November 30, 2008

The end of the witch hunt for pedophiles?

In the comments to the post about how schoolgirls should not wear schoolgirl costumes, Peter threw the word pedophile around pretty loosely, which is typical nowadays. As I pointed out in a post showing the myth of more sexual predators, the coverage that the topic gets is the opposite of what we'd expect if the reporters were simply responding to changes in, say, the forcible rape rate. Sex crimes, and crime in general, has been plummeting since the early 1990s, while fear of sexual predators has skyrocketed in recent years.

The same is true for pedophilia, which when acted on is just a subset of sex crime. As with crime in general, there has been a huge reduction in all forms of child abuse since the early 1990s. This shows that it is not simply more police on the street that caused crime to drop, as police have a tough time deterring crimes against children, which can easily go undetected. For sexual abuse against minors, the crime rate fell 49% between 1990 and 2004.

And sure enough, as with sexual predators in general, newspapers have become increasingly obsessed with pedophiles:

The graphs shows the number of articles with "pedophile," "pedophiles," "pedophilia," or "pedophilic" as a fraction of all articles, according to a Lexis-Nexis search of the NYT. (The 2008 point is based on the year so far.) Contradicting the idea that they're just responding to changes in the crime rate, the above graph shows that no one really cared that much about pedophiles during the 1980s, while they started freaking out after child abuse went into a steep decline. The spike in 2002 is due to a lot of coverage on Catholic priests. There's an increasing trend since 1992, but unless a deluge of pedophile-related articles comes out in the remaining month of 2008, it looks like the hysteria may be burning out.

Mass media are a good thing, on balance, but they make it possible for annoying and resource-depleting panics to spread. The witch hunts of the Early Modern period probably wouldn't have happened without the printing press, for example. Because they are rumors, it's not even possible to prevent them from spreading by, say, requiring all reporters to do fact checks before running with a story. If the article were specifically about the change in the rate of child sexual abuse, the reporter would obviously question the police, look up crime stats on google -- or at least you hope so -- and the article would be about how it's declining.

But the articles aren't like that. They focus on some DA's effort to get tougher on pedophiles, or a particular incident of pedophilic crime, and not on the big picture. So they never think to check changes in crime rates, only to fact-check the minutiae of the story. Since it doesn't seem ridiculous in the reporter's mind to cover a single incident, each one isn't even aware that they're contributing to a witch hunt -- you only see the ridiculousness by looking at the total amount of coverage devoted to a topic, and asking whether the trend makes sense given the trend in whatever they're covering.

It becomes obvious, once the panic is over, that it was stupid to believe in it in the first place, and everyone laughs about how gullible people must have been to take part in it -- e.g., fear of Satanic cults in the 1970s and '80s. But that's easy. What's harder is looking at today's conventional wisdom and seeing if it's right or wrong. The mass media themselves won't perform this in-house inspection because most journalists are just not interested in figuring out what's going on -- they mostly want to be the first to let their groupies in on their tribe's latest juicy gossip. Thankfully, the internet allows outsiders to point out when the mass media are wrong, but who knows how much of a difference that makes.

November 27, 2008

Teens are more thankful for relationships

Yeah, I know -- those with teenage children, or who simply remember how they treated their parents as teenagers, are howling right now. But, Freud and The Breakfast Club notwithstanding, most of the important interactions that adolescents have are with other adolescents, plus whatever adults they run into during their daily or weekly routine outside the home.

The reason is simple: when you're in high school and college, you haven't yet joined civilization, and therefore don't enjoy its benefits, such as relative independence. In the devil-take-the-hindmost jungle of adolescence, you need all the social support you can get. Because they are more crucial to your survival then, you value your friends and romantic partners more than when you can make it OK on your own. *

I'm happy to be pretty free of those constraints now, but when looking for someone with girlfriend potential, you want to make sure that they are still socially fragile and anxious. Otherwise, they won't be very grateful for you being there. What could be worse than an unappreciative girlfriend -- except an ingrate whose face is becoming wrinkled, puffy, and dull? Just like former bankers now standing shame-faced in line for an unemployment check, aging women are the least thankful for the attention they get because they know it's unearned -- it only comes from a group that gives indiscriminantly, even to the lowest of the low. (In their case, mostly young horny losers who think she'll be an easy lay, and men her own age who are too washed-up to snag a younger woman.)

Treasuring her infatuation, boyfriend, or husband can somewhat make up for sub-perfect looks, although it will backfire if she's unattractive. The girl on the left is about a 7.5 compared to other girls at the teen dance club, though that probably makes her a 9.5 in the pool of women of all ages. While not gorgeous, she has a grateful, giving personality that is pretty enchanting.

I first met her in June when she and 5 or 6 of her friends encircled me, with her in front. Obviously, she wanted to dance but was anxious to walk over by herself, so she brought her friends for comfort. Most girls don't hug me as often and as long as she did once we weren't dancing. She was one groupie who was hard to forget.

About two months ago, she returned to the club and after a moment or two, I recognized her, went up to her with a smile and took her hand to dance. She interrupted me to ask, "Wait, do you remember me???!?!?!" Yeah, you're that girl from awhile ago -- you and like 5 of your friends surrounded me. "Omigod, you dooo!!!!" Again, I've never seen so much hugging.

I had both her and her friend (not the other one in the picture), one on each leg, when a group of 18 year-old guys came up to try to pick her off. I didn't want to appear jealous, so I looked at her like, "hey, go for it." But she wasn't interested, and they wouldn't leave her alone. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I mentioned something about being there to protect her. "Awwwww!!!!" and another arm-wrapping-around-my-back, head-nestling-into-my-chest move.

