March 31, 2009

Small lib arts colleges are luxuries?

In an NYT article about drastic changes in application rates to various colleges, Ivy League type colleges as well as elite state schools are seeing lots more applications this year, while elite liberal arts colleges are seeing no change or a plummet in their applications.

The common factor to Harvard, Stanford, UNC Chapel Hill, and UVA, and which is absent at Williams, Middlebury, etc., is that the former are big research institutions where the faculty get a lot of shit done, while profs at liberal arts colleges -- and even the physical campus itself -- tend to be very isolated from the real world.

Going to Williams rather than Columbia is like bragging that you majored in French lit rather than physics or economics. It's a signal of conspicuous frivolity. Therefore, it's no surprise that, just as their parents are slashing their handbag and vacation budgets, teenagers are going with a more surefire way to financial stability.

It rubs off on smart, hard-working young people when they're surrounded by role models who don't accomplish much, while being surrounded by workaholic researchers better enculturates them into the real world.

Regret worse than guilt in the long run

Read about it in a brief post I just put up at The interesting thing is that in delaying gratification, and so increasing our future material welfare, we end up decreasing our hedonic well-being. The two are outta whack, probably because genes for delaying gratification have only become common within the past several hundred years.

I've never had the problem of planning too much for the future -- strikes me as bizarre. I'm smart and hard-working enough to get stuff done, I'm not drowning in debt, and I don't splurge a lot. But I'm still incredibly impulsive and novelty-seeking -- as you can probably tell from how often and how widely my focus changes in writing these things.

Motivated more by avoidance of future regret than of present guilt, I've led a pretty satisfying life so far, on reflection. Had I done the prudent thing, I never would have lived in Barcelona -- twice -- leaving only when I was broke. I would have gone straight to grad school in linguistics and would be further along in "establishing my career," rather than wander the academic world in search of a greater rush. And I would never have encouraged my tutorees when they aggressively flirted with me.

March 29, 2009

More food stuff

* For the lactose-intolerant who want cheese -- because it provides fat and seems to turbo-charge your libido -- I've found two brands that have caused only minuscule problems, and one whose lactose effects I haven't noticed at all. There's Finlandia's Imported Swiss and Emmi's yoghurt cheeses, which aside from producing a little burping, are perfectly fine. Both advertise themselves as lactose-free.

The best I've tried so far, though, is Black Diamond's 5-year aged cheddar, which annoyingly is exclusive to Whole Foods -- I can have three generous servings a day and not notice it at all. And being aged for so long, it has a wonderfully sharp taste. It must be the extra aging that leaves so little lactose left. It's not very expensive either -- about $16 a pound. It will take some time to locate, though, since British cheeses are relegated to the orphanage area of the cheese counter, while Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek cheeses take center stage. (Except for mozzarella and feta, which are too well known and no-longer-hip, and so are also banished to the back area.)

* A commenter previously suggested Ghirardelli's 86% cocoa chocolate bar as a replacement for Lindt's 85% bar. I pointed out that the Ghirardelli bar has about twice as much sugar, so that if you consume a fair amount of chocolate regularly, it's probably better to go with Lindt. Just yesterday I discovered something even better -- Vivani's 85% bar. It only has 5.7 g of sugar, compared to 5 g in Lindt's bar, per 40 g serving. But it has about 3 g more fat, so it tastes a bit richer. The difference isn't huge, but it's noticeable (at least by my hypersensitive palate -- it may make no difference to others).

I found it at Whole Foods for about $2.75, while the Lindt is available at larger grocery stores for about $1.50. I like the taste enough to shell out more dough for the Vivani bar -- plus it has Robert Motherwell-esque artwork on the wrapper, so it has greater snob appeal. (I hate abstract art, but Motherwell -- at least his works at the National Gallery -- I've always found the least offensive.) You might not be able to find it just yet, since I've been browsing the chocolate section of Whole Foods for awhile, and they've only begun carrying it since a week or so ago.

* For a snack that has no carbs or sugar, but that still tastes like junk food, here's an easy pork rinds and dip combination I've settled on. Pork rinds are packed with good fat and have 0 carbs, but they don't taste like anything. So you'll need a dip. I don't measure things in this case, so you may want to experiment with small portions to get it right, and then make a larger amount.

Mayonnaise, majority of the dip (mine is canola oil-based and eggless; YMMV with other types)
Olive oil, enough to thin it out a bit
Unsweetened ketchup, enough to turn it light pink (I can only find this at Whole Foods)
Black pepper

Lots of fat, no carbs, and a somewhat rich yet not overwhelming taste. The key ingredient is the cardamom; otherwise it tastes a bit bland.

The hard part is finding a store that sells pork rinds -- even at junk food-filled grocery stores, there will only be a handful of bags of Baken-ets amidst an ocean of corn, potato, and soy chips. Forget Whole Foods -- they were the favorite snack of George H.W. Bush, after all. It's still odd that they don't have an overpriced organic brand, though.

