss from its complexity. It is almost thoroughly unlikable, and it's a system no one would ever design.
This book (also available for free online) presents an alternative tax system: the flat tax. The flat tax strips away nearly all the complexity of the current tax code, reducing the entire tax system (with a couple exceptions like the social security tax) to a handful of figures and simple calculations, stripping away nearly all special cases to eliminate loopholes and opportunities for unequal treatment. The authors reduce the entire code to a mere seven very short pages of text, understandable by any financially-savvy person. The tax forms themselves are the size of postcards.
In this book, Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka present the rationales for the flat tax, the logic behind it, the details of how it would work, and common questions and answers about it. They labor at some length to present the complete details of the system. It's technical reading you can't simply breeze through: you'll have to work a little to understand it all, and it's best digested slowly. But any intelligent person with a little mathematical skill and mind for finance will come away from this book with significant understanding of exactly how the flat tax would work.
Merits or demerits of the proposal aside, this presentation of the flat tax is excellent. If you want to understand the flat tax, whether to praise it, to bury it, or simply because you want to be better-informed, this is the book to read....more
Economics has wrongly been named the "dismal science" in the past. Not so, as Levitt and Dubner show. The study of economics is really about, as the iEconomics has wrongly been named the "dismal science" in the past. Not so, as Levitt and Dubner show. The study of economics is really about, as the introduction puts it, "explaining how people get what they want". On that point, this book does an excellent job of providing compelling explanations for a number of vexing questions: how cheating happens in certain industries, how information can so strongly affect incentives, how the drug market really works for dealers, why the crime rate dropped so precipitously around 1995 despite predictions to the contrary, and how to parent. As the authors say, these essays don't have a particular unifying theme. They're just about applying economic logic to sociological questions.
Which is not to say that every answer the authors present is necessarily correct, or even incorrect. And they're certainly not politically correct at all times, either. What's good about them is that they make you think; in particular, they make you think different ways about old problems. And they present a good example of how thinking like an economist can lead you to think differently.
One note about this particular edition. One of the chapters, the chapter discussing the Ku Klux Klan, is substantially different in the original hardcover than in this edition. It turns out the authors based that chapter, in the first edition, on interviews with a man who, well, probably embellished the truth a bit to enhance his own reputation. That chapter in this book is substantially less assertive, as a result. I've begun reading various versions of this before finally picking up this copy at an airport bookshop, and I've read that chapter in the original. If you can find it (probably a library would have it), I'd recommend reading the original version as well as the new one, so you better understand the differences between the two. (To their credit, this edition includes a column by the authors discussing how they were "Hoodwinked", to use the title of the column.)
I'd be remiss in noting that this book arguably spawned an entire mini-genre for pop-culture economics books: quite the accomplishment. For that reason alone, it's worth picking this up to see what so many people find so interesting....more
Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution fame believes the economic good times are over for the United States. This Debbie Downer believes all the low-hangiTyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution fame believes the economic good times are over for the United States. This Debbie Downer believes all the low-hanging fruit for technological advancement is gone, for the moment. Improvements in recent history have been only incremental. And the Internet, arguably the big exception to the no-improvement story, has improved things but not in ways that show up in economic figures. It's definitely a thought-provoking take on the current rate of progress in the world. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, to be sure. But it's worth reading to challenge your preconceptions at the very least....more
How do laws and the legal process balance the competing interests of everyone involved? What do judges consider when deciding how a law should be consHow do laws and the legal process balance the competing interests of everyone involved? What do judges consider when deciding how a law should be construed? Ward Farnsworth here presents tools to help answer these questions, and others like them: thirty-one concepts that underlie our legal system. Paraphrasing part of the book's preface, the goal is to gather and clearly explain, with numerous examples, the most interesting ideas presented in law school.
That said, I think this book is under-sold as specifically being for legal-minded people. Some of the concepts are more specific to the law, to be sure. But most of the ideas have general applicability to thinking about how people interact generally. The economic ideas give ways to think about how much things are worth (in a broad sense of the word), how people value them, and whose responsibility problems should be. These ideas are all useful in considering group dynamics well outside the legal context. The game theory concepts are useful to anyone in any sort of business, in thinking about, and talking about, how their competitors will act and react to them. The psychological phenomena studied are immensely valuable to advertisers, and to anyone in the general public interested in recognizing the subtle tactics advertisements use. The concepts deriving from statistics are valuable to anyone thinking about what the figures people give actually mean, or don't mean. Even the jurisprudential ideas studied are often useful for argument and persuasion in general, and making one's point more effectively.
This book isn't really about law, although it frequently touches upon it, and the topic of law is an undercurrent throughout. It's really about concepts that show up everywhere, not just in law: concepts useful to anyone wanting to think about how the world works, why it works the way it does, and how to successfully navigate it. It's not a long book, but it is a deep book: best digested a chapter at a time, giving time for thought about the concepts discussed to see them elsewhere in the world. (In this regard I regard it much as I regard The Federalist Papers: a book worthy of slow digestion and extra time to chew on the topics presented.)
I've never been to law school and have no intention of going. I don't know how useful it is specifically for the aspiring lawyer. But I do think it's well worth reading for anyone interested in thinking deeply about the world and how we move through it. Highly recommended....more