February 24, 2009

Some high-fat / lowish carb snacks

Having reviewed the evidence that a tiny bit of glucose goes a long way to improving your mood, and bearing in mind that low-carb diets eventually test the will of people with a sweet tooth, here is a quick list of some snacks that, when eaten sparingly, provide a nice pick-me-up without being too sweet. If something tastes very sweet, even if it lacks sugar, the mere taste will trigger the insulin response, so don't think that dumping a bunch of Splenda into something or wolfing down 10 sugar-free Hershey bars will bypass the process.

1) Turtle Mountain's Purely Decadent ice cream made from coconut milk. You'll probably have to go to Whole Foods to find it. Coconut milk is almost all fat, and its fat content boasts a higher percentage of saturated fats than butter, lard, or tallow. Since Turtle Mountain caters to yuppies, they have to remove quite a bit of the fat, so it's not quite as rich as Haagen Dazs or whatever, but it's still pretty thick and smooth compared to soy and rice ice creams. Has about 13 g of sugar and 21 g of carbs per quarter of a container, but I only eat about 4 spoonfuls.

I've been lactose intolerant since I was about 23, and this is the closest thing to real ice cream I've had -- it could do a lot better, though, by leaving all of the fat in, which would also allow them to remove some of the carbs. So far I've tried Mocha Almond Fudge, Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl, and Passionate Mango. All great. Again, just take a little after a big meal.

2) Dark chocolate and peanut butter -- I could never give this combination up, but now I need to find a low-sugar form of it. Lindt makes an 85% cocoa bar that has only 5 g sugar and 8 g carbs per serving, and lots of saturated fat. The other dark varieties, whether higher or lower in cocoa, have higher sugar and/or carbs (obviously stay away from milk and white chocolate, which are full of sugar). It's not bitter at all, but it does have a very strong dark taste.

Finding peanut butter without a lot of harmful polyunsaturated fats is tough, but Smart Balance peanut butters have very low levels, and they're at least pretty balanced between good omega-3 and bad omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. Has a ton of monounsaturated fat, as much saturated fat as a portion of ham, hardly any sugar, and few carbs. It's not quite as savory as hazelnut butter, but this brand is much less sweet than all other peanut butters I've had.

Just slather a big hunk of the peanut butter on top of the chocolate, and take it with some low-sugar soy milk or honey bush tea, to add some sweetness. This is easily one of the richest things I've ever had -- all that fat pumped me so full of energy that I couldn't sit still and had to work it out by dancing around vigorously for about an hour. If you've ever wanted dancer's legs, having one of these a day will make it happen.

3) Blackberry or raspberry smoothie made from coconut milk. In a blender, mix a full can of coconut milk -- not the low-fat or lite kind -- enough soy milk to thin it out a little (maybe a cup or two), two packets of Splenda, and a container of blackberries or raspberries, which don't have much sugar. Remember, coconut milk is fatter than lard, so don't drink a tall glass of this stuff -- a cup or a cup and a half is plenty. If you can have lactose, use full-fat animal milk and/or full-fat, unsweetened yoghurt instead of soy milk. (It's the lesser of two evils for me -- it has some polyunsaturated fats, but has much lower carbs than rice or almond milk.)

All of this stuff is gluten-free, too. Once I found out I couldn't have gluten, it was pretty hard to find snacks -- and most of the gluten-free cookies or whatever taste incredibly bland and are high in carbs anyway. Stick with the above, and you can't go wrong.

February 23, 2009

Low-fat diets make you more mentally unstable

I'll probably be writing for awhile about the consequences of low-fat diets, which are necessarily high-carb diets, because there is so much to cover aside from obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. In a comment to another post, Dennis Mangan left a link to a study of sugar consumption and depression at the population level. See here, and another one here on low fat consumption and depression.

But 1) does this pattern hold at the individual level? And 2) is it just the worst offender -- sugar -- or are carbohydrates in general depressing? Also, 3) what mechanisms may be involved?