Last weekend I saw her again, and approached her saying, "Hey, Daniela! [not her real name] How've you been?" "Omigod, you remember my naaaaame??!?!?!!!!!" Another big hug, head on my chest, and you get the idea. After chatting for a bit, her cockblocking friend (the one in the picture, with closed body language) stole her away, but every step she resisted and clung to me, like a kid being dragged into the dentist's office. She held onto my palm with her delicate little hand the entire way. When her friend tried to rush her past me later on, she slowed down, smiled wide, and waved like you see in the picture.

Like I said, I've had cuter girls approach me, but few have been so cherishing of the effort I make to give them a fun experience. Not having to worry about the girl busting your balls -- huge advantage. While really feisty girls are good for one-night stands, having a higher sex drive, when it comes to selecting my girlfriend, I want to know we're not going to be butting heads all the time.

When a guy invests in only one girl, it's a huge loss for him -- he could be investing those resources to better himself, or investing them in a variety of girls. Find a young girl, and your sacrifice will be rewarded with feminine gratitude rather than spoiled indifference.

* Here is a graph from GSS data. Each point represents an age group spanning 4 years, and the "age" is simply the middle of the span. Only females were considered.

Females feel closest to their closest friend when they're youngest -- "hailey is like totally my bff!!!!" -- although by 35 they've recovered somewhat, only to drift apart afterward. This survey was given before cell phones, so I'd guess that nearly 100% of women from 18 to 35 now talk to their closest friend almost daily. Too bad the GSS doesn't interview below-18 people. I'm sure you'd see the lines continue upward as you go from 19.5 to 15.5 years old.

November 26, 2008

Even in red states, smarter people don't hunt, fish, or watch cars run laps


Well, that interlude of Catalan girls was refreshing, but now it's back to the quant grindstone. In Monday's post on the relationship between IQ and interest in sports, I showed that hunting and fishing, as well as going to auto races, decline as you look at smarter people. Although I looked only at whites, I didn't separate them by region. A commenter said this:

But in my experience, this is a lot more of a regional thing. A smart guy in Kansas or Wyoming is a lot more likely to hunt than a dumb guy in New York City.

Another commenter said this in a related post by Audacious Epigone:

You have made a critical error in your analysis. Alaska is a special case. Hunting is more of an integral activity for Alaskan kids and adults. It's the low IQ Alaskans who don't hunt.

They are both wrong.

The GSS doesn't allow us to look state-by-state, but it does allow us to look at regions. Obviously the commenters above are talking about the red state / blue state divide, so I lumped regions into red and blue categories. They aren't perfect, but they're pretty close. * In the end, I don't care how closely they match up with a "voted for Bush" map, since that's not the point -- the point is to carve the country up into NASCAR and Starbucks states, which is what I'm calling red and blue.

[Update] The original graphs I posted below are for HUNTFISH and AUTORACE. However, the question HUNT, which asks if you go hunting, has been asked for much longer, and so has a much larger sample size, allowing me to look at the full spectrum of IQ scores. The data are from white respondents only. Here is a graph showing that as you look at smarter people, in either red or blue states, hunting declines in popularity:

The red-state line is almost always above the blue-state one, validating my choice of which regions are red and blue. In both regions, hunting is most popular with those of average or below-average intelligence. As you move up the above-average group, they are increasingly less likely to go hunting. The only differences between red and blue states are that red-staters of above-average IQ are at most a whopping 5% more likely to hunt than their blue state counterparts, and that dumb red staters are even more likely to go hunting than dumb blue staters. As I say below, the upper end of red-staters are LESS likely to hunt than the lower end of blue-staters. [End of update]

So here is a follow-up, still looking only at whites, but now comparing patterns in red vs. blue states. I only counted IQ groups that had about 40 individuals or more (for red states, the 4 and 9 groups had 38 and 36 people, but I counted that as close enough, just to get comparable groups).

Two boring, expected findings: 1) hunting and fishing are more popular than going to auto races (perhaps due to cost and schedule flexibility), and 2) for all but the lowest IQ class, red staters hunt and fish or go to auto races more than blue staters. As with the national data, in blue states an interest in hunting and fishing or going to auto races declines as you look at smarter people (Spearman's rank correlation for hunting and auto races with IQ is -0.94, two-tailed p = 0.035 and -0.89, p = 0.047).

In red states, the pattern is only slightly different -- interest in these low-class activities doesn't strictly decline with IQ (Spearman's rank correlations are not significant). But for everyone who is average or above in IQ -- those who score 5 or more out of 10 -- it does (Spearman's rank correlations are -1.00, two-tailed p = 0.044). So, hunting and fishing and NASCAR are most popular with average people in red states, but the higher you move above them in IQ, the less that people are interested in this stuff, exactly as in blue states. Moreover, the downward slopes don't even look very different, so it's not as if IQ and hunting or NASCAR are more strongly related among blue state smarties.

Finally, "a smart guy in Kansas or Wyoming" is LESS likely to hunt than Joe Sixpack in New York -- I mean, really. The highest three IQ groups in red states all hunt and fish less than the below-average blue state group. This is even more true for NASCAR.