There are two religious groups that live in convivencia within Whole Foods, both members of the greater community of People of the Organic Book: the lower-latitude group (Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, etc.), and the return-to-New-England-small-towns group. Modern Anglo-America is their shared devil. The latter buys expensive organic maple syrup, barbecue sauce, ground bison meat, and Burt's Bees chapstick, so clearly there's an unfilled niche here for organic pork rinds -- just make sure the bag boasts that they're "kettle cooked" and has a picture of a 17th C. Boston blacksmith, and you're all set.

Curiously, there is no food religion that seeks to distance itself from modern Anglo-America in both time and space -- as though only pre-Risorgimento Italian food were worth eating, or only Sassanid-era Persian food. This shows that aversion to modern Anglo-America is not the result of logical reflection -- if it were, there should be this group. Plus, those who fled in only one dimension would have considered the hypothetical added benefit of fleeing in the other as well, and should be able to offer a reason for why they only chose to distance themselves in just time or just space. (E.g., maybe the effects don't add together, so you only need to depart in one aspect.)

Rather, it's a gut reaction, and being lazy, they just go with whichever cognitive bias is stronger in their mind -- the "golden past" or the "exotic other" ideals.

March 28, 2009

Finding a 10 in real life

There's some talk at Roissy's about whether 10 girls exist in real life, or whether they're all snapped up as models, actresses, etc. While I agree that they're very rare in real life, compared to celebrity world, here's an example of a real-life 10. I've included lots of pictures to show that she didn't have good lighting or make-up in one picture, to show how stable her beauty is over time (roughly 16 to 20 in these pictures), and to not have to waste time whittling the list down to only a few pictures.

She's Catalan, of course, and I've already put pictures of her up here, here, and here. I knew her casually on the internet during my Barcelona days, a friend of friend thing on something resembling MySpace or Facebook. She's incredibly humble, nonchalant, and if anything a bit insecure, as you can see in some of the pictures below -- the opposite of attention-whoring girls who are good-looking but not stunning.

She played a large role in awakening my lust for teenagers: it was the summer of 2004, and I hadn't been around or seen them since I was their age. (Still, I was just 23 at the time.) Over four years later, I'm still stuck on her. That's how powerful adolescents are -- when you're in your mid-20s and suspect that your libido is shifting from youthful exuberance to middle-aged mellowness, all it takes is a nubile darling like this one to re-open the volcano of hormones.

Part of the reason you don't feel so awestruck by girls when you're past 25 is that your body is naturally changing to a less volatile state. But the other big part is that the females who surround you simply aren't as capable of provoking the same out-of-control dizziness as all those girls who kept you up late at night in high school and college.

But enough rambling. Here she is:

March 27, 2009

Parasites still flourishing in housing market has an interesting look at how former real estate parasites are adapting to the changing housing market environment, in order to continue making money without producing anything: Subprime Swindlers Reconnected to Homeowners With Foreclosure Rescue Scams.

Basically, now that lots of the houses that people like them sold are facing foreclosure, they've turned to scamming the occupants with phoney claims of being able to help prevent foreclosure. Read the whole thing -- it provides a good reminder of how widespread throughout the social ladder these charlatans managed to thrive, from those catering to yuppies in San Fransisco to those who delivered loans to the illiterate Central American peasant underclass. Most of the latter were Hispanic themselves.

Similar to the Mexican strawberry picker who earned $15,000 a year but got a $720,000 loan, there is this example:

Three months earlier, [Jose] Serrano, 45, a dump-truck driver at a limestone quarry, says he had stopped paying the mortgage on his $569,000 house ["in Soledad, California, a farm town about a two-hour drive south of San Francisco" that "he bought with a 30 percent down payment of $169,000 in 2005"]. Under the terms of his adjustable-rate mortgage, Serrano's monthly payment shot to $2,500 from $1,618 after his initial teaser interest rate of 1 percent jumped to 8 percent. At the same time, the slowing economy forced the quarry to cut his hours, leaving him with only $2,250 in take-home monthly pay from $3,200 when he worked full-time.

Unable to support his wife and six daughters, aged 8 to 22, Serrano tried in vain to persuade his lender, Aurora Loan Services LLC, a subsidiary of now bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., to change his mortgage so he could continue paying $1,618 a month.

So a dump-truck driver who only made $38,400 a year working full-time bought a home in the middle of Greater Buttfuck for over half a million dollars? That's about 15 years of annual income -- for Christ's sake, the down payment alone was over 4 years of annual income. Probability that he could have ever repaid his mortgage: zero.

After we round up the parasite class and take them out back to be shot, we need new regulations to make sure they can't invade the population again. It could be something as simple as not allowing mortgages to be given for homes that are priced at more than 3 or 4 or 5 times your annual income. If the average person were prudent, intelligent, and far-sighted, we wouldn't need this regulation, obviously -- but then most parents wouldn't have their children inoculated against infectious diseases if left to their own devices, so we compel them to inoculate their kids before they can be dropped off at the free daycare facility called "elementary school."

