October 31, 2009

No more "you're welcome"?

Maybe this trend started earlier, but I encounter it enough now that I think it's real: service workers have stopped saying "you're welcome" or just "welcome" when you tell them "thank you." They just say "thanks" or "thank you" back, perhaps with a different inflection like, "No, thank you!"

It's too feminine, and not in a good way -- in that annoying passive-aggressive way, while also mirroring what the other person said. I'm sure that businesses have run a variety of tests and determined that most customers feel better when the clerk says "thank you" back instead of "you're welcome." But you'd think there would be a subset of these industries that would cater to the apparently tiny niche I belong to, just like some low or mid-priced restaurants don't have waitresses who lay it on extra thick with the hiiii omigod you guys look so awesome, i mean, you're like totally the bestest new friends i've made tonighttt!!!

Anyone know of places where it's still common to hear "you're welcome"?

October 30, 2009

Diversity destroying devilish diversions

By now we've become numb to news reports about how the cult of diversity has led to yet another restriction on workplace interactions between men and women or some new unwieldy phrase we're supposed to use for cripples ("persons with disabilities") or for vagrants and bums ("historically teetotalingly challenged communities").

But what incentive do the masters of cultural regulation have to limit their powers to only the most common-sense cases, assuming even those existed? Obviously those beyond criticism pay no price to meddle in every aspect of everyone's lives, so of course we'll see a lot more of that than before.

Here's an NYT article on the pathetic move by schools to basically outlaw Halloween for kids, all in the name of "positive costumes" and tolerance for other cultures. Because, you know, most kids these days would be dressing up in blackface if it weren't for the principal telling them not to. Indeed, why don't we just require all little boys and girls to dress up like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks?

And how's this for a two-faced policy? -- "French maids are explicitly discouraged." Jeez, your daughter tries to honor the oppressed gender of a foreign culture's working class, and that's the thanks she gets for it?

Clearly the push by paranoid parents for fewer toy weapons and bloody imagery began as part of the "save the kids" campaign that only began once kids became incredibly safe. That is, during the mid-1990s, right as rates of violent crime and child abuse were plummeting. My generation's parents saw the sickening news of Adam Walsh's murder, and yet they still let us dress up like serial killers for Halloween. The super-neurotic parents of the past 15 years, though, have managed to pressure the public and private spheres to deprive their kids of the joys of mock violence.

Even more, this has become a status-signaling contest among parents (here's one):

"I'm not sure what is driving this memo [about approved costumes]," Mr. Bishoff said. "But perhaps it is reaction to years past. Sometimes kids will have those 'Scream' masks, but usually not too blood and gutsy. I mean, can't parents have discretion? The fact is, if parents are too stupid to not send kids to school with hockey masks as Jason, they are probably too stupid to read this memo."
Yeah, don't those stupid parents know that letting your kid dress up as Jason is the first step toward him becoming a machete-wielding maniac? Better yet, you'll have to follow him around for a few hours to make sure that he doesn't play with boys who have stupid parents that let them wear Freddy Krueger gloves. Bad influences. Well it's either that or just not let your kid go out at all -- which is what you'll probably decide on, since micro-monitoring is cheaper to do at home.

Time was, you bragged to other parents about how rich your child's life was -- "Look at how well little Jayden can play the piano, and he's pretty popular with the girls, too!" Now parents compete to see whose kid is the biggest loser:

"I won't allow him to play sports since they only glorify violence and competition, and I won't pay for driving school since I can drive him around just fine myself. I mean, not hanging out with friends is good for him anyways -- gives him more time to volunteer at the Martin Luther King Center for Persons with Disabilities. He'll never get into Columbia without enough community service, you know."

If a bunch of nutcase parents want to harm their own children's social lives, that's their prerogative. But by creating a cultural regulation system, we empower these fruitcakes to spoil the fun of other people's children. Without the diversity stick -- which no one can object to being beaten with -- they'd have very little to force their paranoid practices on everyone else. But just cloak it in some double-talk about positive role models, and there you go.

Banning Halloween -- another unintended consequence of the diversity regulators.

October 29, 2009

Why straight men rationally dislike gay men

[Inspired by a conversation I just overheard in the campus dining hall between a flaming gay and his homely but slutty chick friend, who was sharing quite loudly the details of her waking up next to a guy whose name she didn't know but had gotten banged by earlier. Only a freshman in college, she is well on her way to becoming this middle-aged whore that Roissy observed at the end of her trainwreck.]