1) Yes, among individuals, high soft drink consumption is associated with more behavioral and mental distress problems (free full text). They couldn't tell whether it the effect is due to sugar or something else in soda, like caffeine, but below we'll see that sugar is surely the culprit. Interesting fact from the article: "Norway has the highest soft drink consumption rate in the world, 115 L (245 pt) per inhabitant per year." No wonder those Scandinavians are so gloomy.

2) No, it's not just sugar but carbs in general (free PDF here). If you try to find out how nutrition affects anything, you'll be very frustrated to learn that no one has studied the question, whatever it is -- or if so, that it was so long ago that it doesn't appear in PubMed or within the first 100 google results. You can easily read about how the sexy micronutrient du jour affects everything, but not how simple macronutrients like fats vs. carbs vs. proteins affect anything. Well, you can read about omega-3 vs. omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, but that's it.

Here is the article's review of the "few studies of associations between macronutrients and mood":


Subjects with MDD tend to consume more carbohydrates in their diets than non-depressed individuals (Christensen and Somers, 1996), and they show heightened preference for sweet carbohydrate or fat- rich foods during depressive episodes (Christensen, 2001). High carbohydrate intakes increase brain uptake of the amino acids tryptophan, which in turn stimulates the synthesis of serotonin (Rogers, 2001.) This seems, for example, to rapidly lead to drowsiness in healthy subjects but to alertness in patients with SAD (Rosenthal et al. 1989). A detailed study of the lifestyle of 89 bipolar patients and 445 age- and sexmatched controls showed that total daily sucrose intake, %age of energy from carbohydrate, and consumption of sweetened drinks were higher in bipolar patients (Elmslie et al. 2001). Westover and Marangell (2002) reported a highly significant 23 correlation between sugar consumption and annual rates of depression in a cross-national study involving six countries.

Fats and proteins

In general, a low-fat diet may have negative effects on mood (Wells et al. 1998), and altered dietary fat intake can lead to acute behavioural effects such as drowsiness, independent of energy consumption, in healthy subjects (Lloyd et al. 1994). The intake of branched-chain amino acids may acutely alleviate manic symptoms in patients with adequate drug treatment (ScarnĂ  et al. 2003), and a high intake of proteins also seems to increase alertness (Rogers, 2001).

3) It would seem that glucose intake should make you happier because insulin acts to store sugars and non-tryptophan amino acids. It is tryptophan that's converted into serotonin in the brain, so more glucose creates more insulin creates more available tryptophan (it now has less competition from other amino acids in getting transported into the brain). More tryptophan means more serotonin, which means stabler mood. The fact that chronically high levels of sugar are associated with depression suggests that the short-term vs. long-term effects of glucose on serotonin concentration may be different.

Indeed, that's just what a group of Portuguese researchers found when they studied how much serotonin was taken up (i.e. made unavailable) by Caco-2 cells that were treated with glucose compared to no glucose. These cells express the serotonin transporter; greater activity of the transporter makes less serotonin available where it improves mood.

After short-term exposure to high levels of glucose (2 hours at 40 mM), the cells showed about 25% less uptake of serotonin, meaning more of it was available. So, in the short-term, a temporary bit of glucose can improve your mood.

However, when exposed to high levels of glucose for longer periods -- 21 to 24 weeks -- the reverse happened. Now the glucose-treated cells showed about 30% higher uptake of serotonin, making less of it available. So, if you have chronic high levels of glucose -- i.e., if you eat a carbohydrate-rich diet -- you will show more signs of depression and mental instability.

Finally, there's an animal model too, where rats fed a sugar-rich diet show lower serotonin levels and increased eating (hyperphagia). The researchers here discovered that the effect probably does not involve levels of tryptophan, but rather the activity level of the enzyme that converts tryptophan into serotonin.

Summing it all up, it looks like a shot in the arm of glucose can make you feel better in the short-term, assuming that your diet overall is low in carbs and high in fat. I do this by just eating a single big bite of a date and walnut wedge, or four spoonfuls of coconut milk-based ice cream. (But make sure to have this at a time in the day when you don't need energy -- otherwise the glucose spike will trigger insulin production, which keeps your fatty acid fuels locked in fat cells where you can't use them.) In the Norwegian soda study, they mention that adolescents who didn't consume any sugar were a bit worse than those who had a little bit, and that supports that idea of having just a little bit for short-term mood improvement.