We live in a strange time when rich, educated red staters have managed to convince some people that they're in touch with the common man -- which they aren't (and of course neither are rich, educated blue staters). They don't give a shit about blasting down animals with guns or watching logo-encrusted cars zip around a speedway 500 times in a row. I just checked, and will write up the results later, but high-class activities increase in popularity as IQ increases -- in red and blue states.

Why is this such frightening news? It's something that rich, educated red staters should trumpet, not sweep under the rug: "We too love the ballet and hate NASCAR -- can't us smarties all just get along?" The elites are more polarized than the masses for social and political values (see Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State), but in the cultural arena, it seems that the elites are pretty similar, while the middle differs the most between red and blue states.

To wrap things up, here are the follow-up graphs for doing sports or attending a sports event, which isn't broken down by sport. They show pretty much the same pattern as the national data, although the upper end in blue states is more physically active and attends sports events more often than their red state counterparts.

* I counted the following regions as blue states:

New England - Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut
Middle Atlantic - New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
East North Central - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
Pacific - Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii

These regions are the red states:

West North Central - Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas
South Atlantic - Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida
East South Central - Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi
West South Central - Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas
Mountain - Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada

November 25, 2008

More Catalan girls

Just checked Google Analytics, and a fair share of people who enter this blog from a search were looking for "catalan girls." What can I say, I'm a generous guy, so here you go. These are girls I knew to varying degrees, from internet friends to girls I went ice skating and clubbing with, when I lived in Barcelona. I tried to get pictures from that time -- 2004 to 2005 -- just for the sentimental value of looking over old photos, as well as hopefully capturing the zeitgeist.

Recall that this was when another new wave of cool, stripped-down rock music broke out, and they devoured it in Catalonia. Every weekend, young people would pour in from hours away to dance it up in the gigantic Razzmatazz to The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, The Ramones, etc etc etc. Imagine how crowded the New York or DC subway and metro are for New Year's Eve, with an unbroken file three of four people wide extending four or five blocks from the metro station to the club -- every weekend!

* * * * *

November 23, 2008

How are IQ and interest in sports related?

Moronic meatheads, yuppie tennis aficionados, Very Important People with courtside seats, and braindead couch potatoes -- with so many true stereotypes about the relationship between brains and liking sports, how do we get a clearer overall picture? I'm sure people have looked into this before, but my graphs will be more informative.

The General Social Survey, a large and representative national survey, asks people sports-related questions, as well as giving them a quick IQ test. The graph below shows the probability of doing some sports-related thing in the past year as a function of how smart you are. I excluded IQ groups that contained fewer than 40 individuals, but this still keeps most of the intelligence spectrum. All the results below come from white respondents only.

The two top lines don't specify which sport you do or attend, while the bottom two are more specific. (Unfortunately, the GSS didn't ask this sample specifically about upper-class / smarty sports like tennis or golf.) Overall, doing and attending sports are most popular with people who are a bit above average in brains, and decline in popularity as you look at dumber and smarter people. So, neither of the two increase or decrease significantly as IQ increases (Spearman rank correlation for attending sports and doing sports with IQ is +0.66, two-tailed p = 0.08 and +0.77, p = 0.077).

But when we break down "sports" into particular sports, trends show up. Hunting and fishing, and attending auto races, decline in popularity as you look at smarter people (Spearman rank correlation for hunting / fishing and auto race attendance with IQ is -0.88, two-tailed p = 0.019 and -0.95, p = 0.012).

Right after I moved to the Mountain Time Zone, my department began fruitlessly trying to peer-pressure me to go shooting ducks with shotguns, etc., but ain't gonna happen. Some high-IQ hunters and fishers grew up doing this stuff, and that's fine, but others are just indulging in faux populism to make themselves feel cool. It's too bad the GSS didn't ask about baseball -- my impression is that, aside from clearly upper-crust sports like tennis and golf, baseball is the one plebe sport that smart people are allowed to pretend like they care about. It seems part of Ellis Island worship -- honoring that golden age when your ancestors were crammed into ramshackle Lower East Side tenements, did good honest work, and would go to a baseball game to unwind. I find the sport heart-stoppingly boring.

What about using the internet to follow sports? The GSS has more fine-grained data for this, asking how many times in the past month you've used the internet to visit sports websites. Here is a graph of the average number of times you've done so as a function of your IQ:

The title sums it up. * The Pearson correlation is -0.74, two-tailed p = 0.056. I'm willing to overlook the tiny above-threshold p-value since I have one less IQ class than before, so it's remarkable to get anything at all. This is the closest test of the "braindead couch potato" hypothesis regarding sports fans. Merely attending or doing sports may not decline with IQ, but time spent in front of a screen soaking in sports sure does.


* The possible responses are Never, 1-2 times, 3-5 times, and More than 5 times. I counted these as 0, 1.5, 4, and 6.

November 18, 2008

Cordayrox -- the next Mia Rose?

Stumbled across this pretty songbird on YouTube. Eyes like saucers? Yep. Cute and deep-for-a-girl voice? Check. Not American? Uh-huh. She needs more work, but she's pretty young. (Her profile says "I'm fifteennn", but I think she wrote that when she started her account -- she's probably 17 now.) At least she points out her flaws and gets all vulnerable and anxious about them, which is more than you can say for this overrated attention whore (age 28).

For comparison, here is her cover and Mia Rose's cover of "Bubbly," as well as her cover and Mia Rose's cover of "I Don't Love You." And here she is singing "Umbrella" and "Thnks fr th mmrs". There's something about pretty young things belting out emo songs...

I already go to teen danceclubs, so I should probably join a teenage choir or something if I want to find a girl like her, right? Look at those eyes.

