May 27, 2009

The late Medieval shift away from carbs and toward meat

The past may have always been worse than the present, but some periods were better than others. And as Thomas Malthus showed, what made for an enjoyable era was plenty of disease, war, and other disasters beforehand -- to clear out a good chunk of the population, leaving much more stuff to go around per person among the survivors.

The 14th C. was overall a very calamitous century, so that during and just after the myriad disasters that plagued it, signs of the good life abounded. How would this affect the diet? Nutritionists from roughly 1950 onward would predict that very little animal fat -- or perhaps animal products at all -- would have been consumed, and that they would have enjoyed a diet based mostly on grains and cereals, and then on fruits and vegetables. (Recall the FDA's food pyramid and its large base of bread, pasta, and cereal.)

These nutritionists are completely ignorant of human evolution, physical anthropology, as well as recorded history. Not surprisingly, they've got it completely backwards -- their recommended diet will keep your insulin levels high chronically, causing you to store fat rather than burn it for fuel, not to mention all the other side-effects of a carbohydrate-rich, fat-deficient diet. (For a good review, read Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories or watch a video if you're lazy.) It's no wonder, then, that the dietary sign of higher standards of living in the late Middle Ages was the exact opposite of the nutritionists' prescriptions -- cutting way back on bread and loading up on dead animals.

In this post I mentioned that Gregory Clark's book A Farewell to Alms has a table showing that English farm workers in the late Middle Ages got a fair portion of meat to supplement their wages. In fact, not only did they eat a lot more meat from 1350 to 1450 compared to 1250 to 1350 -- one pound a day! -- they were also eating a lot less bread. So, unlike present-day bodybuilders who hamstring their ability to pack on muscle and burn lots of energy (by carb-loading), late Medieval farm workers were not eating foods that would keep their insulin levels chronically high.

Rather than yammer on at greater length about this change, I'd rather point you to a free copy of the academic article that Clark's table mostly draws from: go to this list of articles and Ctrl F "Dyer." The article is "Changes in diet in the late middle ages: the case of harvest workers." He cautions that autumn farm workers were better off than other laborers, that even they only enjoyed this diet during their autumn work schedule, etc., but the overall change from roughly 1250 to 1450 is pretty clear.

He also provides data showing that elite people, such as the prioress of a nunnery, ate much less bread and much more meat than the lower orders. Dyer has more data on how diet varied throughout the social ladder, and the pattern holds up there too. See his book chapter "English diet in the later middle ages" in this volume, as well as the discussion of diet in his book Standards of living in the later Middle Ages. Barbara Harvey's book Living and dying in England, 1100 - 1540 is about the monks of Westminster Abbey, an elite group. In the chapter on diet, she provides data showing that during the 15th C., they ate a fair amount of meat and not as much bread as Dyer's farm workers from 1250 -- probably above the farm workers of 1450 but below the higher elites.

As I mentioned before, this is a pretty general pattern -- animal products, especially good muscle and organ meat, are more expensive to produce than grain products. So, the elite have always been less reliant on empty carbs, and enjoyed more animal protein and fat, than the commoners. This is why the notion that elites used to be fat or even obese, while the commoners used to be thin, is nonsense. As a rule, they never have been. By consuming so much of their food in the form of non-fibrous carbohydrates, the commoners of the Middle Ages would not have looked very different from today's Wal-Mart shoppers.

Kitchen detail from the Luttrell Psalter

A curious thing in Dyer's article is that he seems to think that when people ate more meat, they must have had a vitamin A deficiency, since their new diet also saw a decrease in the amount of dairy they ate. While you can get a decent amount of vitamin A from dairy (usually 5 - 10% of the RDA per serving of butter, milk, cream, or cheese), the key source has always been animal livers. To see this, here is a tool to list foods by how much of some substance they have. Click the "highest in" bar, and scroll down until you see retinol (under vitamin A), and search. Aside from dry cereals (which are irrelevant since once you add everything else to them, their weight will shoot up, and the concentration of vitamin A will plummet), the high-scorers are all from animal organs, especially liver.

True vitamin A is only found in animal products -- the stuff in spinach, carrots, etc. is just a precursor to vitamin A, and is not converted with 100% efficiency into vitamin A. (See the Wikipedia entry for vitamin A.) Vitamin A is fat soluble, so that the excess can be stored away in our fat, although the bulk of the not-currently-in-use vitamin A is stored in the liver.

So, the simple way to get plenty of this vitamin is to steal it. Find an animal that has spent all day processing the plants that are rich in the precursors -- this animal will have created true vitamin A from all this junk, and it will have stored most of the unused portion in its liver. Kill this animal and eat its liver -- and boom, you've hit the vitamin A jackpot. And all without letting a single leaf of spinach enter your mouth.

Returning to Dyer's article, he mentions that the farm workers also ate the offal of animals, not just the muscle meat. And the elites surely did too. If this included liver -- and that's probably true, since it's been prized forever (including among present-day hunter-gatherers) -- then they would've had plenty of vitamin A.

At any rate, the important thing to take home is that elites have always eaten better than commoners, in particular eating fewer easily digestible carbs and more animal protein and fat, so they were never fatter than the commoners. I don't know where this image of the "well fed, rotund aristocracy" came from, but look at who is well fed today -- middle class French people don't look obese at all, while American proles may soon be required to purchase two airline tickets for their one body.

Since the 14th C was a time of improving standards of living -- starting decades before the Black Death, but particularly so after the plague cleared away a bunch of the survivors' would-be labor competition -- these data also show that a lower standard of living, as during the 13th C., is characterized by eating lots of empty carbs and hardly any animal fat and protein, while in better times, such as the 14th and 15th Cs, people can finally junk all of that tasteless bread and dig in to beef, lamb, mutton, liver, and the rest.

May 25, 2009

Just how insane are sociologists?

One of the new topics in the General Social Survey for 2008 (under "2008 variables") was sexual harassment from clergy members toward the flock they tend. Unlike other, rarer experiences like going to museums, having a priest ask if you're up for some quick butt sex is so common that the survey designers figured they'd explore the topic in great detail. After all, if only one person in your whole survey said it had happened, you wouldn't learn much about who is at risk in general, what such experiences are like in general, etc.

How much fine-grained detail were they expecting? Here's a list of all the questions on this topic:

- Since the age of 18, have you ever been the object of sexual advances / propositions from religious leaders?

- Did this happen with a leader in a congregation you were yourself attending?

- With how many different leaders has this happened to you?

- Did you and the leader ever become an open couple?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Was the leader also your counselor?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Was the leader married at the time?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Did you end up having sex with the leader?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- What was the leader's sex?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Did you get into an ongoing relationship with the leader?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Did the leader try to keep you from blabbing about the relationship to others?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Have you ever told anyone about the experience with the leader?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Have you ever told any authority in the congregation about the experience?
- As above, for religious leader molester #2
- As above, for religious leader molester #3

- Do you know of other people who were propositioned by clergy members?

- When they were propositioned, were they a close friend of yours?

Whew! So, how many victims of clergy sexual harassment were there to get data on these questions from? Out of 1,766 respondents, 42 -- or 2.4%. By contrast, 23.4% said they had been harassed by supervisors at work. Trying to get fine-grained information from such a small population requires oversampling them -- going to a support group or something, not surveying the population at random. Of course you won't find many people to give you details because hardly anyone gets sexually harassed, let alone by a priest.