If you follow a low-fat, and thus high-carb diet, however, less serotonin will be available, and you'll end up more moody and unstable. This will be especially pronounced if the carbs are easily digestible like starches and sugars, but eating lots of whole grain rice and wheat bread will get you too. Fortunately, those foods don't taste like anything by themselves, so you're not really giving up anything by chucking them in the trash can. A whole-wheat baguette with lean tuna, olive oil, and pepper doesn't stand a chance against a toasted blue-corn tortilla with a stack of pastrami or pepperoni, a heap of cole slaw, and melted cheese.

February 16, 2009

Low-fat diets make women more masculine?

Here and in various comment sections, I've bemoaned the masculinization of our female sex symbols, referring to the 1960s as the last time when they oozed estrogen, a transition sometime during the 1970s, and a falling off the cliff throughout the 1980s to the present.

These days, they seem much more lantern-jawed, long-faced, and strong-browed. Look at the girls in the music videos for "Girls on Film" (NSFW) from 1983, and "I Wanna Fuck You" from 2006. Or compare The Ronettes from the early 1960s, The Go-Gos from 1981, and The Pussycat Dolls from within the past few years. Ignore attractiveness -- I'm talking only about how girly or manly their faces look. Even as recently as the early 1980s, they still looked fairly feminine.

I've always thought that this was a change in what the elite allowed us to see, and that it was probably a result of the Second Wave of hysterical feminism that erupted in the mid-1970s. But maybe the change is more general -- that not only our sex symbols are more masculine-looking, but perhaps ordinary women are too. I wasn't alive before 1980, but I've seen pictures and movies of ordinary people from before then, and my vague impression is that they looked more feminine. That seems like a better place to start: assume that the sex symbols are just part of a bigger picture. What could have caused this recent shift toward more masculine looks in women?

Americans started to cut fat out of their diet, replacing it with higher carbohydrates, sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s, when the current obesity epidemic had also just begun. (It didn't become widespread until later in the 1980s.) Boosting our routine carbohydrate consumption will raise our insulin levels chronically, and this will be even more pronounced if these are refined and easily digestible carbs like sugars and starches. So does insulin affect how much testosterone or other androgens are circulating in women?

I don't pretend to know much endocrinology, but I just read a review by Poretsky et al. (1999), "The Insulin-Related Ovarian Regulatory System in Health and Disease" (Endocrine Reviews). Free full text here. Here is part of their summary of how insulin itself affects the production of sex hormones within the ovaries:

At this time there is no convincing direct in vivo evidence that hyperinsulinemia acutely stimulates ovarian steroid production, but there is direct in vitro evidence and indirect in vivo evidence for a stimulatory effect of insulin on ovarian steroidogenesis. The in vitro evidence suggests that the stimulatory effect of insulin on steroidogenesis is mainly mediated by the insulin receptor and may involve the inositolglycan pathway. The in vivo evidence is largely derived from experiments in which a reduction in circulating insulin levels produces a decline of circulating androgens and from clinical observations in women with both insulin deficiency and insulin excess.

If you give women a boost of insulin, their testosterone levels don't appear to change, but this is only during the short-term. When women with high insulin are given insulin-lowering drugs and followed up over the long-term, their testosterone levels decline. That's the indirect evidence the authors refer to. And here is their diagram of insulin-regulated ovarian function:

Just as one example of how higher insulin could masculinze a woman's appearance, insulin secretion leads to down-regulating sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Having low SHBG allows more testosterone to be converted to dihydrotestosterone, and high levels of this are associated with male pattern baldness. In an extreme case, women with polycystic ovary syndrome have hyperinsulemia, as well as a tendency toward more body hair and male pattern baldness.

A similar mechanism could affect the shape of their skulls -- we know what women with high androgen levels look like in the face.

So, maybe the feminist movement of the mid-1970s had nothing to do with masculinizing our sex symbols -- maybe this reflected a larger shift toward more manly looking women, due to a profoundly higher consumption of carbs (especially the refined ones) that would chronically elevate insulin levels.