November 17, 2008

The temptation of Saint Agnostic 3: Riley

Part 1 and part 2. All identifying words and names have been changed.

Oh dear -- so many possible tales to tell about this comely queen bee, who I knew when she was 15 ("and a half!") to 16, while I was 25. Riley seized every chance she could to provoke me sexually to see if I'd crack. It was relentless. By the end of our acquaintanceship, though, she'd toned down the pranksterism and developed a crush on me, which she confessed in a discreet and feminine way. In working with teenagers, especially after turning around trouble cases, you can be struck with quite a heady spell of Pygmalionism.

Where do I start? Once, to make sure she was studying her vocab book, I asked her what her words for today were. Little did I know she had to learn a naughty sounding prefix: "My words for today are... [some prefix I forget] and... cum-... Omigod, Agnostic! -- what does CUM- mean?! Do I have to write a sentence about CUM-?!" Another time she looked pretty exhausted, so I asked if she'd tired herself out from sports or something before showing up. "Omigod... you don't wanna know what I was doing..."

I overheard Riley and her friends using sexual profanity when there were younger students around, so I looked over and told her that nobody needed to hear that. "What, Agnostic. We're just talking about BLOWJOBS!" she said wide-eyed and with a cocky smile. Other times she would slowly stroll across the front of my personal space, no more than a half-foot away, while glancing over her shoulder to smile and say, "Heyyyyy, what'suuuuuuuup?"

One of my tattoos says "fiat lux," and when I showed them to her, she said, "Yeah, I'm gonna get one like that right on my butt -- FIAT! LUX!" she screamed, smacking her left and then right buttcheek with each shout, all while bending over and looking at me over her shoulder.

She was quite jealous of other girls I was working with, swooping in to mercilessly tease them about their nose, or what-have-you, to shove them off her territory. Only once did the other girl fight back: Riley was wearing yellow athletic shorts and a red t-shirt, and the other girl bit back with, "And who are you anyway -- Ronald McDonald?" She was left speechless and slouched away, probably the only time I thought she would cry.

Pretty girls with dominant personalities get away with everything during adolescence because the other girls are too afraid of her plotting against them, and because the boys are too afraid of her not talking to them. It's good, then, that she ran up against me, to learn that she'll be in for a rude awakening once guys no longer worship her. When she tried to cross out the score I'd written in her binder, I wrote a note next to it with the original score and my initials. "I'll just tell the next teacher that the score you wrote isn't right." And who do you think they're going to believe, Riley -- me or you? "Ummm.... the attractive girl?" she said, only half-playfully.

Girls like her become so accustomed to steamrolling over everyone else that they sometimes speak like autistics or toddlers, not having needed to learn the subtle signs and rules of polite communication. I was busy helping another student when she waltzed over to me, matter-of-factly saying, "Hey four-eyes, I need some help with this..." Her tone-of-voice wasn't insulting or condescending at all, and she didn't even recognize she'd said anything wrong. I looked at her, stone-faced, and said, "Not if you talk like that. Now get out of here, I'm busy." She meandered back to her desk, visibly stung, but someone needed to whip her into shape.

Just to let her know that I didn't hold a permanent grudge, a few days later when she asked for help, I explained whatever it was she needed help with, and as she began to turn away, I added, "And thanks for not saying 'four-eyes' this time," with a "gotcha" look on my face. "What???!?!?!?!" she beamed, an OK-you-got-me smile breaking out across her face, as she came back toward me. As she listened to me explain that her attitude would get her into trouble pretty soon, when she enters the world of guys who no longer bend over backwards for a pretty face, she rested casually on the desk with one leg dangling over the edge, her foot lightly kicking the air, and the other leg resting on the tabletop with her knee bent and the ankle touching her inner thigh. By this point, I think she'd learned her place.

The unintended side-effect is that she becomes more infatuated than if you were any other cute boy: you're the only one (aside from perhaps her father) who's kept her under your thumb. She's finally met a guy who has bigger balls than she does, and a feeling of girly vulnerability washes over her typically testosterone-soaked brain.

Later, she totally let her guard down -- something she hadn't done for anyone. Instead of her usual cockiness, Riley was timid in calling me over to her. "Hey Agnoooostiiiic...?" Yeah. "Um... how old are you?" Awkward pause -- twenty-five. She responded shyly, "Oh, well... I think age is just a number, y'know... like if two people love each other, age shouldn't matter." From the mouths of babes...

I didn't encourage her, just nodded openmindedly, and neither of us mentioned it again. I thought she may have been joking, but her demeanor that day was unusually shy. Having an alpha cutie drop the bitchy act and confess her crush -- bashfully -- convinced me that teenagers have the greatest girlfriend potential. With an older alpha, once you crack the bitchy shell, the kernel of girliness has shriveled into an inedible pebble.

By the way, at the time she had a filthy rich, high-status boyfriend her own age, and she was still more excited to hang out with me. (He probably took her shit and threw money at her, while I shut her down every time she acted up. And I was surely smarter and more ambitious than he was -- his family owned a bunch of real estate, and that's it.) This goes against the idea that the only girls who would go for an older guy are losers who don't know yet what having a high-status boyfriend is like. I just checked her Facebook, and her current bf shares his first name, pretty boy face, and slender frame with me -- some things never change, eh Riley?