For comparison, the prison population in the U.S. is about the same percent of the whole population as the people who said they'd been the target of sexual advances / propositions from clergy members. Would you try to find out what prison experiences are like, in gory detail, by asking a long list of questions to a random sample of the country? Not unless you were a fucking idiot.

But ever since the overhyped scare about child molesting priests back in 2002, everyone has had their rational judgment clouded -- I mean, c'mon, everyone knows someone who was in that situation, even if you and most of your friends were lucky enough to escape the epidemic. So, how many people actually do know such a someone? According to the GSS, 9.3% of the population. This is what we'd expect if each respondent who said they'd been harassed told 4 people about it. Sounds reasonable. So much for "everyone knows someone."

I wonder whether we've made any progress beyond the witch hysterias of the Early Modern period -- "Have you been sexually harassed by a witch? If so, by how many, and how often? Did you have sex with the witch? Did you form on ongoing relationship? Did the witch try to get you to hush up about your witch-fucking sex life?"

Surely when people 400 years from now read the 2008 GSS, they'll wonder what drugs everyone was on, that they probed a random sample at such length about something that obviously happened to hardly anyone.

Applying behavioral economics to girls

Pickup artists talk a lot about evolutionary psychology, and sometimes about older social psychology. But while it's interesting to talk about, it offers very little in the way of concrete, practical advice. Instead, the focus should be on behavioral economics, which studies how real human beings make decisions under uncertainty -- say, a girl you meet in a club who you ask out. Of course, a lot of what pickup artists do is run their own behavioral economics experiments in the field. Still, there are lots of results from "the literature" that can be applied straightforwardly and powerfully to interacting with girls.

I read the new edition of Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational, and it's chock full of cool findings. Here's just one example:

Offer bar-goers two types of beer, one that is plain beer and another that is the same beer but laced with balsamic vinager. If you don't tell them about the vinager, people tend to rate the mixed drink higher. However, tell them before they choose that one is beer and the other is beer plus vinager, and they not only don't prefer the mixed drink as much, they pucker their mouths when they drink it. What if you let them choose blindly, and only after they've had a drink do you tell them about the vinager? They behave the same way as those who never knew it had vinager -- "Hey, whatever. Can I have another glass?"

The take-home message is that our pleasure is affected by our expectations. When we hear that the mixed drink has vinager, we expect something that will make our mouths pucker and turn us off. Extra knowledge can influence our pleasure, but only if it's beforehand -- once we've already had our taste buds tickled, it's too late to turn us off by revealing that we just drank beer plus vinager.

This settles the age-old arguments that people have about whether you should tell a girl up front about what she may think are "con" qualities, vs. tell her / let her find out after you've already hit it off and established a tight emotional and physical bond. Clearly, you should forget the so-called honest thing to do. If you get to know each other and end up enjoying each other's company, only then do you tell her -- at which point she probably won't care anyway. Don't sabotage the fun for both of you by blabbing about these things at the outset.

Here are two examples that are chosen to be extreme in order to prove the point:

1) As I said when remembering how an attractive alpha-female student of mine came on to me, she only asked how old I was long after she'd been smitten. So, based on the vinager-beer experiment, we'd expect her to not really care about how much older I was -- but still, she was 15 ("and a half!") and I was 25. That's a bit more of a revelation than a few drops of vinager in some beer. So how did she respond? "oh," she said bashfully, "well... i think age is just a number..."

She probably would not have let herself fall so easily had she known from the start that I was about 10 years older. But since she found out much later, it didn't matter.

2) What if the age gap were larger, and what if my absolute age were older too? Both of these changes would seem to stretch the limits of the effect. At the local teen dance club last year, there was a cute Brown girl who was about 5 feet tall, nice fat distribution, and really perky and energetic -- fairly close to my type:

She threw herself at me several times per evening, and over the course of several weekends. (Those Brown girls and their libidos.) One night, her busybody friend -- who must have won the cockblocking gold medal in the junior Olympics -- asked me how old I was in an old maid tone-of-voice. Normally I play it off, ask them to guess, say "hey, pretty close," and then that's it. But I'd had a drink that night and slipped up -- 27, I said matter-of-factly. "And you come to [this dance club]?" It was clear from her voice that she would take every free moment she had to try to poison her friend against me, and it shouldn't have been that hard -- they were both about 16, maybe even 15, and here I was a 27 year-old.

But nope. Each time I saw them, her petite, soft, dark friend ran up to me and pressed her body to mine, including the very night when I let my age slip. Once a girl starts fantasizing about this like totally cute boy she saw in the club, that's it. I could have said that I was wanted in four countries for serial murder, and she would've written it off -- "oh puh-lease. i mean, like, who doesn't have a few flaws, y'know??? gosh..."

Everyone has some qualities that someone of the opposite sex might initially raise an eyebrow at. For god's sake, don't blab it out before the interaction has really gone anywhere. Get close first, and then let them find out -- if it's necessary (and if not, just keep it to yourself). I know that to some people this may seem completely obvious, that "you don't need a study to show that." But there are plenty of people who deeply believe that honesty up-front is the best policy -- that you just need to put it all out there at the beginning, so that you start out with no lies and no secrets. These people are wrong.

They're welcome to behave that way, of course -- but they shouldn't expect it to work. And they shouldn't expect to enjoy life very much, since they set the other person up to form negative expectations right away. Some ingredients of the beer need to be kept secret in order to prevent us from spoiling our own fun.

May 20, 2009


I'll let that post below on logos digest for awhile. In the meantime, something soothing for the eyes and ears.

May 19, 2009

Why logos, and why are teenagers more brand-obsessed than adults?

I haven't yet read Spent, the new book by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, but John Tierney at the NYT summarizes some of it here. According to the review, Miller argues that our obsession with driving a particular type of car, drinking a certain type of coffee, etc., doesn't do for us what we thought it would:

But once you've spent the money, once you've got the personality-appropriate appliance or watch or handbag, how much good are these signals actually doing you? Not much, Dr. Miller says. The fundamental consumerist delusion, as he calls it, is that purchases affect the way we're treated.

The grand edifice of brand-name consumerism rests on the narcissistic fantasy that everyone else cares about what we buy. (It's no accident that narcissistic teenagers are the most brand-obsessed consumers.) But who else even notices? Can you remember what your partner or your best friend was wearing the day before yesterday? Or what kind of watch your boss has?

Sidebar: people may not remember the exact items that their partner, friend, or whoever, was wearing the day before yesterday, but they sure do remember if the person was dressed like an emo, a yuppie, a redneck, and so on. Ditto for brand of watch or car -- "What was he driving? I dunno, a Jetta, I think -- or maybe it was a Prius. Well, one of those girly yuppie-mobiles, anyway." We ignored what the consumer item said about the individual's personality and used it to shoehorn him into membership in this or that social group.

It's not clear that the sole or primary function of branding is to signal to others what traits you have (Miller argues that they are signals of intelligence levels and personality traits). In fact, if we assume that everyone isn't a complete moron -- I know, but just go with me for a moment here -- maybe there's a better reason for branding, and that what's wrong-headed is our guess about the function of branding.