Before I suggested the role of dietary differences in accounting for differences in attractiveness between the French, Spanish, and Italians vs. the English and Americans, focusing on high-carb diets driving glycation-related aging of the skin. Here we see that it's likely that French, Spanish, and Italian women just have a more feminine appearance in general, as they consume fairly low-carb, high-fat diets. Probably more womanly in demeanor too, for the same reason.

Femininity -- another casualty of the high-carb crusade.

February 12, 2009

Why French, Spanish, and Italian women now look even better than ours

One thing that caught my attention in Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories is that in discussing how a high-carb diet, resulting in higher blood sugar levels, encourages the formation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts, he notes that collagen is particularly vulnerable to glycation.

Here's a study on rats fed lots of fructose. These collagen AGEs ends up prematurely aging your skin. And here's a study suggesting that the damage is not reversible by following a low-carb diet, although it can prevent further damage.

This is why our celebrities look so weird. By abandoning most protein and fat, they end up gorging on things that ultimately sap their flesh of its bounciness. And of course 90 minutes a day of exercise and weight training is de rigueur, so they end up having these sharp boney bodies with Saran Wrap skin draped over top.

Taubes also points out that aside from the French, who have eaten high-fat / low-carb diets for awhile, within the past several decades the Spanish, Italian, and Swiss have done so too (with attendant drops in heart disease). Now that he mentions it, when I lived in Barcelona, I noticed far many more xarcuteries than bakeries or pastry shops. So much for the Mediterranean diet --

At Whole Foods, they love to brag about how European they are -- every package says something about the contents' role in a "European tradition." But it's breads, hot chocolate, pastas, and so on. The focal points of the store are their enormous fruit and vegetable jungle, together with the bakery. There's no attention given to fatty meats at all -- lean salmon at most. (A deli worker did a triple take when I asked for the entire 2.8-pound stick of genoa salami.)

Back in the Mediterranean, for example in the vast grocery section of the Spanish superstore El Corte Ingles, the crowning glory is the meat and cheese section, as the above pictures hint at, only it's more dazzling.

French, Spanish, and Italian women are better looking than Anglo women for genetic reasons, owing to different selection pressures (such as pathogen load, which leads to greater selection for good genes). But as though that weren't enough, they've also got superior diets to help slow the aging of their skin, and of their bodies in general.

A corrollary is that good looks in America are much more reliable signals of having good genes, since we eat a more uglifying diet than the French, and so have our genes put to a stronger test. Some fraction of ugly or average-looking women in France have their ugly genes masked by the effect of their diet. It's like in India, where the strong test is pathogen load -- anyone who comes out of that hellhole looking good has been genetically blessed, without a doubt.

February 9, 2009

Breaking through her cuteness defenses

Some pick-up artists recommend repeating something like this while you're out and about, both to give yourself thick skin and prevent the appearance of neediness: "Don't worry, they're just two-bit whores." I've tried thinking this to myself, but it rarely works. Maybe it's because the girls I approach are much too young for me to delude myself into thinking they're cheap whores. I probably wouldn't have much trouble believing that mantra if I pursued over-25 women, though, since by then they've probably been through their sluttiness bender at age 22.

Plus I just like being around girls -- there's something in my brain that won't let me view them like that.

But the pretty young things have their own defenses, chief among them cuteness. Their appearance and demeanor have been designed by natural selection to deceive you into thinking they're naive angels. Again, they aren't whoring themselves around yet, but their libidos point strongly in that direction. See this graph of total testosterone in females across the lifespan. Rather than go jump in bed with a series of strangers, they rely on fantasizing, touching themselves, and occasionally making out with their girl friends to relieve the pressure.

As with a baby's cuteness -- where the signal is honest, not deceitful -- a young girl's adorableness is meant to keep you from using or being mean to her. It probably also serves as way for her to test your sex drive -- are you going to shy away just because she looks too cute, or will you go for it?

Now, I remember all of my adolescence, and I remember all of the salacious things my high school tutorees have ever said, so on a rational level, I know they're not naive angels. Same for college girls. But on a gut level, their looks and behavior are still disarming. That's why you need something like the "they're just cheap whores" mantra, only suited to overcoming your hesitation in the face of super-girliness.