What we really need is a massive overhaul of the whole incentive structure to encourage smart women into having more kids and at younger ages. That's the only sure path to a population less in need of supervision and paternalism. The problem has nothing to do with education, careers, etc., as the Demographic Transition began in the late 18th C. in France, and a bit later in England, long before women had the right to vote, pursued higher education, or entered the work force en masse. I don't really see a way out of it, so the best we can do is to slow the downfall as much as possible, and the quickest fix right now is to deport illegal immigrants and revive legislation that only allows in immigrants who are quite above the native population's average in intelligence, work ethic, education, and so on.

March 26, 2009

Lower crime is not associated with more materialistic values

In Irrational Exuberance, Robert Shiller reviews many possible reasons why people may have been so enthusiastic about the stock market in the 1990s. One of them is that with the fall in violent crime, it was no longer dangerous to flaunt your wealth, lest it attract hordes of criminals. Now that more basic survival needs had been taken care of, you could indulge your materialistic side -- say, by jumping on the stock market bandwagon.

To be fair, he doesn't dwell on this point; there's only a single, off-the-cuff paragraph about it. Still, level of materialism is not predicted by the change in the crime rate. The reason for this oversight is that no one knows -- consciously -- that there have actually been two decade-long crime waves in the 20th C: the familiar one that began with Elvis and peaked with Dr. Dre, and the nearly-down-the-memory-hole wave of the 1910s and the Roaring Twenties, peaking in 1933 -- y'know, those flashback parts from The Godfather Part II, the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, etc. Here is a graph of the homicide rate for the entire century (data here):

If the downward trend in crime during the 1990s aided the rising materialism, why didn't a similar decline in crime from 1934 - 1956 do the same? If anything, materialism was evaporating during that time. Conversely, the ostentatious 1920s saw a skyrocketing crime rate, not a decline. So, while the relation between lower crime and higher materialism may hold for the recent crime wave, it was just the opposite for the earlier crime wave.

Probably crime and materialism follow independent courses. If they have slightly different periods, superimposing one trend on the other will produce beats -- at one point, they'll be completely in sync (mid-1920s), and at another point they'll be completely out of sync (mid-1990s). This is a key reason that we need to look at as long of a stretch of data as possible -- otherwise, we'll see a strong moving-in-tandem pattern in what is really a coincidence.

March 24, 2009

Recession to cause more obesity, wrinkles, acne, and depression

The NYT reports that candy sales are way up since the recession started. No sales data are given, only anecdotes -- but what the hell, it's only journalism.

Update: Reuters reports that sales are way down for European chocolate due to people gobbling up the cheap crap that has hardly any cocoa, and which therefore has lots of sugar to compensate. Cocoa contains anti-oxidants, and studies I've browsed from PubMed suggest a little bit helps -- around 1 tablespoon of cocoa a day, or roughly similar amount of very dark chocolate. Dark chocolate also has about 10 mg of caffeine per serving, and has lots of energy-packed fat, so it's a great wake-up food. After discovering Lindt's 85% cocoa chocolate bar, I've certainly been doing all I can to keep Lindt & Sprungli in business.

The suggestion is that candy helps the bingers cope emotionally with the uncertainty. As I reviewed the evidence here, while a brief occasional shot-in-the-arm of glucose might calm you down, high chronic levels of glucose, and so of insulin as well, will actually make you more depressed. This of course makes you want another quick-fix of sugar, so you get locked into a positive feedback loop.

Look at the women in the NYT's article, btw -- the one on the left is just 23, yet looks like she could be 33, and so does her friend. Chronically high blood-sugar levels lead to higher concentrations of reactive oxygen species (the things that cause rust-like damage to your body, which anti-oxidants protect against), as well as Advanced Glycation End-products, where a protein and a sugar form harmful freak combinations that your body never intended to see.

As Gary Taubes points out in Good Calories, Bad Calories, one of the proteins most susceptible to glycation is collagen, which gives skin its youthful plumpness. That's why diabetics' skin ages more rapidly. And just look at the skin of the women in that picture -- before the anti-fat movement took over the country, you wouldn't have seen such repulsive skin on a woman until she was well into her 40s or 50s.

March 22, 2009

Recent cultural history, from Google Trends: looks pretty good

Google Trends is neat because unlike searching the NYT, JSTOR, or looking up yearly data, you can detect pretty fine-grained changes over time. So let's take stock of the past five years.

Since the evaporation of third wave feminism sometime in the 1990s, we've been living in remarkably cunt-free times. But what about that whole Larry Summers brou-ha-ha? While those of us in or near academia have felt the effect of this debate for quite awhile, it hardly made a ripple in the mainstream culture, unlike Anita Hill, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinski. Proof: Larry Summers. Searches flare up in January 2005 when he made his remarks, but the panic is already dead by May of the same year, and has not been re-ignited since then. (The later spikes are due to his being chosen as an economic adviser to Obama.) The broader phrases sexism, sexual harassment, and date rape also show clear downward trends since 2004.