The simple explanation is that branding serves to mark members of ethnic groups (broadly construed). In this way, the logos on their clothing, the decals on their car windows, etc., are just pieces of a composite of markers that include non-consumerist choices such as what accent or which slang words to use. They allow people to quickly and faithfully tell who belongs to which group. Why humans care so much about Us vs. Them is an orthogonal question -- the point is that we are hyper-vigilant about in-group / out-group status. So, obviously something that lets us figure that out fast and with little error will benefit all involved.

These markers may have some understandable basis when they start out -- as when the more menacing groups wear clothes that look more like suits of armor, while the sanguine groups wear softer and lighter clothing. Then again, it could have started out with no basis other than the group members' wishful thinking -- "this is what badass people wear!", even if they were actually quite wimpy.

But social psychologists have shown that you can divide a group into two sub-groups arbitrarily, and you'll still end up with strong inter-group hostility. The most famous example of this is the Eagles and the Rattlers, two groups of pubescent boys who attended an outdoor camp that turned into Lord of the Flies in short order. (Still, there were some tasks that muted the hostilities, such as having to work together to neutralize a common threat.) It doesn't matter that they were boys -- if they had been girls, replace "Lord of the Flies" with "Heathers" or "Mean Girls." Again, in these movies, the preoccupation with brands is to keep one's own group members in line and to keep out everyone else.

You can even show them that the split is arbitrary by flipping a coin, and that doesn't matter. Most adults forget their childhood and adolescence, but you must remember when the teacher split up the class by counting students: "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, .... , OK, all the 1's over here, 2's over there..." Even though you had to sit through a solid minute or two of proof that the grouping was arbitrary, that didn't change the fact that you all had 1's tattooed on your chests, and that you were going to mop the floor with anyone with a 2, 3, or 4 on their chest.

Hell, your best friend could have been a 2 -- but that was just tough luck for him, since after all you were a 1 now. And that cute girl who you'd like to impress close-up -- well, if she happened to get a 2, she might as well have rejected you outright, the whore. All the more reason to show no mercy to those fucking 2's!

So, a narcissistic obsession with broadcasting their intelligence and personality is not the reason that teenagers, or anyone else, are so crazy about brands. (Which they are, btw: Abercrombie & Fitch created the spin-off Hollister store to cater to teenagers in order to keep them out of the more college-oriented Abercrombie & Fitch stores. Someone with the company told the WSJ that their research had shown that teenagers craved logos more than college students.)

Instead, teenagers are so neurotic about brands because they are in the most tumultuous stage of their social lives -- groups of friends form and disband within a few years, especially during middle school, unlike the longer lasting relationships that adults have with each other. When social life often seems like a game of musical chairs, of course you want a simple way to keep track of who belongs to which group at the moment. Parents -- that is, adults who are still somewhat in touch with young people -- are reminded of this extreme social volatility when they eventually give up on keeping track of who their kids' friends are:

"So, are you going to the mall with Hayley today?"

"i mean, omigod mom, are you freakin' kidding me? i stopped being friends with hayley like two weeks ago."

"But you just started hanging out with her only three months ago..."

"yeah well it's not my fault she's a stupid bitch who thinks she's hot when she's like totally not."

Now that poor Hayley has been banished from the clique, she'll probably have to throw out most of her wardrobe and buy a bunch of new junk in order to fit in with the next clique that lets her join. Didn't you too dress like a hip-hop thug in sixth grade, shift shapes into a grunge rocker in eighth grade, only to end up in preppier clothes in high school? You're not signaling your changing personality (not that it couldn't be changing, of course) -- you're signaling your changing group membership.

Adults do this too, obviously, although the volatility is not so high, and thus the obsession is not so great. But when a conservative stay-at-home mom moves into a liberal yuppie area, assuming she can't find anyone else like herself, she may start dressing, talking, and shopping like her neighbors. Again, this isn't a reflection of some huge change in her personality, but of her new membership in the greater tribe of liberal yuppies.

Well, you get the idea. There's plenty more detail to consider here, but the point remains: if our hypothesis about why people behave the way they do makes it look like they're from outer space, we should consider alternative hypotheses that humanize them. In this case, obsession with brands is not mostly about signaling how an individual differs from other individuals (in intelligence, personality, etc.), but rather what ethnic group that individual belongs to. It's only one part of the larger composite of ethnic markers, many of which have nothing to do with hyper-tailored consumer options -- for example, accent and type of slang. Teenagers do not obsess more than adults about brands due to greater narcissism, but because there is a greater need to quickly and faithfully keep track of group membership at their age.

In short, when deciding on which slang words to use, which brand of clothes to wear, what fast food places to eat at, etc., most people are not thinking, "What will this say about my personality and lifestyle?" but instead, "Are they gonna think I'm a goth / yuppie / etc.?"

May 16, 2009

Whole Foods recovering from the anti-fat witch hunt?

I'll try to keep it short since I'm about to go out for the night, but I just checked the health and nutrition part of Whole Foods' website and was very surprised to see how much they've become deprogrammed of the elite's anti-fat hysteria. Examples:

Section on fats has no demonizing of saturated or animal fats -- jesus, they even give props to lard! They also remind us that most animal fats are monounsaturated anyway.

Section on carb consciousness is pretty even-handed, but more importantly: there is no counterpart section on how to follow a low-fat diet.

Section on heart health
does not vilify saturated fat or cholesterol, emphasizing instead omega-3 fats and antioxidants.

Section on pregnant and nursing mothers tells them, in not so many words, to completely ignore the FDA's moronic food pyramid and eat lamb, fatty fish, eggs, yoghurt, nuts, legumes, fat-loaded avocados, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and berries (which are mostly sugar-free). No mention of bread, rice, pasta, cereal, etc. -- it's as though they don't want pregnant mothers to give their kid hyperinsulemia and Type II diabetes before it's even born.

Section on men's health mentions in passing that fats increase the absorption of antioxidants from tomatoes -- a point that is true for any vitamin, or whatever, that is fat-soluble.

And that's just the good -- as I say, there are no sections on how to cut the fat out of your diet, how to put more soy in it, etc. Since a large corporation like Whole Foods doesn't stick its neck out for no reason, it must be that they've picked up on a change in sensibilities among their consumers -- if the tide hadn't begun to turn at least somewhat among them, the company wouldn't dare talk about how great lard can be or how little carbs pregnant mothers should be eating. If their consumers haven't changed, then I'm very impressed at how iconoclastic Whole Foods is behaving, at least in cyberspace.

I just got back from one, and their entire stock of Turtle Mountain's So Delicious coconut milk beverage was all gone, except for one quart, which I took just to stockpile. Ditto for Organic Valley's summertime-only butter from pasture-fed cows -- I took the last two they had. Just within the past half-year, they've started to carry four or five brands of coconut oil, rather than the one I saw when I first started eating low-carb food. Meanwhile, no one seemed interested in the untouched rows of soy milk.

Protein Power author Michael Eades noticed something similar at a recent food expo -- lots of coconut products, much less soy, and little in the way of fat hysteria generally. Let's hope these trends aren't passing. Maybe Gary Taubes' book Good Calories, Bad Calories has had a larger impact than he believes (as a neurotic Jewish Manhattanite, he's afraid that most readers will respond to it with a polite smile while inching slowly away). The low-carb trend peaked in 2004 and has been pretty dead since then -- perhaps we're seeing a rebirth.