November 15, 2008

How not to get a guy's attention

Yesterday I went to the mall for the first time in awhile to pick up a winter scarf. Signs of the "slowdown" in retail were abundant. Just to name two: trendy Urban Outfitters had a stack of their own label's jeans for $9 each, and Wet Seal had a "buy one thing, get something else for 1 cent" clearance sale. *

Having had a great night the day before at '80s night, I radiated that glow that provokes even greater indicators of interest from females than normal. As a group of six or seven teenagers approached me, I felt them staring at me, so I looked over. One "Hi!!!!" followed another, both girls smiling brightly and walking with that light-and-bouncy gait with which nature has blessed young girls. Were they a bit older -- they appeared 14 -- and a bit more attractive, I would've stopped to chat them up. But the signal itself was delightful.

At the other end of the age spectrum, a woman in her late 40s or possibly 50s marched toward me with that Power Bitch stomp that aging cougars believe makes them look like runway models. The walking space was wide enough for 8 to 10 people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and there was no one else present, yet she came within 6 inches of me. As she clunked by, she turned her head toward me, looked down over her overpriced sunglasses, and violently stroked her too-short hair at me. No smile, not even a closed-mouth one. And no attempt to hook me with wide-open eyes -- only a glare. For fear of losing the boner that the teenagers had given me, I stared straight ahead, like they taught me to do when you think a stranger could be dangerous.

Overly aggressive sexuality is something I would have dreamed of in a female when I was a desperate, girl-hating young dude. "Please God, deliver me someone who I won't have to work for!" It's only after about 25 when you start to enjoy the coy teasing type of sexuality. You just have more and better options, so you start to seek out the thrill of hunting and capturing your willing target. I should say I'm only talking about public sexuality -- I do hope that she's not coy when no one's looking. But when you're out in public trying to get that guy's attention, drop the I'm-in-charge-here attitude and just act sweet while hinting at naughtiness, as someone who pretends to run away but will end up submitting to the hunter.

* See here and here for greater detail.

November 14, 2008

Bond girls haven't gotten older or younger

A news article I read about the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, mentioned the age of the lead actress as 29. The character is supposed to be a modern Power Bitch, who Bond doesn't even get to fuck. So naturally I thought her age was part of the switch -- surely during the sexual revolution, they had sex kittens star as Bond girls, and only when they make them feminist role models do they choose older actresses. Right? After all, that is the pattern for beauty pageant winners and Playboy Playmates.

Here is the graph of the average age of the Bond girls in each year that a movie came out *:

The movie with the youngest girls is Live and Let Die, while the oldest women star in Octopussy. Not having seen most of these movies, I was quite surprised not only that there's no clear trend or cycle, but that the average is so high -- across all movies, the average Bond girl is 28. Pussy Galore was played by a 39 year-old Honor Blackman -- that's gross. All Bond girls should have fertile rather than barren bellies.

And here is a frequency distribution of the Bond girls' ages:

The distribution is not significantly skewed, and about half of the females are above and half below the average. It does seem somewhat bimodal, with one peak at 23 and another at 32 -- perhaps one sub-group appealing to the younger male audience, and the other sub-group appealing to the older male audience.

I don't want to hear any of this, "Well, she should be closer to his age" nonsense. Like any of the rest of the plot is very realistic. Plus it's not like they're getting married -- it's always a fling. Jesus, he's an international spy with a license to kill. If Bill Clinton gets a wide-eyed early-20s girl -- cow though she was -- then certainly James Bond gets one too. Send the older ones back to headquarters to loosen up that frigid boss M.

* Some of the actresses who played minor roles weren't famous enough for people to look up their birthdate, but each year has at least two and usually three or more ages going into the average.

November 12, 2008

The rise of "undocumented" as a euphemism

I have a really long-running simulation going, and so to kill some time I thought I'd look at how the use of "undocumented" to describe illegal immigrants has changed over time. Here is a graph:

There is no trend from 1981 to 1992, despite the fact that amnesty was given to illegal immigrants in 1987. Searching 1987 for "amnest illegal" shows 147 articles (more than "undocumented" for most years), but they tended to refer to "illegal aliens" rather than "undocumented" people. There's a spike in the mid-1990s, although browsing through the headlines, it doesn't seem like there was a particular high-profile incident that caused this -- not a surge of articles about the effects of NAFTA, for example. Just a lot of articles about health care for the undocumented, and other assorted concerns. Even by 2000, it was no more commonly used than 20 years before.

Starting in the 2000s, though, there is a clear upward trend, as the ruling class tries to pull the wool over our eyes with euphemistic language -- I mean, if they're undocumented, why then we've simply got to give them documents, on analogy with giving shelter to the homeless!

The only benefit I've ever received from massive immigration from Central America was my first girlfriend, back in 6th grade. I'm sure she wasn't illegal, but her parents may well have been -- a lot of Salvadoreans fled the US-supported death squads in the 1980s, many ending up in the DC metro area. She was the shapeliest girl in the entire middle school, surpassing most high schoolers too.

I still remember the shocked expressions and high fives I got in music class when my classmates heard who I was dating. She was pretty aggressive, asking me out, and ambushing me for our first kiss, although I was more aggressive once the kissing actually began. I'll never forget how much she melted down on the phone when she asked if I didn't love her anymore, and I flatly and nonchalantly said "not really." Hey, I was only 12 and stupidly thought honesty was the best policy.

So, if we alter the immigration laws to only let in voluptuous bronze-skinned females who will initiate our boys into the world of dating, I'm all for it.

