Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Book, a Movie, and a TV Show

Baseball season is over so it's time to entertain myself in other ways. So here's brief list of stuff I've been reading, watching, and.. uh... watching. Maybe I'll try to do something like this periodically.

Book: More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics, by Stephen Landsburg. This is one of those pop-economics books that have been popping up since the success of Dubner and Levitt's Freakonomics. Like Freakonomics and Landsburg's earlier book, The Armchair Economist, it's a collection of essays that discuss the underlying economics of everyday situations. In particular, it explains why "conventional wisdom" in many situations is wrong. The title chapter argues that the spread of STDs would decrease if people that have no sex, or very little sex would have more sex. The argument goes like this: Say that if you're a woman (You can switch the genders around in this example if you want to. You can even just switch one if you're into that.) on the prowl and there are 4 dudes in the bar that you're willing to bed. Two of them are very promiscuous and the other two only venture out once a year. Assuming that the two man-whores are more likely to have herpes, your odds of finding a safe mate are around 50%. Now assume that you could magically make every dude that only bones once a year into a dude that bones twice a year. Then, on any given night, there would be twice as many of these relatively safe dudes out on the prowl, including our hypothetical evening. Your odds of safe sex mating would go up to 66%. And there's like a multiplier affect because then when you go bed some other dude, you'll have less chance of spreading herpes yourself. Get it? Increased activity by sexual conservatives, according to Landsburg, would slow down the spread of STDs.

But Landsburg's point in this chapter, and most of his other chapters, is that the benefits of doing something like this are mostly for others, not for the sexual conservative choosing to get it on more often. He'd obviously receive the benefit of getting laid more often, but he'd only be sharing the benefit of a safer pool of partners with a jillion other people. It's this problem that he really analyzes. If the only good that is caused by a particular one of my actions is a benefit to everyone else rather than a benefit to me, what motivates me to act that way? Here's where I started to get a little uneasy with some of Landsberg's ideas. He pretty much wants to subsidize everything. That's not something you hear a lot of economists saying, but he things the government should pay sexual conservatives to have sex (and pay them with condoms), pay jurors to find verdicts, and fine them for bad verdicts, and it should buy every patent and put it into the public domain. This stuff all sounded crazy to me at first, but Landsburg has a way of almost convincing you that these are great ideas. Whether or not you buy into anything he says, it's an interesting read and a great way to see how an interesting mind works.

Movie: Children of Men was a pretty heavy movie. It was really well made if you're into artistic shit like cinematography and "style." It's got some Citizen Cain style newsreel stuff in it, and a single shot action battle sequence that is really really cool. All this stuff was secondary to the story about a post-apocalyptic future in which nobody can have babies and everyone has lost hope and gone bonkers. Great Britain is the only functioning government left and it's being torn apart by a flood of refugees and terrorist groups. Clive Owen ends up finding a pregnant chick and trying to escort her... somewhere. It doesn't really matter where because this is one of those road movies where the journey is more important than the destination. It was a solid movie, but I have a hard time with movies where the journey is more important than the destination. I'd rather the story teller finishes their story than leave it up to me to interpret. But it's well worth watching regardless.

TV Show: Season two of Dexter started Monday. Before I talk about Dexter, I need to say that Showtime is the best network on TV and those bastards at Time Warner totally sold me on it by giving it to me free for 6 months. I know HBO generally defines what constitutes great television drama, or "dramady" in some cases, but with the [non-]death of the Sopranos, Deadwood, and that show with all those ugly chicks in New York City, Showtime has a stronger overall lineup right now. Showtime's lineup now includes one outstanding show in Weeds, and at least four very very good shows in Bullsh!t, Dexter, Brotherhood and Californication. Bullsh!t was great in it's first two seasons but has declined somewhat due to the fact that they're running out of bullshit. That's good for society I suppose, but bad for TV. But I digress.

The hero and title character of Dexter is a serial killer. That premise alone is just so interesting. In Silence of the Lambs and it progeny, they made us a little sympathetic to Hannibal by having him find respect for Jodie Foster and kill that weaselly vice principal dude from Bostin Public. But we still all knew Hannibal was a bad guy. Dexter is actually a pretty good guy, despite the fact that he's murdered tens or hundreds of people. The premise is that Dexter was raised by his stepfather, a cop named Harry. Harry realized pretty early that Dexter was crazy and would probably end up a killer. So Harry trained him to control his urges using what Dexter refers to as "the code of Harry." He still kills, but he only kills bad guys. He finds out who the bad guys are through his work as a forensics cop specializing in blood spatter analysis. This skill also helps him make his own crime scenes perfectly clean. At first I found this premise a little too far fetched, but as I watched the show, I got into it. It helps that Michael C. Hall (the dude from Six Feet Under) plays the part so well.

This season begins with Dexter unable to kill, but he doesn't see this as a good thing. Which is kind of weird. Meanwhile, and more intriguing, some divers find the place where Dexter dumps all the bodies of his victims. That's about all we got in that story line, but I'm interested to see how the public reacts when they start identifying Dexter's victims, who are all really really bad guys.


Anonymous said...

I've heard of Landsburg's book, and just assumed that it talked about how people who have a lot of sex know how to use condoms and dental dams and get tested more often, etc.

I was not expecting the argument that the more "safe" people who have sex, the safer everyone will be. I don't know if I buy it. His argument works if its just a one night thing, and perhaps for a fixed number of years, but wouldn't there be some tipping point? How can transmission rates not go up when more people are doing it, and the same number of infected people continue to do it? Especially given human behavior to be involved in drug and alcohol use the more promiscuous you are? By his reasoning, does he think that people with herpes are just giving it to each other over and over again?

Very interesting theory though.

Wait, is he saying that overall transmissions will go up, but the individual probability of getting infected will go down if more people do it?

Danny from Milwaukee said...

Well, infected people will keep having sex, but they'll have more comepetition for tail. So infected people will have fewer sexual encounters while uninfected people are having more.

Obviously there's a point when this all falls apart, but it's an interesting thing to think about. He was saying there should be some kind of system in which people who are STD free are provided condoms by the government, basically a payment to get them to have more sex. He thought about paying people cash to have sex, but found problems with ensuring that the right people are doing it. So he thought condoms were a great method of payment to make sure that the only people that tried to collect would be those most likly to use them. The condoms would be given on an exchange basis. Prove you had sex with the last one and you get your next one. Ewww.

PaulNoonan said...

I really like the part about Steve Levitt's LoJack study, which should definitely have made it into Freakonomics.

Also, Re: the More Sex is Safer Sex theory, didn't he have some empirical data to support it too? One thing that struck me about the book was that a bunch of his wacky theories seems to have at least some small sample of real world data to back it up.

Christi said...

Loved Children of Men, although i was left feeling very unsatisfied in the end. I have to interpret enough in my real life, I'd rather not have to do it with my fantasy entertainment excape as well =)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but the people with STDs will have more practice. If zombie movies have taught me anything, it is that a few infected will soon infect an enitre population.

Although, I think places like Vermont college towns do have extremely low STD rates and lots of sexual activity. But maybe there is something to the demographic that is having more sex. I mean, if six college students start their freshman year virgins, and then each have sex three times with each other, then that is probably pretty high activity with pretty low chance of getting the clap. So, I can see how that is safer than taking home some tattooed person from a dive bar.

Danny from Milwaukee said...

I think we are on the same page. We're some unimaginative folks.

Yeah, Zombies. Uh huh.