Finding exceptions to your type

My type is short, curvy, plump rump, tawny skin, green eyes, black hair, and Mediterranean facial features. That leaves out most blond and East Asian girls.

But in the interest of open-mindedness and non-discrimination, I've been cruising to see if maybe there aren't some blond or East Asian babes out there. You wouldn't be able to find them in advertisements, Hollywood, or whatever else, since those women only pass the most minimal standards of beauty. Everyday life is out as well, since all of the ugly and plain people are thrown into the mix.

Sure enough, once you flip through some candid pictures of adolescents in their natural habitat, finding those exceptions isn't so difficult (pictures OK, but ads NSFW):

Blond beauty

East Asian siren

To hell with Hollywood. You're more likely to find stunning, real girls on one of these sites that collects them from Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, etc. This is one of the few positive examples of Web 2.0, which usually results in "everyone retard gets a megaphone." It's not so bad when that changes to "every young girl gets a digital camera."

May 14, 2009

Germans were producing revolting porn even 40,000 years ago

Germany and Japan produce and consume the sickest kind of pornography you can think of -- I shouldn't have to make a list of it. It turns out that Germans were putting this stuff out as far back as 40,000 years ago. These so-called Venus figurines usually depict females so morbidly obese that they would only satisfy German fetishes.

Every time these figurines come up in discussion, we're told that they have something to do with fertility symbols -- rather than the obvious conclusion that guys have always wanted something to help them masturbate better. I wouldn't be surprised if one day we discover a 30,000 year-old horse femur that had been hollowed out, covered with lard on the inside, and had traces of human semen at one end. At least a few prehistoric men must have been in the market for a Paleolithic Fleshlight.

Now, those women in the Altamira cave paintings may have been a little on the Kate Moss side of the BMI scale, but at least you wouldn't lose yourself in their tubby folds. Just as during the Baroque period, when Velazquez painted a slender Venus -- in contrast to the seacows that the northern Rubens forced on his viewers -- so even among the cave races did the Spaniards err more on the side of femininity rather than fattitude.

May 13, 2009


I didn't post anything today, so I'm probably in danger of losing my devoted legion of internet followers, resigned to the fact that their god has abandoned them.

Hmmm, a picture always makes for an easy post.

So apropos of the entry below on young people not getting to enjoy outdoor fun anymore, I did manage to find an exception.

Like most hyperactive young girls, she dreaded the thought of having her picture taken. But ultimately her resolve melted under the heat of my charm.

Now stop reading this damned blog and go outside!

May 12, 2009

The decline of outdoor fun, and the graying of park-goers

We've already been over how Halloween is no longer a special night of unsupervised romping around for children, how toy stores offer little to boys who want to horse around and shoot things at stuff, and how video game arcades started vanishing around 1989. What other dangerous places are out there that helicopter parents would rather die than see their children spend time at? Parks!

As a kid, I never went to any neighborhood parks with my parents -- "Mommmm, get away from me!" -- unless it was far enough away that I needed them to drive me, such as Mirror Lake on the OSU campus or Griggs Reservoir on the Scioto River. Places cool enough that it was worth having to have your parents there. Otherwise, my friends and I would either walk or ride our bikes to the park and do whatever we wanted -- without our parents constantly swooping in every time we scraped an elbow or got our kite caught in a tree.

Not only that: we did this strange thing called "camping," where you spend the night outside in a park. It was usually for Cub Scouts, but we went on family camping trips too. For a quick fix, we'd just set the thing up in the backyard and sleep outside. (I have a vivid memory of when I was 3 or 4 years old and camping outside for the better part of the evening, unsupervised, while my parents were watching Knight Rider in peace for once.)

Ah, but today's parents know better -- going to parks without a chaperone is just asking for your kid to get murdered, and who has enough time in the day to go along with them? So going to parks for fun is out, and camping is definitely out -- you lose a day and a night of your schedule! But if the schools want to take them on a field trip, that's OK.

Indeed, that's just what national park data show. I pieced these graphs together from various editions of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, going as far back as there were comparable data. First, here is the per capita rate of overnight stays at national parks:

Camping became incredibly popular during the 1960s, and despite flagging somewhat in the early 1970s, picked up again for the rest of the decade. Throughout the 1980s, its popularity is a bit lower than before but still holding steady. Starting in the early-mid 1990s, though, camping rates decline steadily up through 2008. This is silly since there's never been a safer time to go camping, and with environmental regulations out the ass now, you figure the parks have never been cleaner.

Here's a similar graph for national park attendance for recreational vs. non-recreational purposes:

Here the decline in going to parks for fun starts in 1988 and hasn't recovered since. Starting in 1993, though, non-recreational visits increase logistically (or in an S-shape), as though a switch were turned on and we went from one state to another. I'm not sure exactly what "non-recreational" includes -- could be the schools trying to make up for their students' lack of fun by giving them field trips, could be convicts being put to work cleaning the place up, or something else. At any rate, fun is down while forced attendance is up.

As with the numerous other examples of young people's social spaces evaporating and leaving them with nothing fun to do, the major change in playing at parks and going camping seems to have been in the late '80s / early '90s. I can easily recall three pop culture examples of camping out from that time, but few from later on: the Simpsons episode where Homer gets the family lost in the woods during an RV camping trip, the episode of Saved by the Bell where they camp out in a sporting goods store in the mall in order to be the first in line for U2 tickets the next day, and that horrible movie Career Opportunities where babalicious Jennifer Connelly and some schmuck are trapped inside a Target store and they make out or do it in a tent.

Today no one would get what the characters are doing, since the poor bastards born after roughly 1987 -- the Millennials -- were the first generation (at least in awhile) to have helicopter parents all around them. You'd think that they'd be more grateful than any previous group to go off to college and roam around unsupervised. But from what I can tell here at a big state school, they aren't horsing around even now. Most are continuing the only thing they've known growing up: glued to the internet, TV, or video game system, and fumbling with their ipod or cell phone.

It's quite rare to see people outside enjoying the expanse of green grass, laying in the shade of a tree, or playing sports of any kind. And that's not just on campus -- the three most popular parks nearby also lack a young-people presence. It's mostly people 25 and over, typically 35 and over, who are jogging in a futile effort to lose weight (just eat less carbs), showing off their toy dogs to the other toy dog owners, plus the odd hippie Boomer staying in touch with Gaia.

Parks -- another space seized from young people by grown-ups.

May 10, 2009

No more innovation in toys?


While out yesterday I passed by a Toys R Us and stopped in on a whim, to see what crazy new toys the kids are playing with these days. To my surprise, the selection was nearly identical to when I was a pre-pubescent kid 20 years ago. The only major change is the layout of the store -- lots of open space with islands, rather than densely packed long aisles.

Action figures didn't really exist until the 1980s (there were some doll-like figures before that), but during the past 20 years, there doesn't seem to be much new about them. Hell, a lot of the lines were the same as 20 years ago -- G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, professional wrestlers, etc. The only new thing about action figures seems to be that they're a little bigger than before. Related to that, I saw very few of the "shitload of small guys" toys that used to be standard -- those green plastic army men that you bought by the hundreds, M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, the Trash Bag Bunch, and so on. This must make keeping the toybox in order a lot easier on parents today! Also, no scary monster toys like Boglins, the Inhumanoids, etc.