The key I've found is to imagine them saying something provocative enough to snap you out of their deception, but not so overboard that it's not believable. I mean, a nice white girl waiting outside of Hollister is never going to scream, "Get it daddy, that shit's yours!" But something alone these lines will help:

mmm, hold me tighter.

[giggle] ... touch it ...

Usually the PYTs roam in packs, even more so than older women. They're much more clique-oriented. This makes it even easier, because when you imagine one of them using the word "we," you'll snap right out of it:

c'mon, we wanna show you somethinggg...

do you like our bodies?

can we kiss you?

They all sound kind of cheesy, and not 100% authentic, but the important thing is that they're short, easy to remember, and effective. Girls vary, and some who appear innocent really are. But when they're somewhat young, looks can be very deceiving. So sure, you'll be disappointed by some false positives, but if you aren't armed with something like this to tell yourself, you'll suffer from even more false negatives -- "nah, she looks too sweet."

February 8, 2009

February 7, 2009

"how to seduce male math teacher"

Just checked google analytics. Someone found my blog and hung around for a bit after searching for "how to seduce male math teacher." Obviously a girl in high school, given the use of "math" rather than "calc," "stat," etc., and "teacher" rather than "professor."

Not so innocent.

A typical math teacher has zero social skills and cannot speak their native language. (The kids I tutored in math always told me something like this: "omigod it's like SO SIMPLE the way you explain ittt! why does my stupid teacher not know how to like friggin COMMUNICATE?!") So, he'd never get the hint, and you'd have to be very blunt. And of course the average math teacher would just melt into a pitiful blob if one of his students came on to him, and say yes yes yes.

Me, I'm not so easy. And if this teacher is worth seducing, he probably isn't either. Here are three stages to go through -- this is a bit long since it's not as easy as a college student seducing her professor. But he's worth the effort and challenge, right? I'm assuming you're at least cute, though you don't have to be drop-dead gorgeous.

1) Schedule a one-on-one help session. Smile, but don't really show how you feel at this point. When the time comes, talk to him a little bit about the topics you're having trouble with, without going into gory detail. Then ask him to move the meeting to somewhere else in school, like the library or courtyard or something. You obviously can't talk about math while you're walking there, so it'll feel like two normal people talking about stuff, rather than student and teacher.

Beforehand, find out what music was popular when he was a teenager, and ask him about it while you're walking through the halls -- whether he liked it or not, he'll be happy to hear that one of his students can relate to the culture he grew up around. It'll make him feel younger again, and it'll make you seem a bit older. That's good because you don't want him to think that there's a huge age difference between you two. You can also do this with TV shows and movies that were popular when he was a teenager. Just stick to things that are fun -- not what politics were like, or anything like that.

Don't flirt too heavily with him here. This part is just to loosen him up and make him interact with you as a normal person, rather than as the distant teacher. He'll also be distracted from his professional responsibilities.

2) When you get to the real meeting place, make sure there's a spot where you can sit side-by-side or around a corner of a desk or table. The corner spot is best because you can easily look him in the eye, but you're not so far away that you can't lean in to his space. Make frequent eye-contact, keep your feet close to his, and constantly interrupt him to say, "oh you mean like this?" And then move your hand close to his while you do the work for a problem.

Every once in awhile, touch your foot to his, but don't overdo it and start stroking his leg or anything. Do the same with your hand -- whatever he's writing on, move your hand next to his to write something down, so that your hands touch. Remember to smile, laugh, and giggle.

If you're doing a problem by yourself for awhile, look puzzled, then reach over and tug on his shirt sleeve before asking for help. This is another easy, not-too-obvious way to let him know you're fine touching him.

When there's a natural pause or break, bring up the stuff you were talking about in the hall again. You don't want that to totally dry up once the studying starts. If he doesn't want to let you have a break, just stop all of a sudden and bring it up -- he might make you get back to work soon, but his defenses will be lowered because you're showing that you're really interested in that stuff about him.