The same is true for race-baiting hysteria. Again, those who focus a lot on such issues have trouble stepping back and seeing the big cultural picture. Remember Rodney King, the L.A. riots, and O.J. Simpson? Ah, the early-mid-'90s rebirth of identity politics, which accompanied third wave feminism. (And people wonder why white male Generation X-ers are so screwed up.) We haven't seen anything like that. Proof: hurricane katrina and jenna six. Unlike Rodney King, these purported instances of institutional racism barely kept anyone's attention -- and they had all the backing of the race hucksters, including Kanye West going off-script during a live awards ceremony to say things like "George Bush doesn't care about black people," referring to Hurricane Katrina. The broader phrases racism, police brutality, affirmative action, and even slavery show clear downward trends.

Rounding out the triumverate of Groups We're Supposed to Care About is, of course, homosexuals. Under the Old Left, the poor or working class would have dominated, but since the mid-'70s, wealth or class only matter to the extent that they overlap with one of the three primary groups -- black poverty, working women, and destitute fashion designers. It's hard for me to even think of a high-profile event to examine, the recent equivalent of Matthew Shepard. But again we see downward trends for the broad phrases homophobia, gay rights, and gay marriage.

While the hysteria over sex, race, and gayness hasn't dropped precipitously in the past five years, to see any steady decline in so brief a period of time is encouraging. For comparison, it looks like the period of these hysterias is about 25 years (between peaks in, say, 1967 and 1992). This is the length of a human generation, but it may be a coincidence.

Moving on to a lighter topic, let's make sure that Google Trends can actually pick up increases in popularity -- maybe the previous trends are misleading, so that even increasingly popular things would show declines. Nope: quinoa, acai, pomegranate, and cupcakes. These are the superfoods de jour -- yep, never mind the tons of sugar in cupcakes, as long as they're made with organic whole wheat flour, fair-trade frosting, and recycled-paper wrappers. Not surprisingly, low-carb diets didn't catch on, and we continue to blimp out.

And then there's the perennial favorite of everyone over 25 -- how slutty the girls seem to be dressing these days. As I pointed out before, sales data for thongs have plummeted for five years, being replaced by super-modest boyshorts. Sure enough, Google Trends confirms that this reflects changing interest among consumers: thongs, boyshorts. Here's more evidence of more modest dress, from how much of the belly-to-crotch region girls display: low rise vs. high waisted. This disproves the urban legend that women dress more provocatively in economic booms, and more conservatively in gloomier times. If you only looked at the most recent phase of the business cycle, that's what you'd conclude, but when you recall the '80s boom, you remember girls who wore very high-waisted jeans and shirts and sweaters so big you couldn't see the shape of their upper body at all. Also, skinny jeans have risen in popularity during the downswing of the economy, continuing the existing upward trend from the boom, showing that they are independent of economic trends. And tighter jeans surely count as more provocative.

As I mentioned before, clothing cycles follow their own course, divorced from economic cycles. If peaks coincide, that is not because they are linked, but because they are like two independent sound waves that occasionally produce beats.

On a related note, when exactly did the '80s revival begin? Judging by searches for 80s night and headbands, sometime during 2006, taking off in 2007.

Last, a required topic here: young girls. Using generic age terms doesn't tell us whether the intent is sexual or not, so I looked up "porn teen(s)" and "porn milf(s)." A basic Google search shows that "porn teen" has a larger supply than "porn teens," and that "porn milfs" has a larger supply than "porn milf," so I compared "porn teen" vs. "porn milfs." Here is a graph:

Until winter of 2007, teens were more popular than milfs, and since the end of 2007 milfs have been winning. This parallels one of the trends in porn titles that I noted before, the relevant graph being this one:

There are downward trends for age of consent, underage girls, and schoolgirl. There is one exception -- jailbait -- but most of this seems due to the media's obsession with pregnant teenage celebrities and other teenage stars like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. The search volume is low and flat, then rises with the news reference volume and milestones referring to Jamie Lynn Spears, etc. I'm tempted to relate this to economic trends -- preferring to invest time, energy, and resources in young girls during a boom, and in older women during a bust -- but I'd obviously need a lot more data from other business cycles to see if the pattern were even real.

One supporting bit of evidence is that over the past 500 or so years in Northern Europe, age at first marriage does track economic conditions -- men and women marry earlier in good times and postpone marriage in tougher times. The interpretation is that if people plan somewhat prudently, as when middle-class values began sweeping through Northern Europe, they want to be sure they can provide well for their children, rather than marrying and pumping out babies early, and hoping for the best. Even I'm not immune to this change -- anyone who's been reading for a year or so can tell I've focused a lot less on the general topic of teenage girls since the recession became evident to the average person sometime during the summer or fall of 2008.