Video games also became staples during the 1980s, and compared to Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo of roughly 20 years ago, there's been no sea change in video games, other than 3-D graphics being standard. Actually, there is one major innovation -- the first-person shooter genre. But since these games are more boring than other genres, this isn't much to cheer about.

Erector sets were invented in the early 20th C, and again there was no huge change apparent in what I saw. In fact, the related Lego blocks seem to have gotten much worse -- now, they involve little imagination. There's some preconceived thing, such as a plane or a castle, that you put together by following the instruction manual. The blocks are specialized to this thing, unlike the bland blocks that you could reassemble into anything else you could think of. There were only a couple of buckets that contained lots of all-purpose blocks; most were specialized kits. Most of the duplo Legos were all-purpose, though -- y'know, those big fat ones for pre-schoolers. It really seems like they've sucked all the fun out of Legos.

Board games also go way back, and there doesn't seem to be anything super-new about them.

Ditto for sporting equipment. They have those slicker-designed two-wheel scooters now, but we had those awhile ago too. I didn't inspect everything there, but I saw a lot less of what we used to have -- now, it's only the stuff required for standard sports (rollerblades, basketballs, skateboards, bikes, etc.). I don't recall seeing pogo sticks, pogo balls, that thing... well, it was a disk-shaped thing that was tethered to your ankle, and you swung it in circles on the ground with one foot, and hopped over it with the other foot, like jump rope. The point is that there didn't seem to be as much of this zany goofy stuff as when I was a kid.

They didn't have nearly as much of the "disgusting crap" category as I recall -- make your own monster goop, a playset where you drown figures in slime, that kind of thing. There was a little, but most of it has been turned into chemistry set-like stuff, or Play-doh. Again, chemistry sets are nothing new.

There were a lot less "suit up for battle" toys -- guns, swords, shields, helmets, vests, etc. There were rapid-fire Nerf guns, something that I wish I'd had as a kid. There used to be an entire aisle filled with kits that gave you everything you needed to be an army commando, a "wipe away the urban filth" cop, Indian warrior, medieval knight, or whatever. The desire to suit up and go kill things hasn't vanished among boys, but it's hard to express when you don't have access to the tools. Again, little is new.

Stuffed animals likewise had nothing really new -- although I suppose the list of interesting animals is pretty limited -- and have been around forever. As with action figures, there were no scary monster stuffed animals like My Pet Monster.

The only thing that I saw a lot more of yesterday compared to 20 years ago were electronic learning thingies -- give them their first laptop so they can begin spelling! Still, they're not very different from the PAWS typing game or Number Munchers that I played on my elementary school's Apple IIe computers. The doo-hickies I saw were just improved versions of Speak & Spell, but now this category takes up lots of space, whereas 20 years ago parents were more realistic about how appealing this gay crap would be to 8 year-old boys. School handles the task of literacy just fine.

So what's up? Each decade through the 1980s saw some huge new category of toy introduced -- with the 1980s introducing both video games and action figures, which appear to still be the most popular toys. Many of the other categories are even older, such as erector sets, stuffed animals, and board games. Worse, the current versions of these toys appear hardly modified since at least 20 years ago. Moreover, a lot of the cool stuff of yesteryear has simply vanished, especially toys that encourage rambunctious or mock-violent play -- helicopter parents.

Usually when innovation dies down in a field, it's because there used to be a monopoly that, due to its insulation from competition, had huge coffers and could afford to devote a lot of it to high-risk projects. If there's too much competition, you don't have a bottomless purse, and you're too focused on treading water than on taking huge risks on the Next Big Thing. The prototypical example here is Bell Labs or the DoD during WWII and the Cold War. Once AT&T was busted up by deregulators, starting in the 1970s and culminating in the 1984 divestiture, major technological innovation basically stopped.

Maybe something similar happened in the toy industry. I could look that up, but maybe later. Just wanted to bring it up while the thought was still fresh in my mind. Of course, there could be a big demand-side aspect to the change, as parents are more hyper-protective of their kids than ever before. That would certainly explain why there are so many learn-from-a-laptop toys and hardly any swords-and-shields toys.

There's obviously a huge market to exploit -- young boys who want to pour slime on stuff and shoot projectiles at real-life targets -- but getting to them would be pretty tough, since you have to get by their parents. So, opening your own store is out. You couldn't even try to sell them toys hush-hush at the playground or park since kids aren't allowed to go anywhere without a parent or some other annoying grown-up watching over them. And even if you could, it's not as if the kids themselves would have enough money to buy the toys they crave deep down. I usually can't stand to hear the phrase, but for once I blame the parents. Lighten up and let your kids have some damn fun, while they still can.

Update: When I went looking for a picture of "toys" to include, Google Images returns a whole hell of a lot of pictures of sex toys. Now there's a toy industry that's seen lots of innovation and an exponentially exploding consumer base over the past 20 or so years. This is yet another example of how society has become more grown-up since roughly 1990 -- malls are for affluent adult professionals, not kids or teenagers, Halloween was overtaken by skanky women, and the adult sex toy market is flourishing while children's toys are stagnating.

May 9, 2009

Poached or boiled, not scrambled or in an omelette

I thought I couldn't handle eggs well, but it turns out that it may have been due to making scrambled eggs or omelettes. I just learned that when you break the yolk and subject it to air and high temperature, this oxidizes the cholesterol in the yolk. Your body goes after oxidized substances (with antioxidants), and you've already got enough -- you don't need to take in even more from your diet. I'll never forget making a three-egg omelette and feeling like my stomach was going to burst.

Cooking eggs by poaching, boiling, or frying sunny-side up keeps this from happening, though. You figure that boiling is probably the way we've been cooking eggs for the longest time -- boiling is an incredibly simple technology, unlike what it takes to whip and fry up eggs. The hard part has always been finding, stealing, and transporting an animal's eggs back to your site. I bought an egg-poacher because I'm lazy and don't want to deal with the extra work of poaching them in a large pot or wok (which I don't own).

I tried it out last night, and it's a miracle. I had four poached eggs for dinner, which based on the three-egg omelette experience, I thought would do me in. Instead -- zippo. It's even more amazing since I ate a ton of other stuff alongside them: eight slices of dry salami, four tomato slices with a pat of cream cheese on each, a handful of almonds dressed in olive oil, a pickle, six strawberries with a little chunk of Roquefort cheese for each, a glass of water, and a cup of almond milk cut with a tablespoon or so of heavy whipping cream.

I felt full for the rest of the night, and dreaded the thought of eating anything else, no matter how tempting. And I kept checking how my gut looked in the mirror -- no expansion whatsoever. All thanks to poaching the eggs instead of going with my typical omelette. I'll be having four eggs a day from now on -- they're an incredibly cheap source of fat, protein, and vitamins and minerals.

May 8, 2009

Homicide rates over the past 800 years

I recently got this comically smug comment in response to my claim that most people who long to live in the golden past are gay arts majors who have no clue what it was like:

Straight, history major, know lots about the 19th Century, long to have lived when the ideal of monogamy ruled, and crime rates were orders of magnitude below what they are today.

To each his own.