November 11, 2008

Spending money we didn't have -- a graphical view

During the dear departed housing bubble, we thought we had a lot more wealth than we really did, leading us to blow a lot of dough on showy crap that just made us look retarded anyway. Future generations will look back at the 2000s and summarize them with a phrase like The Douchebag Decade, or perhaps Decade of the Attention Whore.

Because of the "kids these days" fallacy, let's just check and make sure that these things really were specific to this decade. Here are two graphs of NYT news coverage of some specific and general references to conspicuous consumption:

Sure enough, getting blinged out to go to a "bottle service only" nightclub, praying in vain that some coked up fashionista would pay attention to your striped shirt, was a distinctly 2000s activity.

The expansion of "luxury" items into formerly bla-bla industries -- luxury dental floss, luxury cupcake wrappers -- all began during the dot-com bubble of the mid-1990s, and stalled out when it burst in 2001. But right after the economy recovered, we were once again able to clean up after our toy dogs using luxury poop bags. "Upscale" shows a nearly identical course. * (I've multiplied the values by a constant so that they're on the same scale with the "luxury" points). This shows that I'm picking up something real here, for those who are skeptical of how useful it is to look at news coverage.

On the bright side, there is an apparent downswing in most of the graphs, hopefully signaling a lot of creative destruction ahead in Douchebagland.

* The Spearman rank correlation between a year's value for "luxury" and its value for "upscale" is +0.94 (p less than 1 x 10^-7, maybe lower).

Are trends in NYT coverage real?

Instead of looking at news coverage to detect trends, shouldn't I look instead at sales data or something? Maybe -- that's one way to measure popularity. But maybe popularity should be measured based on how talked about it is, in which case news coverage works fine. Then again, people may talk more about stuff that sells like hotcakes, and it doesn't matter.

In this graph we detect three new trends in women's clothing:

Skinny jeans and ballet flats just recently exploded in popularity, and the news coverage reflects that. I looked for sales data but could only find an industry report that would cost too much to buy. It surely shows something like the above. As for boy shorts, I reviewed a few news articles on the decline of slutty styles, and the sales data show that boy shorts became popular in 2004 and remain so today. Sure enough, that's just what the news coverage tells us.

So, I'm not too worried about using news coverage as opposed to sales data.

November 10, 2008

The temptation of Saint Agnostic 2: Isabella

See Part 1 here for the rationale. Basically these profiles are to show how I didn't start off liking teenagers -- I hadn't been around them since I was in high school -- but how they slowly won me over with their charms. They're also to show how it was they who came on to me, contrary to the popular image of a guy-who-likes-young-ones as a slimeball who imposes himself on unwilling girls.

All names have been changed. I thought of at least keeping their ethnicity clear (there are far more Persians and White Colombians than expected by chance), but I opted for generic trendy names.

Isabella was one of only two 14 year-olds who I've ever found myself drawn to, although she was nearly 15 by the end of our acquaintanceship. (I was 24 - 25.) Typically, 14 is too immature, 15 is a transition year, and by 16 or 17, they're ready to begin dating. However, these are just trends -- maybe only 1 out of 1000 or 10,000 girls her age have matured early enough in looks and personality to get my attention, but it's not zero. And even with the precocious ones, I have almost no sexual attraction to them (although for 16 - 19 year-olds, I do for sure). Only holding and kissing or something like that. But just because you don't want to sleep with them doesn't mean they can't tug at your emotions, the crafty little devils.

I first met Isabella when she was 13. She was very hyperactive, and at that age her idea of flirting was to hop out of her seat to run over and bug me. I didn't pay her any attention, though -- I mean, 13. One year makes a big difference when growth is exponential, though, so by the middle of her freshman year of high school, she actually made an impression. By this time, her parents had her medicated for ADHD, turning her from ebullient to brooding overnight. When I worked with her for the first time after summer vacation, I thought it was some older, darker sister of hers.

She always looked at me with longing puppy-dog eyes, and I felt horrible for being powerless to restore her mood to a normal level. I would try to brighten her mood and get her into work mode by telling a joke, or whatever, and for a few moments anyway, that would wash off the long face and elicit a smiling expression like when a cat's getting its chin scratched.

When I stood near her to quickly correct her work or write down her score, she would spontaneously stand up from her seat, lean slightly forward onto the desk, and push out her little butt, always in then-fashionable low-rise jeans, all while tilting her head into my personal space and letting her long hair fall down to one side.

One day, when I wasn't even close to her, I saw her staring at me from the corner of my eye. "Hey Agnostic...? Can I ask you a question...?" I turned my head toward her over my shoulder. "What color are your eyes?" I don't know, brown I guess. "That's what I thought, but like, they kinda change color depending on the light you're in." Awkward pause. "They're cool... it's like, exotic..."

I never looked at high schoolers the same way after one of them complimented me on my exotic eyes that she'd been tracking through different lighting conditions. And this in front of a group of her peers, no less! She definitely had a rebellious, trouble-making streak, so it shouldn't have been too surprising -- but still.

Isabella was a very observant girl: it turns out my eyes have a ring of green around a central ring of hazel, and that they do change depending on how strong the lighting is. (The pupil constricts in strong light, making the iris bigger and revealing more of the outer green.)

She didn't come back after her freshman year, and that was probably for the better. To ignore their advances, it helps if they appear immature. But it's tough when they're always volunteering unique observations like she did, trying to remind you that they're one of the precocious ones who won't be ignored.

* * *

November 9, 2008

Availability bias in judging young people based on YouTube, MySpace, etc.