Hopefully Bernanke and Summers, the only high-level people in Obama's group who have any brains and insight, can get us out of this mess by the end of the year, and I can ring in the new decade with re-invigorated lust.

March 21, 2009

You'll still turn into a lethargic lardass

The New York Times says that sugar is making a comeback against high-fructose corn syrup. Because the two are nearly identical, this is obviously a fashion cycle, irrational exuberance, or whatever you want to call it.

It also shows how much our sense of disgust is linked to perceptions of social class or rank: HFCS is a staple of prole chow, while cane sugar (here, now) belongs to the eco-yuppie fad. So when a cashier smothers her french fries with ketchup that has added HFCS, and then washes it down with a milkshake also saturated with HFCS, that's "junk food" -- despicable. However, when a consultant smothers her quinoa with some honey-rich sauce, and then washes it down with a grande caramel mocha frappucino, loaded with 50 pounds of organic agave syrup, that's "decadent," not "junk." Whatever lady -- we can all see those bloated, doughy thighs stretching the seams of your Arden B pants.

Most people just don't realize how quickly your taste for sweets re-calibrates when you give up a sugar and starch-heavy diet. Right now, unsweetened ketchup tastes sweet, as does super-dark chocolate (85% cocoa). Almonds now taste so much like sugar-cubes that I've switched to pecans, which are more buttery. I think I'd pass out if I ate an apple or pear -- now it's enough to have one serving of blackberries, raspberries, or half a slice of cantaloupe.

March 20, 2009

Two springtime musings

First, some groovin' music to celebrate the end of our hibernal slumber.

* It's officially spring, and not because of the vernal equinox, but because of the first clear signal that the mating season has begun. This is the first week in a long time that I can remember going to '80s night, which draws a college-aged crowd, and being slammed by the aroma of ovulating girls. I noticed this when I first started going there, and to the teen dance club, about a year ago, but when late fall and winter arrived -- nothing. It's not the internal temperature of the clubs, as they've always been hot and muggy as hell.

Scientists have such a tough time detecting the obvious seasonal patterns in human reproductive state and behavior because they look at underlying hormones, such as testosterone or estrogen, rather than surface-level traits. That's how we tell that dogs have seasonal patterns -- they go into heat. Who needs to measure one hormone within the complicated system? They just need to find someone with a discriminating nose -- like, I don't know, me -- to rate the intensity of the ovulatory smell of a room full of young girls. I'm certain this will vary strongly by season, with a peak sometime in spring or summer.

* Social and cultural conservatives like to complain about the influence that gays have on our popular culture, from androgenous stick-like fashion models to ... well, that's about the only good example they can give. After a reality check, we see that it's the stupidest idea you've ever heard. If gays had such a strong influence, we'd see a lot more disco-type music, a greater celebration of classical music and ballet, and Dead White Males. Our culture is instead dominated by the tastes of lower-class stooges who prefer bottle blondes, big fake tits, and tanned leathery skin. No fag would give us Pamela Anderson, but they sure do idolize Audrey Hepburn.

Now that the weather is nice, I thought I'd invest in a nice pair of roller skates for when I go to the nearby park. No luck. Most sporting goods stores don't even carry them, although I did find one that offered a hunk of cheap junk for $45. Even inline skates are hard to find, and all of them have hard boots so that you can't move your ankles. They sell about fifty-thousand types of running shoes, though, in case you want to minimize your fun and destroy your joints when you're being active. Bunch of marathon-training dopes.

I bought an mp3 player (a first) so I could listen to some upbeat music for when I eventually find a good pair of skates. However, not a single store that sells CDs had Madonna's first, eponymous album, which is her best and most danceable. The closest I could find was a compilation album with most of the really good songs from her first two albums, plus some other bullshit up through the Vogue era, and for this I had to go to a used CD store.

If gays ruled our culture, I'd be able to find a quality pair of roller skates and Madonna's first album within a single afternoon, rather than have to order them online like some weirdo.

March 17, 2009

Low-carb diet with cheese makes you horny as a teenager

We all know that you get fewer and droopier boners as you age, but just to remind everyone of exactly how this progresses, here is a graph from this article (hat tip: Jason Malloy):

The vertical axis shows how much space the guy's junk filled up (in cubic centimeters) when looking at erotic stimuli, as a function of his age. The peak at around 17 - 18 shouldn't surprise anyone who remembers their junior and senior years of high school. Ignoring the curve and looking at the real data, the bars are pretty flat from about 22 to 32, and fall off for a second time during the 30s. By 28, I'd noticed a drop in my libido compared to my college years -- not in the mechanical aspect of getting it up, but instead how frequent and strong my urges were.