Not to pick on this guy in particular, since flapdoodle like this is everywhere. Still, let's put this nonsense to rest. Here is a graph from this review that shows homicide rates (per 100,000 population) for England over the past 800 years:

The review has similar graphs for other European countries, but the overall picture is about the same, with the exception that violence started to decline much later in southern Italy compared to northern Europe. The scale of the homicide rates is logarithmic, so each line going across represents an order of magnitude. Also note that the graph doesn't show the steady decline from the early-mid 1990s up through 2008. As we see, in the 19th C homicide rates, which correlate with other violent crime, were not "orders of magnitude below what they are today" -- if anything, higher. So much for the guy who "knows lots about the 19th Century" -- fictional novels don't count, only history.

Where do we observe order-of-magnitude differences? Between roughly the Industrial-and-after era compared to the Elizabethan era, when a typical day of amusement would have included a stop to see bear-baiting in specially dedicated arenas, or paying to stand on the rooftops near the gallows to see criminals hanged in front of a mob.

The next order-of-magnitude difference takes us back to the late Middle Ages, about 1350. Ah, the good ol' days of repeated famines, Mongol raids, and the Black Death. The climate was warmer back then too -- and you know how rowdy people get when it gets hot out.

Ideals, shmideals. Get real.

May 7, 2009

Who really polices the borders of female sexuality?

If you were unfortunate to wander anywhere near the arts and humanities from 1988 to today, but especially from roughly 1993 to 2002, you probably got your ear talked off at some point about how the patriarchy socially constructs borders or boundaries of female sexuality -- what's permissible and what isn't -- and actively polices them -- or makes sure that females don't get out of line.

Only a bunch of haggard old feminist dingbats, and men who haven't been around young girls in decades, could believe such a thing. For a quick reality check, here's a YouTube video of two 8th graders. One is more sexually aggressive than the other, and for this her friend crucifies her in that girly way of teasing her while smiling. It's girls, not the patriarchy, who do this to each other. Also note that these girls are still going through puberty, yet their merciless teasing and policing instincts are fully developed. So much for the social construction part of it!

See here for an academic lit review that comes to the same conclusion.

An easy way to be perceived as happy (girls, pay attention)

Make sure the people who see you have been listening to some happy music beforehand, even for 15 seconds.

Corollary: go to night clubs where upbeat music is playing -- '80s night is the obvious first choice -- rather than darker music. As a bonus, you'll get to see a bunch of college girls bouncing around in athletic shorts and over-the-calf socks, rather than a bunch of goths doing Tai Chi on the dance floor. (Anyone know when this became their preferred mode of dancing?)

This benefits guys, since you don't want girls to see you as sad or dark or too-tired, but it's especially helpful to girls. Guys can leverage some degree of dark moodiness into a cool, mysterious appeal, but no one wants to be around a mopey girl.

Mainstream media ignoring the education bubble?

Over at, I put up a post on detecting the education bubble's effects even in high school. Toward the end, I mentioned that it's odd that lots of blog writers use the term "education bubble," whereas it doesn't appear even once in the NYT. Maybe they're ignorant of the trend? Or maybe as part of the whole credentialist system, they don't want to let the cat out of the bag about lots of people wasting their time in college? Let's see.

Here are graphs showing the annual undergraduate tuition for 4-year degree-granting institutions in the US, adjusted for inflation (data here), and the coverage of the topic of tuition in the NYT:

Tuition has been soaring exponentially at least since 1976, while coverage of tuition has bounced around but remained pretty much constant. You can bet that would not happen if crime rates were rising exponentially for 30 years.

Now, here is a graph that compares coverage and cost of tuition. It is the number of articles divided by the cost, in thousands, of tuition. It answers the question: "For every $1,000 that tuition costs, how many articles were written about tuition?"

Since coverage is fairly constant (using absolute or fractional coverage), while cost is exponentially increasing, the ratio shows an exponential decay curve. The alarm bells are not going off, despite suggestive evidence that we're headed for trouble. Again, you wouldn't see this if we had an exponential increase in terrorist attacks year after year for 30 years. But it's higher education, which is a Good Thing, and therefore cannot involve high risks or costs. So, we don't need to bother reporting more and more about rising costs and what effect they may have down the line.

We need to stop sanctifying higher education and wake up to the reality that most "colleges" are just glorified daycare centers, and that most non-technical and non-professional graduate programs are pyramid schemes -- did you ever notice how there are lots of grad students and few professors? How will they all get jobs as professors or even lecturers? Obvious answer: they won't. But those who do can help recruit another 10 grad students per professor and dangle the carrot in their faces, and so on again.

Unless the plan involves a technical or professional school that brings about a clear boost to job security, the next time you hear someone, usually aged 24 to 39, say that they "really want to go back to school for my Master's," tell them to get a life.

May 5, 2009

Young and flexible

A real disadvantage of women of mothering age or older (roughly the latter half of the 20s and beyond) is that they just can't move like younger girls. I don't think I need to spell out the key reason why that's no fun. But it shows up everywhere. When she's dancing, she can't bounce or spring up and down, keep her body in a provocative unnatural position, and so on. She won't have that natural spring in her step, or have an uncontrollable urge to kick her leg out and try to balance herself when taking pictures. And she won't hop into your arms to hug you -- odds are her feet won't leave the ground at all. Borrrrinnnnng.

Just to show how quickly flexibility is lost with age (and thus why all professional gymnasts are young), here's a graph from this article on hypermobility (aka double-jointedness):

The female curve is above the male curve for all ages, which confirms our hunch about sex differences. However, that difference is puny compared to the yawning chasm between young and old. Here, "old" isn't even that old -- they've already bottomed out to their 50-something values by the time they're in their 20s. Unless they make a strong effort, like if they're a professional dancer, they totally lose it. The only post-pubescent group that's still pretty flexible is teenagers. Ahhhh. Just in case you forgot why this combination is so heavenly, here are a few reminders (pictures OK, but ads NSFW):

One, two, three, four, five, six.

Dancing skills and ability to mimic sounds

Here's a cool ScienceDaily report on how dancing ability and vocal mimicry may share a mechanism. The data are on species, not individuals, but I think it holds at the individual level too. Girls tell me I'm a great dancer, and I can imitate voices pretty easily and develop a decently native accent in a foreign language without too much trouble. I can't think of counter-examples off the top of my head, just more confirming points, like this adorable 10 year-old girl at the tutoring center I worked at. She had an amazing knack for accents and kept a pretty good beat while dancing. One of those natural actress types (and of course that's what she wanted to be when she grows up).

You see this among human "species" or racial groups too. Blacks are great at vocal mimicry -- beat-boxing and Michael Winslow-esque sound effects, in addition to dancing skills. East Asians can never find the beat (which is why they stick to easy marching music like techno), and they don't dominate in beat-boxing or doing impressions as stand-up comedians, etc. Ashkenazi Jews are great at vocal mimicry, but I'm not sure about dancing skill. The stereotype is that they're goofy and klutzy, but that may be just their self-deprecating humor and neuroses showing. Anyone looked at how over or under-represented they are among professional dancers? Again, hard to think of counter-examples here.

This relates to what I said about group differences in cognitive profile and musical styles. (Goddamn, was that really three years ago?) If you're good at verbal things, you'll be good with melody and rhythm, while if you're good at visual-spatial things, you'll be good with harmony. These tend to go together, so most skilled musicians are good at both. But there are interesting dissociations too.