3) For this part, you'll need a car. Only go to this part once you've gotten to know each other -- maybe it happens fast, but maybe it'll take four or five study sessions. The goal is to give him a ride someplace in your car. You'll have to decide where, depending on what is near your school. The best place is a bookstore -- tell him that you really want to know more about the things you've been talking about, or maybe just what a good book on math is. You're already going to Barnes and Noble, so why doesn't he come along and help you pick something out?

If he hesitates or says no, just say, "oh c'mon, it'll be like an educational field trip! it'll help me develop my intellectual capacities!" This will give him an excuse to say to himself, "Oh OK, I guess I can do this..."

When you're there, look around at whatever you're going there for, keeping the same friendly and slightly flirtatious behavior that you've had all along. After awhile, tell him that there are just so many choices, and that you need to think it over for a minute, but first you need some coffee or tea. Every big bookstore has a cafe, so move things there. He will be impressed that you drink coffee or tea, trust me. And again, it'll make you appear older and precocious, so he won't feel guilty for having a crush on you.

Waiting for your order will give you more time to chat and stand close to him, and when you get your drinks, boom, you're officially on a date with your math teacher. Sit either across from him or around a corner (or the same position if it's a round table). Find whatever excuse you can to reach out to touch his shirt sleeve, his hand, his drink, etc. "omigod, i wish i had a sweater just like that, it looks like it feels so comfortable," and then touch the fabric. Or, "hey, i read a science article on the internet that said men have bigger hands. i mean, they can't be THAT much bigger -- lemme see," and then reach your hand across with your palm out. Occasionally touch your feet to his.

When you're done in the cafe, go back to whatever you were thinking of buying, ask his advice again, and then pick whatever he suggests. "yeah, i'll go with this one -- i mean, you're a pretty intelligent guy."

It's late, and this has gone on for awhile, so I'll write how to wrap things up in a follow-up post.

February 5, 2009

Why people in the past were different -- more fat in the diet?

So I'm giving this whole low-carb / high-fat thing a try, not because I'll ever have to worry about excessive fat, but just to see what all the fuss is about. I've gotta say, I've never been more full of energy. I thought I got lots of energy from a high-carb diet, but I must have been comparing this to a mostly high-protein diet that I'd tried before -- high fat is the key.

Anyway, shoveling carbs in your face all day causes you to produce lots of insulin, which is involved in the hormonal regulation of fat accumulation. (By these stolen phrases, you can tell I've been reading Gary Taubes -- watch a lecture he gave here.) By screwing around so much with your endocrine system, you have to wonder what other effects it has on your mind and behavior.

Could this be behind the perception that guys these days are wimpier than their counterparts from the '60s or '70s or before? (The obesity epidemic and shift away from fat and toward carbs begins around the late '70s or early '80s.) With more fatty acids flooding my bloodstream to provide energy, I've noticed that I've become even more confrontational than before, and more callous and undaunted when something goes wrong. A particular girl doesn't want to dance with you? Who cares -- the most important girl is the next girl.

I'm sure this is why women are so screwed up today too. The women's lib movement obviously played a big role, but that was also about the time when the American diet changed so radically. We know how much women's behavior swings on a monthly basis due to hormonal changes. Maybe a grossly imbalanced diet is why we got psycho neurotic womenists, as opposed to the seemingly cooler ones of the Roaring Twenties, another time when women liberated themselves and pretended to be men, but when protein and fat consumption was much higher.

These ideas could be tested by measuring the personality trait Neuroticism, or some physiological correlate of it, when people follow a high-fat / low-carb diet vs. a high-carb / low-fat diet.

And then there are the obvious physical differences -- not just that there are lots more fatsos these days, but the polarizing effect that may have, i.e., more people hyper-aerobicizing their bodies. That was another consequence of the anti-fat movement -- lose weight by exercising a lot. Part of this may be a fashion change, of course. But part of it probably reflects larger changes among the population.

I've ranted here and elsewhere about how the early '70s were the last time the female sex symbols looked any good, and their different diet may play a role. The mid and late '70s are OK (google pictures of roller discos -- yeah baby), and even the girls in the Duran Duran videos of "The Eighties" (i.e., 1982 - 1984) look pretty good. But since then -- blech. And non-tubbo guys today look more like shaved apes than naturally fit.