A few weeks ago, while I was experimenting with various types of low-carb diets, I suddenly became horny as a goat. I would wake up an extra hour early -- and I am not a morning person -- just to browse some porn before starting my day. I don't remember feeling so hard, nor it lasting so long after I'd stopped looking at girls, unless I thought back to middle or high school. (Then again, back then the girls I was around looked this girl, or perhaps the left one in this picture...) Also as in that stage of life, I got spontaneous boners all throughout the day -- stub your toe on the sidewalk, boner. You spy a girl across the crosswalk, boner. You merely think the word "erection" to yourself, boner.

I don't know how I managed to keep my cool during a three-hour homework review session I led for a class I'm TA-ing. It took all I had to focus on the material and not about fucking all the girls walking around the library.

And just as soon as it appeared, it was gone, after about a week. But now it's back -- and I'm not talking about the natural high and low phases that guys cycle through all the time. I'm talking about a return to the days when you mastered the art of holding your binder just so in the hallway.

So what is causing this? Partly the low-carb diet, since in long-term experiments where men are only allowed to eat a moderate amount, but all carbs, they very soon lose all interest in sex, and return to normal when they're allowed to eat protein and fat again. Also the obese, who eat too many carbs, have higher rates of flacidness. But I've been eating this way for at least a month now -- so it seems only necessary, not sufficient.

Now that I've had time to think over what I began eating, then stopped eating, and have just recently returned to eating -- I think it's cheese, at least the hard types like Emmentaler and cave-aged Gruyere. I'm not lactose tolerant, but these aren't so bad, and I just discovered Finlandia's Imported Swiss, which claims to be lactose-free and appears to be. I don't even eat a whole lot of it (mostly to not press my luck with consuming tiny amounts of lactose), but a little must go a long way.

I've searched Google and PubMed for support for this anecdote and conjecture, but all I can find is that cheese tends to be high in zinc, and that's used to treat ED. I doubt that's it, though, as I was taking one-a-day vitamins for years and didn't notice any effect. I really have no idea what the mechanism could be, but this is the only food item that fits the pattern. Maybe it has to interact with something else. Just in case someone knows a lot about this stuff, here's what I had for breakfast today, with asterisks next to items I was eating several weeks ago too:

Toasted pecans, (I was eating marcona almonds before)
Dark chocolate, 85% cacao
* Water

* Blue corn tortilla
* Corned beef
* Pepperoni
Unsweetened ketchup
* Olive oil
* Swiss cheese
Manzanilla olives with pimentos
* Earl Grey tea

You may have to go through a several-day period of weaning yourself off of carbs before you notice a change (or not), but it's worth a shot. Whatever the cause, it's clear that lower sex drives are another consequence of a shift to high-carb diets, and why guys seemed more macho and rarin' to go back in the '70s and before. And this is just one more example of how high-carb diets appear to hasten the aging process.

Perhaps this also explains why the French recently topped the list of European countries by average penis length and girth. Compared to our plant-eating cousins in Britain, the French have relatively high-fat / high-protein diets, and they eat cheese by the barrelful. And lord knows their popular and high culture is much more libidinous than ours.

March 8, 2009

Video game industry crashes are caused by recessions

We saw previously that the mythology surrounding the decline in video game arcades is wrong. Home consoles did not doom them by poaching their sales. Rather, social spaces for young people gradually died off in the 1980s (more on that later), of which arcades were just one special case. As long as we're on the topic, it's worth debunking another piece of pop sociology about video games: the accounts of the video game crash of 1983.

Every cult takes real events and develops them into a creation mythology, often featuring a fall from grace that was punished by forces of justice. This serves as a reminder of how to behave in the present. Video game geeks are just another cult, and their creation mythology is just as phony as that of Biblical literalist Christianity, although still derived from real-life events.

The standard story, which you can read in that Wikipedia entry, is that video games became too popular in the late 1970s and early '80s, leading to a saturation of the market by a proliferation of consoles, many of which were no good, and a surfeit of poor-quality games. The market then collapsed under its own weight. Several years later, there were only a few consoles out -- really just one, the Nintendo -- and executives devised ways of ensuring that poor-quality games would be less likely to be made (e.g., Nintendo's "seal of approval"), and this lead to the re-birth of the industry.

This story is wrong. Go back and look at the graph in the previous video game post. There are actually 2 video game declines visible: one in the middle of 1983, and another beginning in 1992. Moreover, there is a third decline, albeit milder, starting in 2002 -- see the graph here. There are surges several years after the declines in each case. The common pattern is that video game sales plummet toward the end or just after a major recession, and spring back up when the economy re-enters the booming phase. This also explains why a glut of consoles precedes a crash -- before the recession, i.e. during booming times, firms are profligate and don't think much of risking money to introduce a video game console that may actually stink. I mean, hey, the economy is doing great, so what's the worst that could happen?

We'll have to wait and see how the current recession affects video game sales -- again, it looks like the drop starts a little after the recession is over, and we're still in the middle of it. Current sales data suggest the industry is doing OK but not as good as predicted.