Food recommendations

* Here's a great recipe for a low-carb almond meal bread. It turns out like a wetter, spongier cornbread but tastes like almonds. It takes only 5 minutes from start to finish. Use a coffee mug to get a uniform shape, and substitute 1 Tbsp of heavy cream for one of the 2 Tbsp water. It's better to leave out the fruit when microwaving it into shape. When it's done, you can slice it into 4 disks. Slather on a bunch of Devon cream, cream cheese, butter, or whatever. Then add fruit on top of that. Mashing up blackberries, raspberries, and some pomegranate seeds in a bowl makes a great makeshift jam that doesn't require sugar.

I'll be honest: these don't taste really decadent, but they're about the closest thing to low-carb muffin slices you'll get, and they're great considering they only take 5 minutes to make. I've tried adding some cinnamon and vanilla extract, but either I need more or these just don't want to taste rich. I'll try toasting them in the toaster oven -- maybe that'll give them more crunch. Still, these are good enough to become a staple. It's also a great way to get an egg in every day, in case you're pinched for time.

* Without knowing it, I had naturally gravitated to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk: after trying a bunch last summer, my favorite three were Roquefort, Gruyere, and Murcia Curado. I recently added Emmental to the list of regulars, and it turns out that's unpasteurized too. After learning this, I've been checking the cheeses at Whole Foods to see what else is made from raw milk (not all at once, obviously). Today I found a pretty nice Fontina-style cheese: Fiscalini's San Joaquin Gold.

There's just something -- a lot -- missing from pasteurized cheeses. Vitamins, minerals, other things... whatever they are, they really rob the cheese of its fullness and richness. I can only dream what butter made from raw milk tastes like. Baby.

* Speaking of delicious butter, I just noticed that Organic Valley has a limited time only pasture butter. The grass that the cows graze on is supposed to be more full of great fatty acids during the spring and summer. I could care less, though -- it's yellower and tastes a hell of a lot richer, and that's what matters. Tastes better than what comes from the poor things that have to slurp grain from a trough all day -- cows aren't any more suited to that diet than humans are. A similar result was found in an informal blind taste test of steaks -- grass-fed beef blew all the others out of the water, and cost the least too!

May 4, 2009

Memory problem? Eat more fat

So suggest the results of a study reported on by ScienceDaily. Ignore the standard bunkum about how incredibly fat-rich our diets are these days -- we've been heaving fat overboard for at least 30 years and replacing it with carbs (protein has stayed roughly the same). I'm happy that they snuck in the fact that dietary fat helps absorb vitamins -- something you never learned about in health class.

Note that the particular fat they found mechanistically involved in forming memories is oleic acid, the monounsaturated fat that makes up most of the fat content of olive oil. Every good Whole Foods shopper knows that olive oil is saintly, its contents above reproach. Well, let's take a look at the fat content of hamburger meat that is 75% lean (the fattiest you can find in most supermarkets). Scroll down to the box labeled "Fats & Fatty Acids" and click the "More details" tab to show how much of all the different types of fats there is.

Oleic acid is under monounsaturated, 18:1. What do you know -- oleic acid accounts for 39.1% of all fat! (5.471 g / 14 g.) Moreover, this fatty hamburger meat has more monounsaturated than saturated fat (and hardly any polyunsaturated fat), despite the anti-fat hysterics who make it sound like eating a quarter-pounder is tantamount to eating a quarter pound of butter. Nothing wrong with saturated fat, of course. And still, oleic acid makes up 24.5% of the fat content of butter!

The crucial difference between getting oleic acid from dead animals vs. olive oil is that you can easily eat a pound of hamburger meat a day, while you would gag eating anywhere close to that amount of olive oil. (And take it from someone who once swallowed 2 tablespoons of olive oil as an energy boost before I went out dancing.)

So if you're having trouble remembering things, do what I did this morning and have a 1/3 pound burger with a liberal amount of butter for breakfast. (Along with some Emmental cheese and spinach.) No better way to start the day!

May 3, 2009

Coverage of murder increasingly out of touch with crime statistics

Using the same method as in the case of coverage vs. the actual risk of rape, I've found the same thing for newspaper coverage of murder vs. the underlying murder rate. Starting in the early 1990s, the coverage goes up while the crime rate goes down, so the measure of irrational hysteria starts to climb. In recent years, the irrational hysteria has been more than twice as high as it was during the 1980s. Here is the graph:

And here are the two separate trends making up the ratio:

May 2, 2009

Coverage of rape increasingly out of touch with crime statistics

I've documented the hysterias about sexual harassment, "date rape," sexual predators, pedophiles, etc., both here and at, and perhaps later I'll find them and provide links. Briefly, they show a surge during the 1990s, when third wave feminism took hold. I mentioned that these hysterias were irrational because all violent crime, including forcible rape, had begun plummeting right at the same time. Women should have been rejoicing rather than panicking.

Now I've put together the two statistics into a single, easy-to-read graph that shows how outta-whack the media's coverage of rape is. I've taken the fraction of all NYT articles in a given year that contained the word "rape," which is a measure of how in-the-air the topic was. I've also taken, for each year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics' forcible rape rate (number of rapes per 100,000 population). This is a measure of the risk of rape -- or how much a rational person would worry about rape. I then divided the newspaper coverage by the rape rate. This gives a measure of how irrationally hysterical people are -- it gets bigger when the rape rate stays fixed and yet people begin talking more and more about rape, or when they talk about it at the same level all while the rape rate is actually shrinking, or when they talk more about it and the rate declines.

Here is the graph showing data from 1981 to 2007:

The values bounce around at low levels from 1981 through 1988, with a bottom in 1986 - 1987. There's a clear jump in 1989, and it takes off from there. In recent years, the value has been about three times as large as during the 1980s. This is due both to an increase in coverage as well as a decline in the rape rate, which we can see here in the separate trends:

I obsess over these topics because there was a profound social and cultural shift starting in the 1990s, and we hardly talk about it. We're still wasting our time talking about the late 1960s. One of the biggest changes was that we became more civilized -- violent crime fell off a cliff (and still is -- look at the BJS data, and even the new 2007 values are down from 2006), young people became less promiscuous, and so on. But our popular culture went in the opposite direction, still finding something to worry about, even things that statistics showed were shrinking.

It's a good reminder to always check the relevant facts before swallowing what the media says -- most of the time, they don't check facts or do research, but merely relay to the readers what someone else told them. They're like the school gossip who spreads rumors, some of which may be true and some of which may be false. If you notice yourself caught up in a hype bubble, you should step back, do some research, and determine whether the hype is deserved or not.

The generalized hysteria of the early '90s peaked around 1991, but was already underway by 1989. These data show that. I was pre-pubescent in 1991, so I have to reconstruct a fair amount of this from actual data, rather than rely on memory. One thing that tipped me off about the panic beginning earlier, around 1989, is that that's the year when Heathers was released. It is the first true Generation X movie -- and the only good one -- and the theme of "date rape" shows up at least three times. You didn't see that in any of the earlier teen movies, so something had clearly changed.

Many guys, most of them gay arts majors, lament that they were born in the wrong century -- O, to have lived when the ideal of courtly love ruled! Most of them don't have a clue what life was really like during their cherished past. I, however, long to have been born in 1962: I would've been 25, the peak age for chasing teenage girls, in 1987, when the battle between the sexes was at its lowest point since the 1950s (and when girls were still fairly promiscuous). I'd have been too old to really be affected by the early-'90s bullshit when it hit, and I'd have been way too young to be a Baby Boomer dope.