Narcissism has not increased over the past 30 years, contrary to some media reports. * But doesn't it just seem like it has? I mean, what else do we conclude when we see stuff like this all over YouTube?

From what I pick up, the "today's kids are more narcissistic" idea focuses mostly on girls. How do we reconcile the data showing no change in narcissism with our impression that girls these days are more attention-whoring than before?

I suggest that we've succumbed to an availability bias here. We're only seeing these girls in the two-week phase of their menstrual cycle when their testosterone levels skyrocket -- during ovulation, more or less. In this phase, females are more likely to want to go out, to be flirtatious, to dress more provocatively, and so forth. Outside of these two weeks per month, they're more reserved and leave-me-alone (to put it nicely). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde should have been written about a teenage girl.

So, all these provocative videos on YouTube are either coming mostly from girls in the less-maniac phase of their cycle, implying that there are a freakishly higher number of girls with high basal levels of narcissism -- or they're mostly from girls in the more-maniac phase of their cycle, and their basal level of narcissism is no greater than that of previous generations. We just don't see them in their normal phase because they don't really feel like videotaping and broadcasting themselves to the world then.

This applies to nightclub behavior as well. If an adult were to look in on the danceclubs I go to, which cater mostly to teenagers and college students (and 20-somethings, sometimes), they could easily freak out over the slutty dancing that girls do, eagerly and without abandon. But if they followed that girl around for 6 months, they'd see that she was only wild for two weeks out of four. I've been going to these two clubs for 7 months now, and I know of several girls who only come during a particular two-week window, and when they're there, they're clearly ovulating. That "club slut" is probably a normal person when her hormones aren't hijacking her brain. (Of course, if she acts really wild but is too old to plead the temporary hormone insanity defense -- like, far above 25 or 30 -- she probably is a slut.)

I've also noticed that my very high-testosterone 19 year-old friend goes crazy on Facebook when she's ovulating. She comments on everyone's pictures and status messages, writes on a lot of people's Walls, changes her profile picture to something sexier than before (sometimes an old picture from a previous ovulatory phase), uploads photos that are provocative (though not slutty by any means), and so on. After that, the high social anxiety phase kicks in, she closes herself off, and tends not to write as much. What she does write is sentimental (like, "ohhhh, i miss you guys so muchhh!!!"), rather than aggressive.

While this is anecdotal, it wouldn't be hard to study. Just collect a bunch of data from Facebook members: the number of comments left, photos uploaded, etc., for each day. Then see if something tracking their menstrual cycle shows up. Do the same for MySpace and YouTube (make sure the videos only feature one girl -- her friends' cycles won't be perfectly synchronized with hers). My hunch is that most of the in-your-face sexuality on these websites only shows us these girls when they're temporarily overflowing with testosterone and thus acting more like guys -- like show-offs. ** The remainder would of course come from the minority who are wild all the time.

It's hard for guys to understand how pervasive the effects of a monthly cycle in women's behavior are -- even though we kind of know about it from personal experience -- but it should be one of the first things we think of when we see girls gone wild. Female adults should be able to see what's going on, but they have an even stronger interest in slandering and spreading rumors about younger girls, who they despise for looking better than they do, without even trying, and for acting more effortlessly girly. So they don't get it either.

And of course, it's all said under the pretense of looking out for the next generation: "Perhaps it's just my maternal nurturing instinct, but I'm very troubled by the fact that young girls today are such sluts." Nowadays when men fight, they can't get too physically violent or else they'll risk having charges pressed and going to jail. But in the verbal battles that women wage against each other, it is still a savage, no-holds-barred arena where no slander is too bald, as long as she delivers it with a furrowing of the brow that says, "I'm just looking out for your best interest, dear."

* See:

Trzesniewski, K. H., Donnellan, M. B., & Robins, R. W. (2008). Do today's young people really think they are so extraordinary? An examination of secular changes in narcissism and self-enhancement. Psychological Science, 19, 181-188.

Trzesniewski, K. H., Donnellan, M. B., & Robins, R. W. (2008). Is “Generation Me” really more narcissistic than previous generations? Journal of Research in Personality, 76, 903-918.

** Men are more narcissistic than women. Think of smug, self-promoting, gimme-my-megaphone people -- more male or more female? Sure, there are some feminists like that, but overall most hucksters are guys.

November 6, 2008

Spending, saving, and rocking out in the crummy economy

From a WSJ article on falling consumer spending among the elite:

Splurging doesn't feel as good as it used to. At the Shoe Box, a luxury accessories store on New York's Upper East Side, a good customer recently bought $3,000 of shoes and boots, says Jessica Denholtz, the store's buyer. Five minutes later, the woman walked back in the store and returned every last item, saying, "I just can't do this anymore."

This is usually where some blogger would snark on about how none of the rest of us can afford the $800 shoes we've been buying every week either. But really, think of all the useless junk you've been stuffing into your own closet over the past couple years -- a new snowboard, top-of-the-line fly fishing rod, a Hummer in the driveway, etc. Even the unfashionable are slaves to their social circle's trends. Some guy had to be the first on the block to get a plasma screen TV.