Also a reason why most of our rock musicians are so whiny or dopey these days? Eat some fat and lighten up guys! Rockstars in the '70s may have been wearing skin-tight pants, but they had bigger balls. (Hard not to notice.)

Anyway, try it out. Lots of red meat, eggs, olive oil, hazelnut butter, almonds -- and milk, cheese, and butter if you're lactose-tolerant.

February 4, 2009

Whiteness of states and their social capital

This is probably like a Pythagorean Theorem of sociology, so I don't claim the finding is original. Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone website has lots of free data, and at the bottom is a list of states and their social capital indexes -- basically, how socially cohesive communities are in that state. It jumps out at you, but here's a scatter-plot just to convince you:

The Spearman rank correlation is +0.72, p less than 10^-6. He later showed that greater ethnic diversity predicted lower trust in neighborhoods, so he surely noticed this pattern earlier. I haven't read the book, so it may even be in there.

February 3, 2009

Your daily dose of vitamin T

This website is so rad, a searchable collection of teenage girl-next-door pictures. (Pictures are OK, but ads are NSFW.) Now that I don't tutor adolescents anymore, I only get to really mingle with them once a week at the teen dance club. In the meantime, you've got to keep your eyes on the prize and not be tempted to settle for someone your own age.

For guys who prefer that rare combination of a girly face and a plump tight booty, the site is great. Most girls with big butts have manly faces, but it's pretty tough for a high school chick to have a Neanderthal mug.

One example

And another

That'll put lead in your pencil.

As a plus, most of the pictures are from 2004 - 2006, back when everyone was on an energy high. You can tell by the dates on pictures, as well as the presence of low-rise jeans, studded belts, and thongs, which have disappeared since then. It's like some kind of yearbook, only one that you won't mind flipping through years later.

February 2, 2009

Osama bin who? Or, the world changed back

Since it's easy and fun for smart people to talk about what smart people talk about -- it's called "intellectual history" -- I've come up with more graphs on how the NYT has covered various topics since 1981, when their search engine results become very reliable. Now we'll look at terrorism related themes.

First, the topic of terrorism in general:

There's a steady level through the 1980s and '90s, an unsurprising spike in 2001, a still high level through 2004, and then a sharp decline since, including another noticeable drop in 2008. Hopefully this means that the elites are becoming cured of the idea that we face our greatest threat from a handful of Third World loser males with less infrastructure than a First World pre-school.

Next, the topic of Muslim extremists:

There's an article here and there during the '90s when these groups get enough power to make an impression, a spike in 2001 or 2002, and then a decline afterward. The drop is pretty sharp for Bin Laden, slower for Al-Qaeda, and steep for the Taliban as well, but they have seen a steady increase since 2006. To the extent that the Taliban are at least in control of something rather than nothing, it's encouraging that they're the only group who's seen something of an increase lately. The declines overall are also reassuring.

And finally, the topic of our response to terrorism:

The phrase barely shows up before 2001, increases from then until a peak in 2004, just after the beginning of the recent occupation of Iraq, and a decline since then. This is good news too, since it means the atmosphere isn't so highly charged. It should be much easier to point out to people how little we're getting from being the bully who controls one of the most useless sandboxes of the world's playground.

Before 2008, there's an apparent 2-year cycle apart from the downward trend. It looks like it's a bit higher than you'd expect in election years and lower in non-election years. The trend was already sharply downward, but since the economy blew up, even fewer people during the 2008 election cared about luxury policies like war.

Eyeballing the "war on terror" graph, hopefully it'll be all done by 2012 at the latest. There's no reason Obama couldn't stop the waste tomorrow, but he'd have to be an individual who didn't give a shit about what the crowd thought. If he does respond to the crowd, it'll take longer, as the spread and disappearance of an infection (or whatever) from a large population happens over a much longer time scale than that at which an informed and reasonable person could make a decision about what to do.

That is because most people are neither informed nor reasonable, and so their preferences are mostly gut reactions to events and to other people's gut reactions -- they drive their own growth at the outset. Only someone quarantined from the crowd can come to a good decision more quickly.