A Day of Numbers

Last night Auburn beat Oregon by a single field goal scored in the final two seconds of the game….and to tell the truth, it was a closer match than those numbers show.

On the subject of numbers, I spent the day listening to Freakonomics on tape while I played with my son and cleaned up a bit. Freakonomics, by award-winning economist Steven Levitt, explores phenomena in our society by applying the data mining and number crunching commonly used in economics.

What I find refreshing about Freakonomics is its approach to research. Levitt doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind. He’s interested in numbers, and follows where they take him. It’s so rare anymore to see somebody ask a question without already having an answer in mind. ¬†It reminded me of a two-volume history of the Brazilian martial art capoeira a read a while back. A history of Brazil is by nature a history of slavery, but this writer was interested in martial arts. He told the story of slavery with as little political fooforaw as I’ve ever seen on that particular subject.

Another fascinating point in Freakonomics was just how much numbers can tell us. In one example, Levitt explored the effect an ignorant-sounding name has on a person’s life. He found that the name itself has little effect, but having been born to the kind of parent who would give you such a name (typically unmarried, under 20 and poorly educated) has a huge effect. I’m impressed that numbers can split a hair so fine.

Where Freakonomics fails is at the same point where it succeeds. Levitt’s reliance on and fascination with the data helps remove bias from his research. At the same time, it made some of his conclusions feel cold, heartless, even inhuman. Just like last night’s score tells only part of the story from that game, Levitt’s data can only hint at the broad spectrum of the human experience.

Thanks for listening.

Quiero Taco Bell

So last night I joined by brother and father for the Blazers/Rockets game at the Rose Garden. I am not a huge fan of basketball, but I do like sports and I love going to live events. Even if the action’s not the best, the energy is fun.

As it turns out, Taco Bell has a deal running with the Blazers – they may have this with NBA teams nationwide – that if they score 100 points in a single game, everybody who showed up gets a coupon for a free chalupa. That’s right, folks. A. Free. Chalupa. If the Blazers scored 100 points. This would have made more sense with the late 90s/early 2000s Blazers. It’s a fair bet they were always craving late night fast food.

Halfway through the 4th quarter, the Blazers have 95 points. We get possession and start moving down the court. The following things happen:

  1. The Blazers’ mascot, “Blaze,” comes up on the jumbotron. Instead of his warmups, he is wearing a sombrero and sarape. He is holding maracas.
  2. The entire crowd – 20,000 fans – begins chanting “Cha-Lu-PA! Cha-Lu Pa!” to the rhythm of Blaze’s shaking maracas.
  3. The Blazers miss the shot, Houston gets possession. Everything returns to normal.
  4. The Blazers regain possession. Start again with step one.

Normally I’m a big participator in this kind of action. I didn’t go all the way to Alaska to not get a picture hugging the guy in the tacky bear costume. Nor did I go all the way to China to avoid doing tai chi with octogenarians in the park. I didn’t go to the Blazer game to not raise my voice alongside 20,000 of my countrymen and demand my share of the American Dream. However, I was unable to participate in this particular event. I was too busy trying to stop myself from laughing my colon right out my left nostril.

Portland’s beloved basketball team has a talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Just ask the 1991-1994 ¬†Chicago Bulls. They nearly failed us, missing shot after shot and letting Houston close up the gap aggressively in the last six minutes of the game. But with a three-pointer and a lay-up, they managed to break 100 to the roaring of fans. People were hugging each other over these free chalupas. All in all, one of the more bizarre spectacles I’ve witnessed so far this year.

I wonder what stuff like that does to the point spread.

Thanks for listening.

Alrighty, then

Fans, friends and total strangers alike know that I’m actually getting some traction in this freelance writing thing. Clients are lining up. Assignments are coming in. Got that book turned in and another in the works. I’m told that the next step is to get me to a bloggery. So here I am. Here you’ll find my thoughts on writing, reading and random other stuff. You can also find my portfolio, and some links to who’s publishing my stuff lately. Happy new year to all.

Thanks for listening.