The reason that video game sales fall off a cliff in economic down times is that durable goods are much more sensitive to recessions than non-durable goods. A clear example is the auto industry vs. the oil industry. In hard times, people put off buying expensive goods that last a long time, such as new cars, waiting for more favorable times to buy them. Compare the craze for SUVs, rims, Pimp My Ride, etc., during the latest boom, vs. the current moribund state of the auto industry. This is nothing new, of course -- the auto industry nearly died during the huge early '80s recession, for the same reason. In contrast, goods like gasoline you have to buy frequently, and you use them up quickly, plus they're cheap. So, you can't postpone purchasing them, even if you buy a little less than usual, in hard times. Video game consoles are long-lasting and expensive, so like most of the tech industry, they'll be much more affected by recessions than gas stations or grocery stores.

So, there is nothing special about the video game crash of 1983 -- almost every industry crashed around that time, due to the worst recession since the Great Depression. Of course, video game geeks and tech journalists don't possess even the most basic picture of history, so they can't draw on it to explain the history of their pet obsessions.

Even if they did, though, I doubt it would much affect the creation and fall-from-grace mythology that surrounds the 1983 crash. It is too important in cementing the social bonds of their cult, tapping into the psychology of sin (by industry executives) and meting out group retribution (by the outraged consumers). Just as literalist Christians don't want to hear naturalistic accounts of floods and speciation, video game geeks slam their hands over their ears and shout "I can't heeeeaaarrrr yooouuuu!!! lalalalalala!!!!" when someone offers a naturalistic account of their cult's historical narrative. The events that have shaped their worldview are beyond mere mundane explanations based on intro economics and a superficial survey of other relevant data.

March 6, 2009

Carnivore's pigs in a blanket

I needed a filling snack after losing 40 pounds sweating at '80s night, and I didn't have a whole lot left since I forgot to go to the grocery store today. Like all great food, necessity is the mother of invention.

I took a beef hot dog and cut it into 3 pieces, each about 2 inches long, and cooked it in no oil for about 15 min. But instead of some high-carb wrapping, I took 3 long pieces of pastrami, also about 2 inches wide, and slathered a little mayonnaise and hot sauce on them. Then I rolled those around the hot dog pieces. Damn good.

I'd done it before with a slice of pancetta instead of hot dog, but this was much more filling. Serve with a little bit of marcona almonds in olive oil, and some honeybush tea, and you're good to go.

March 3, 2009

Home video game consoles did not kill the arcade

While we're on the topic of debunking pop sociology dogma, here's another thing I read about whenever the the history of video games comes up: arcades declined in the 1990s because the home consoles offered a similar experience and were cheaper.

Of course, this idea makes no sense -- why didn't the arcade game developers produce a new round of games that the home consoles could not so successfully copy? When a parasite species becomes adapted to sapping a host species, the host species adapts in turn to evade parasitism, and the cycle begins all over again.

Aside from that, it's just not true that playing Final Fight or Street Fighter on your Super Nintendo was the same experience -- the graphics and sound were not as good, and you weren't out and about, doing something somewhat social, surrounded by a boisterous crowd of your peers.

Video games have started to receive attention from academics, and most of it is the typical sterile lit-crit faggotry about analyzing the subtext of video games, how their characters reinforce the hegemonic cultural script, bla bla bla. However, there's a good social history that includes actual data and -- gasp! -- a graph. The author is Dmitri Williams, and the article is available for free. [1] I've redrawn the relevant graph, since it looks like a mess in the original:

The "home consoles parasitizing the arcades" view may explain the data of the late 1970s through 1986, where the rise of home console sales predicts a slowing down and fall in arcade sales. However, from 1991 to 1996, home consoles went into a decline, and that should have allowed the arcades to thrive again. Instead, arcade sales began declining after 1988, regardless of how home consoles were selling.

I have more to say about why arcades were abandoned, as it seems part of a larger pattern of public spaces for young people evaporating during the 1980s and '90s -- roller rinks, mini golf courses, swimming pools, malls geared toward teenagers rather than 20-somethings and up with lots of disposable income, and so on. A Bowling Alone pattern among young people. The key point for now is that home consoles did not kill off the arcade.

[1] Williams, D. (2006) A (Brief) Social History of Video Games. In Vorderer, P & Bryant, J. (Eds.) Playing Computer Games: Motives, Responses, and Consequences. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

March 1, 2009

The fashion for suntanning began decades before Coco Chanel

Particular individuals may be able to affect the course of history at the political or economic level, or the genetic level -- see Genghiz Khan. But most of what we call culture is a bottom-up process. Typically the individuals who we believe started a trend, which the masses then followed, were just jumping on the bandwagon. This is not surprising, since most high-profile celebrity types are part of a larger parasitic elite, namely the unproductive priestly castes. They're not in the business of innovating.