I've labeled this cohort from roughly 1958 to 1963 the "disco-punk" generation before, based on what they heard as teenagers. But the "college radio" generation would do just as well, since the leaders of all those groups were born in this cohort (maybe I'll show that some day, but you can check for yourself at Wikipedia). Don't get me wrong -- I'm glad I was born after Generation X, and I've had a blast so far. Another generalized hysteria will strike sometime in the middle of the next decade, and I'll be in my 30s then -- unaffected by it. So I was lucky to make it into one of those silent, not-so-serious, fun-loving generations, sandwiched by loud-mouthed, overly serious, mopey / whiney generations.

May 1, 2009

Fat-eating Swedish babes, the superiority of dairy, and the cause of the freshman 15

* Is Sweden experiencing a low-carb trend? Of course, we had one of those here too: it rose in 2002, peaked in 2004, and had burned out by 2006. Hopefully it will become fixed in Sweden, since it's more in line with their love of dairy products. We here never really had a special spot for dairy -- just those "Milk: It does a body good" commercials.

I've never been won over by them, but Swedish girls have robbed the heart of many a man, both for their looks and demeanor. Their traditionally high-fat diet probably has something to do with their greater femininity, especially compared to their fellow Northerners in England, who have given up most red meat and fat like we have here.

* Speaking of milk doing a body good, here's a news item on dairy being better for your bones than calcium carbonate, a typical supplement. It's odd that they found better absorption of calcium even when the milk was non-fat -- surely would've been even better with whole milk, whose fat would've allowed better absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D. So, there's something unique to milk, not just fat, that does the trick.

By the way, if you have ever been lactose-intolerant, you might want to go off of gluten for awhile and see if you're not merely gluten-intolerant. Eating gluten-containing foods when you can't process them will damage the part of your intestine that absorbs nutrients, so lactose-intolerance may just be a special case of this. I've been having 4 oz or more per day of heavy whipping cream, and I haven't had any bad symptoms like I used to, although it is lower in lactose than yoghurt. We'll see if I get around to testing milk.

* On the topic of vitamin D, here's a news item on lower vitamin D levels among the sick, something that you may have already known about. The easiest way to get more is to get 20 minutes of sunlight. If you take supplements, remember to take them with a fat source.

* I recently wrote here that the "freshman 15" (i.e., the extra pounds you suddenly pack on in college) is probably due to eating a shit-load more carbs than you used to in high school -- pizza, fries, pasta, rice, bread, cereal, sweets, etc., abound in college dining halls as well as the pantries of students off meal plan. When did people start noticing this, though?

I did a Lexis-Nexis search for "freshman 15" or "freshman fifteen," and the first article in U.S. newspapers is from the Sept. 27, 1987 edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. However, the tone makes it sound like everyone already knew about the phenomenon, so it may have tripped students' "wtf?" detectors several years earlier. That certainly coincides with the beginning of the mainstream anti-fat hysteria starting in the early 1980s. It probably didn't take long for the anti-fat weirdos to take over college meal plans -- it's one of the first places they'd get to re-vamp with no questions asked.

Here are some quotes from the article that suggest strongly that it's all the carbs that students are eating that's making them fatter, especially pizza (which is mostly a bunch of refined flour).

"We ate pizza nearly every night. And if somebody brought something around at 11 p.m., we'd eat it whether we were hungry or not."

Well, obviously you were hungry, since you can't stuff yourself with pizza if you're not. This is an example of how a high-carb diet leaves you hungry, while a high-fat one satiates you.

" ... I'd have breakfast in my room, then go down to the cafeteria and have toast. Plus everyone was into being vegetarians, and vegetarian food wasn't very sophisticated then 10 years ago . There was no such thing as fresh vegetables in the winter, so we'd eat big bowls of soybeans, peanut butter and wheat bread. Everybody gained weight."

Vegetarian diets -- is it any wonder that she suffered from "loneliness and depression"?

A Hot Springs native who was graduated from Hendrix College at Conway said the food served on campus was "awful, at least when I first went there in 1980; we counted 13 different ways that potatoes were served, plus there were different meats that we swore were cut out with cookie cutters from the same animal but had different names _veal, chicken _ all disguised by frying. So we'd eat off-campus, lots of fast foods and pizzas, especially late at night when we were studying."

Mmmm, 13 different ways to serve potatoes. They don't taste like anything by themselves, unlike meat, so you've got to get really creative about how to re-package the little starch bombs. Again, note the reference to pizza.

A food service director claims:

" There are no longer just starchy foods. We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner from recipes created in a test kitchen in Eau Claire, Wis. , which are tested for nutrient and salt content. "

So he's admitting that not long ago, they were feeding their students what starving agricultural peasants -- SAPs -- would have eaten: a bunch of starch. How did that work out for the Spaniards who subsisted on corn? And sure enough, we see that meal plans in 1987 had begun to come from food labs, undoubtedly staffed by anti-fat numbnuts. What's replaced the all-starch diet?

things like lasagna, chicken and dumplings, roast beef; casserole items. Plus we have a baked item every day, such as fish or chicken. There's a salad bar with fresh fruit, and fresh chicken and tuna salad made with a minimal amount of salad dressing. We have desserts, too, but they're not the biggest sellers.

Lots of chicken, fish, no dressing, etc. -- clearly a low-fat diet. Unfortunately, nowadays (at least as early as 1999 when I began my fall semester of freshman year), the desserts are free -- all you can eat.

" By the end of the month there was no money for pizzas, so we'd cook heavy things like rice with butter and sugar and eat bunches of it. "

Dude, no money for pizzas! Our staple! Obviously they weren't eating lots of butter, since this stuff must have consisted mostly of the rice. The added sugar is a nice touch. I wonder if they polished the rice and got beri-beri like the Japanese navy did.

Listen to what a school psychologist says about counting calories (note that a psychologist is considered the expert on nutrition):

But [students] had a lot of misconceptions. They thought there were "good' calories and "bad' calories. They didn't realize that 1,200 calories are just that whether they come from chocolate cake or vegetables.

Hey, those students knew more about nutrition than a psychologist -- good for them! Read that again: 1,200 calories worth of chocolate cake is the same as 1,200 calories from vegetables. Satire is pointless when they do it to themselves.

The next article is from a 1988 edition of the Dallas Morning News, and it basically says the same thing -- freshmen are eating pizza like nobody's business in the evening, obviously because they didn't get much satiating fat during dinner. They also snacked on potato chips, M&Ms, and donuts -- now, what do those have in common? They should emulate Europeans, who aren't fat, and have a snack of salami and pepperoni (better if spread with butter), cheese, almonds in olive oil, and olives.

And as expected, the know-nothing experts all advised students to eat pizza with no meat and little cheese, baked potatoes with no cream or butter, etc. -- again, pretend you're a SAP who can't afford any animal products whatsoever, and gorge on starch. How did that diet work out for them back then?

More to the point -- how is it working out for students today? College freshmen didn't instantly pack on a bunch of weight during the 1950s. Sometime during the early or mid 1980s, right when the anti-fat hysteria had gone mainstream, people start talking about the freshman 15. And still do. The low-fat diets that the experts have been cramming down the students' throats haven't prevented the weight gain -- indeed, they are clearly the cause of it.