Friday, January 21, 2011

Local math, or shopping around Tyler

So, last week, the Better Half and I are out in the town. Our daughter is at her Pokemon League for a couple of hours, so we have some time to burn. We decide to visit one of the fine book retail establishments, specifically one that sells used books and media. Last weekend, they had a big used book sale, which is like catnip to a feline. We decide to stock up. I find a few nice graphic novel selections, and the Better Half finds some things for herself. After a while, we decide to go pay. This is where things get interesting.

The Better Half is getting rung up first by the nice young female cashier. She appears to be either a senior in high school or a freshman in college. Make note of this detail for it may be important in the narrative. I should mention that the sale is as follows: Get five (5) used books for twenty (20) dollars.

Young lady begins ringing up the purchase. The Better Half notices that the price per book is a bit high, not to mention the total will be a bit more (ok, a lot more) than twenty bucks. We proceed to point that out. The cashier then starts changing the prices manually. OK, we understand that programming a cash register may not be easy; the machine was not set to scan and figure out the sale. Cool, I can go with that.

However, we worry when she starts changing the price to five dollars per book. Again, we gently point out that the sale as stated in "get five books for 20 dollars." It is at this point that the young lady gets a bit distressed. What does she do?

She calls out to the cashier two stalls down, "hey Bob (the name Bob is used to protect the not so innocent), how much are books if they are 5 for 20 bucks?"

We had to gently do the math for her and explain that if you buy 5 books at 20 dollars, it means each book would cost four dollars each. Apparently basic math is not a requirement to be a cashier anymore. In fact, we even told our daughter about it, asking her, "hun, if books are 5 for 20 bucks, how much is it per book?" Daughter right away said, "dad, that's easy. They are 4 bucks each."

I don't know about the rest of you, but if that girl is the future of America, I am worried.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Can you learn something about someone from just their reading list?

The big event in the news this week was the shooting of Ms. Giffords, the Arizona Congresswoman, by Jared Lee Loughner. When a tragedy like this happens, people need to find something to hang on to. One thing they often want to know is motivation. What motivated the guy to shoot this lady who was doing nothing more at the time than meeting her constituents at a local grocery store? The media is full of pundits and sensationalist reporters speculating on all sorts of reasons; certain politicians are definitely not helping matters with their rhetoric.

The type of speculation that caught my eye enough to want to blog about it is the one about the books the shooter listed as his favorites. Apparently, we can tell a lot about a person by the books he has read, or at least claims to have read (or anyhow just lists on a YouTube profile as "favorites"). 3 Quarks Daily links to an article from The Christian Science Monitor that just does this: ask what can we learn about the shooter from the books on his (virtual) bookshelf? I found the idea a bit ridiculous, but speculating is something the U.S. media does very well. By the way, you can find other relevant links at the CSM story.

So, I wondered, what if someone looked over some of the books I have read recently, what would they think about me? Keep in mind that, like the article, we are mostly going by the books listed. Would someone be calling the FBI? Would folks think I am a nutjob? Or something worse? In the interest of a little amusement, let's pick out some recent selections from my "Books Read" shelf over on GoodReads, throw in some snark, and see just what can we learn about this librarian. Oh, and before we go on, I had another question. Did the people doing the judging and speculating actually read any of the books listed on the shooter's list? Or did they simply speculate on the basis of titles or "common knowledge." For example, for Mein Kampf, which the shooter lists, did the critics just go, "holy shit! He lists Hitler's book. I have not read it, but damn, that means the guy is a sicko"?

So here is my book sampling and my speculation exercise. Just pretend some reporter got a hold of my booklist and went wild with it. You can find my reviews of the books in my GoodReads shelf if interested.

  • The two hardcover compilations of The Walking Dead
    • "This guy must be obsessed with doomsday scenarios and the breakdown of society. It's got zombies in it, so he probably has an interest in the occult, making him antisocial and possibly anti-Christian (because we all know the only religion to be taken seriously in the U.S. is Protestant Christianity. If you like zombies, you like the occult, so therefore you are not Christian, which must mean you are bad). 
  • Armando Choy, Nuestra historia aรบn se esta escribiendo(this is the history of the Chinese-Cuban generals I recently read). 
    • "The guy is a fucking commie who glorifies Fidel and his generals. Why does he hate America?" (by the way, notice the automatic assumption, typical in the U.S., that America is just the United States. Last I looked, Cuba, along with the rest of Latin America as well as Canada, is part of America. You get extra points if you say something about the book being in Spanish, namely a foreign language, and wondering if it says something bad about Americans in general). 
  • Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals.
    • "The man is a socialist and a troublemaker. Somebody should keep an eye on him because he's probably plotting something."
  • Kelly Huegel's GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens
    • "The guy is a fag sympathizer; hell, he is probably a closeted pervert looking to indoctrinate young people into the 'gay agenda' to destroy 'traditional' family values." 
  • Ted Nugent's Ted, White & Blue
    • "This guy is a right wing nutjob (hey, if Obama can be a fascist AND a socialist, this is not that much of a stretch).
  • Eric Garcia's The Repossession Mambo
    • "The guy clearly hates banks, Wall Street, and financial institutions. His house is probably on foreclosure or already repossessed by the bank." 
  • Jack Huberman's The Quotable Atheist
    • "See, we told you. He is a pervert, communist, fascist who hates Christians. The guy is an effing atheist. Do you really need more proof?" 
  • James Morrow's Bible Stories for Adults
    • "Not only is he an atheist pervert, but he is also a porn fiend who enjoys twisted porn that desecrates the Bible."
  • Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need is Kill
    • "Holy Shit! This guy is a serial killer just waiting to go on a shooting spree. He is probably suicidal too. Call the authorities now."
 Honestly, do we really think we can probe someone's mind by a few book titles on a profile? In the case of the shooter, do we even know if he actually read the books? Or did he just list the books that were force-fed to him in school, which does not necessarily mean he really read them? Overall, I don't think we can put much stock in that kind of speculation. Sure, you can look at someone's book list and get a bit of a sense of what kind of reader they are, what kind of books they favor, so on. But to make an actual psychological profile out of thin air, which seems to be what some of the pundits are doing, I don't think so. Besides, such speculation can get out of hand.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011