Mathematical models of culture often look like models of how a contagious disease spreads, and these agree with the big picture that cultural change doesn't happen from the top-down, as though a cultural cabal abducted all of us in our sleep and infected us with a fad. Rather, fads are like epidemics that, sooner or later, end up claiming even famous people. Also like epidemics, we almost never know who the Typhoid Mary is who introduced the very first instance of the fad -- we only pay attention when it has already begun to surge.

Stanley Lieberson reviews plenty of data in support of this picture in A Matter of Taste, including data on the decline in men's hats that began at least as early as the 1920's -- long before JFK allegedly "killed the hat." Even worse for this stupid theory, JFK did wear a hat at his inauguration.

My hatred of ideas like these stems from a distaste for patronizing theories of human nature, and the most popular of them is that famous people blow their nose a different way, and before too long the sheep are all blowing their nose that way. Only a group of insulated upper-crusters, or a bunch of autistic academics could take this belief seriously. When you walk into Wal-Mart, you hardly see the masses striving to copy the cultural markers of the elite, even those that are cheap to copy, such as buying Bach rather than Limp Bizkit, or wearing pants rather than jeans. Our view of social and cultural processes would not be so pathetic if we lived back in pre-industrial times, when people smart enough to notice patterns would have been exposed to all ranks of society, and so have plenty of data to draw on. Thomas Malthus comes to mind.

Lest you think I'm joking, many people believe that Spaniards use a lisp because some long-dead king did, which caught on as a fashionable way of speaking, and has become fossilized in today's Castilian Spanish. They seem to be split over whether the king was one of the Alfonso's or one of the Ferdinand's, but it doesn't matter, because it's stupid and obviously wrong -- Spaniards do use the "s" sound, in addition to the "th" sound, just like in English, whereas a lisp is an inability to produce any "s"-like sounds at all. And besides, commoners hate the royalty and seek to distinguish themselves using their own dialects, clothing, songs, and so on, so they never would have copied the king's pronunciation in the first place.

Another one of these moronic ideas that is dogma among arts majors is that Coco Chanel started the fashion for tanning. She went for a cruise in 1923, came back burnt, and suntanning spread out in a wave from her elite circle, to the next lowest rung, to the next lowest, and so on, until finally lower-class girls in New Jersey are spending most of their leisure time in tanning beds. I've always found talk about tans to be particularly idiotic, even accounting for the fact that it's mostly from incurious and lazy humanities people.

While doing research on an unrelated topic, I stumbled upon a three-part social history of suntanning that was published in a dermatology journal. Part one, then part two, and part three. The upshot is that the popularity of suntanning began in the late 1800's and first two decades of the 1900's, partly as a fashion statement among young people, in contrast to the older style of parasols and other sun-shields. But the trend was probably more due to the claimed health benefits. This is when doctors figured out that ultraviolet exposure could treat psoriasis, and that vitamin D, which we mainly produce after UV exposure, prevented rickets.

So, this would not be unlike the current fashion for high-carb diets being due more to the public's adhering to the new dietary guidelines that say fat is bad and carbs are good for health, as opposed to emulating yuppies who went vegetarian and Mediterranean in the '80s. Public health experts have more of an influence on our culture than le haut monde. That's not surprising: doctors at least have the appearance of credibility and special knowledge.

In any case, here are some quotes from the first article:

A writer in 1894 remarked: "Most girls of the period recklessly defy wind and weather and are very proud of being tanned, but there are others who hesitate at so much exposure to the sun."


A physician writing in Harper's Bazar observed: "The summer girl of 1900 is ready to take a spin in an automobile; or to speed forth on her bicycle; or to hold her own with a racquet in her hand at the tennis nets; or with her sticks to speed her ball over the short or long course of the golflinks; or to take her ocean bath, and with sturdy strokes to swim and disport herself like a mermaid in her abbreviated bathing costume; or to row and sail and yacht from early morn until late at night, letting the sun leave what impress upon her it can or may."


One writer commented derisively in 1900: "[N]owadays the average summer girl, in order to acquire a coat of tan, makes efforts that horrify those persons who still think that a young lady's complexion should differ from that of a member of the varsity crew. The girl of today goes hatless, rolls up her sleeves to the elbow or higher, washes her hands and face in salt water, and holds them in the sun, and is not content unless she is freckled like a turkey egg, and burned an Indian red or a coffee brown."

Although suntanning reached epidemic levels in the late 1920s and 1930s, we see that the trend started out several decades before Coco Chanel's famous 1923 cruise. We conclude that she had nothing to do with starting the trend, or even of giving it a boost -- the momentum was already there, so even if she never existed, it would have continued to grow during the 1920s. Instead, she was merely jumping on the bandwagon, in much the same way that Norma Jeane Mortenson changed her first name to Marilyn (Monroe) after that name had already begun to surge in popularity among the masses. (See Lieberson's book.)

Another ugly theory slain by beautiful facts.