In another sign of the times, more people are looking for cheap crap on the internet, according to a Google Trends search for "on sale". There's a peak leading up to Christmas of every year, but the peaks and valleys have gotten noticeably higher overall in the past year. You wouldn't expect such an abrupt increase if it were simply that more and more people are going to the internet, rather than the thrift store, to look for cheap stuff. It's not like the internet just became popular. This holds more broadly; again from the WSJ article:

The digital marketing agency Zeta Interactive has measured a distinct increase in the buzz -- recorded by the volume of Web-site and blog postings -- surrounding discount retail sites. According to Zeta's research, for instance, discounter received 25% more buzz in October than in September, while full-priced received 19% fewer postings on blogs and Web sites.

On the bright side, though, it seems that -- at least since the modern music industry has established itself -- a recession is followed a year or so later by a wave of great music. See this list of recessions. This probably deserves a post and comments-fest of its own, but briefly:

Recession ends... / Cool new wave of music catches on...

1975 / 1976 (punk and disco)

1982 / 1983 (dance pop, new wave, new romantics)

1991 / 1992 (alternative, pop punk, shoegaze)

2001 / 2002 (post-punk, garage band, and dance revivals)

It usually peaks a year or so after it catches on, burns out another year or two after that, and then we get a bunch of shitty music again when the economy enters a booming stage. So let's assume the economy really goes to hell in 2009 -- at least by 2010, it'll be worth turning on the radio again. (And yes, I realize that these genres didn't actually start in the years above, but that's when they became really popular.)

On that note, I'll pour one out for my homies, with a 2007 song that captures the decadent nature of the last several years.

November 5, 2008

Even bread types are subject to fashion

One of the most interesting aspects of our modern world is that the elites wage their war for status on just about any field you can think of. No longer are clothes the main status signal: even your choice of peanut butter -- or almond butter, as the case may be -- says something about you, whether you like it or not.

I always knew that some foods offered status-boosting exotic points, but it wasn't until last year that I noticed that exotic foods themselves can cycle in popularity. For example, I recall Greek food being really popular in the late 1990s, especially Greek salad dressing replacing Italian. But Whole Foods now hides its feta in the farthest back area of the cheese counter, like an embarrassing Limp Bizkit tattoo it got in 1998. This loss of sexiness is not because Greek food has become so common that we don't view it as novel anymore -- it is simply no longer as common as it used to be.

Again judging by the Whole Foods cheese counter, today the country to exotify is Spain -- which I love because it allows me to say, "I lived there before it became really mainstream," or "Yeah, this pa amb tomaquet is pretty good, but it's just not the same without authentic Spanish tomatoes. I know, I'm spoiled." Nothing shuts up a whiterperson faster than that kind of talk.

Now for many, the only decision regarding bread is "plain white or whole wheat?" But for the well-to-do, displaying the wrong kind of bread in the pantry would be social suicide.

"Oh, you only have focaccia? No, there's nothing wrong with it, it's just that... well, what haven't we done with it already? Remind me next time, and I'll bring over some ciabatta. It's much better."

Not being a foodie, I don't have an intuitive feel for fashion in bread types, but let's see if we can detect some changing tastes for three breads, consulting the NYT:

The numbers are small in all cases, because the newspaper of record has better things to cover than bread. Still, we see a pretty steady increase in the popularity of baguettes and ciabatta, and a nearly completed fashion cycle for focaccia, which rose around 1987, peaked in 1997, and has been declining since. I wouldn't make too much of the apparent downswings for 2008: they are estimates based on the year so far, and there may be a surge for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And again, the absolute number of articles featuring bread is always small, so small random year-to-year fluctuations will make the fractions jump around more.

Personally, I hope to craze for Spanish food strikes the bakeries so I can get some good pa montanyes ("mountain bread"), like I used to get in Barcelona. Ah, and if you think I left the phrase "artisanal" out of my search -- I've included it in a very graph-packed post for on when white people started liking stuff white people like. It should be up sometime soon.

November 3, 2008


Because it's one of those Mondays. (She's Catalan, naturally.)

November 2, 2008

Schoolgirls should not wear schoolgirl costumes

Halloween costumes that are specific human types are always caricatures, for two reasons: 1) to make sure everyone gets the point, and 2) usually to poke fun at the type (say, when someone dresses up as a nerd or banker). The past two nights at the teen dance club, I saw quite a few dressed up as schoolgirls, and like heavy make-up on beautiful girls, the costume detracted from their overall charm. Here's an example of the costume I mean, compared to what a real schoolgirl wears:

Just as whips and chains are only for couples whose libidos so low that they need a shot in the arm of kinkiness, schoolgirl costumes only serve women who've already lost their youth. As much as they will deny it for the rest of the year, when Halloween comes around, most women recognize that they looked better in high school than they do now. They see women their age dressing up as schoolgirls, but zero schoolgirls or college girls dressing up as CEOs, lawyers, housewives, or any other generic adult type. That asymmetry is too stark to block out of their mind, though fortunately for their egos, they are only confronted with the cold hard truth once a year.

The same is true for all the other costumes older women sport to try to regain their youthfulness for one night: nurses, French maids, etc. etc. etc. As on prom night, they look like older women trying to look young. Baby girl, you haven't even lost it yet, not even close!

The only really good costume I saw was a dark / fallen angel: something like this, only the girl was probably a senior in high school, 5'3, barely over 100 lbs, and had Crow make-up around her large girly eyes (though without white paint on the rest of her face). Seeing her was like getting slapped in the face with one of those snaps that no father wants to hear: "Dad, I'm not stupid and innocent anymore -- you have to let me grow up!" I mean, the girls at this club like to ride my leg as we get low together -- I know their minds have already transformed into hormone sponges. Still, she was such a girly looking girl that the contrast with her costume was a bit jarring.