A common response to the question, "Why do straight guys have such disgust for gays?" is that they shouldn't -- after all, less competition! But because only around 3% of men are homosexual, that's not exactly weeding out a lot of potential competition. Factor in how desirable these guys would be if straight, and you're left with even fewer -- maybe 1% or less of all males weeded out.

Of course there are all sorts of visceral reactions that straights have toward gays, the most obvious being the thought -- or heaven forbid, the mental image -- of two guys doing it. And as enlightened human beings, we're supposed to put aside such "yuck test" results and provide clearer reasons.

So here's a perfectly rational motivation that straight men have to make homosexuals knock off their gayness: their interactions with (straight) women represent a form of pollution. Gay men are always there to convince a woman that she doesn't need to lose any weight, that any guy would be lucky to get with her, that she still has plenty of time before she has to settle down, and that she shouldn't feel guilty about being a slut --

I mean, god gave you that nasty thing down there for a reason girlfriend, you should own it! Psh, don't let anybody else tell you how to live your life!

The result is a woman with an inflated ego, less shame, and more venereal diseases. Some poor schlub will end up dating or (perish the thought) marrying this skag, and it won't be the gay himself who bears the costs of dating a polluted woman but the boyfriend or husband. Think of how much better the relationship would be if she were more humble, not so shameless, and free of syphilis. Indeed, it is inconceivable that the gay enabler will date or marry any such polluted woman. When pollution costs them nothing, they will churn it out like a tidal wave, with the costs being borne by straight men.

It is no surprise, then, that straights have an impulse to get the gays to keep quiet -- to do what they want behind closed doors, but to not ruin the dating and mating pool that we straights have to drink from.

Just to show that this is not irrational prejudice against gays per se, let's ask if there's a sub-group of straight men who also play the ego-inflating, shame-scrubbing role. Indeed there is -- we call them "white knights," "captain save-a-ho," and so on. These are loser straight guys whose only hail-mary hope of getting laid is to find a fairly homely and slutty woman and tell her that she's too beautiful for those other men out there, that she shouldn't be ashamed of being repeatedly used and tossed aside, etc.

Both he and the gay bff have selfish reasons for propping her up -- the former to hopefully sleep with her, the latter to have another close friend -- and just like the gay friend, his servile worship is tantamount to pollution. After all, once her mind's been ruined, he'll either have gotten some or not, and some other guy will have to pay the cost of dating an artificially delusional woman. And just as we saw before, most straight guys get disgusted when they see this kind of behavior:

Dude, you're pathetic -- grow some balls and stop kissing her ass.

Still, if gay men are only 3% of the male population, why make such a big fuss? Simple: each gay guy can and does spoil the brains of multiple females. Where they are in highish concentration, it might be around 10% of all females who they manage to pollute. That percentage would be frighteningly high -- as though there were one on each block.

The Nobel laureate economist Ronald Coase is famous for showing that, among other things, government regulation isn't necessary to solve problems like pollution of drinking water. The people who drink the water can negotiate with the polluters, and if the costs of these transactions are low, they'll settle their differences on their own. For example, the people might simply pay the polluters not to pollute if their harm was greater than the polluters' benefit. (Alternatively, the polluters might pay the people to put up with the filth if the pollution benefited the polluters more than it harmed the people.)

Before the openly gay era, the costs of straights negotiating with gays to keep their offensive behavior out of the public sphere were pretty low -- basically just a social stigma against homosexuality. When the stigmatized group members contemplate "coming out" in general, they see how difficult it will be, so they don't bother haggling at all. All the stigmatizers would have to do is shoot them a look like, "hey, remember what your place is," and that would have been the sum of the transaction costs.

In the post-disco era, though, the stigmatized group feels emboldened to bargain and fight back, so that the costs of negotiating between straights and gays has skyrocketed. Any straight guy who now says -- just as he would to a fellow straight "white knight" -- "C'mon, knock it off, you're ruining the women we have to date," will find himself on the wrong end of a hate speech lawsuit.

I mean, like, omigod, so -- what -- I can't make my best friend feel better about her open sexuality just because I'm gay? You don't know who you're messing with, mister -- I mean, we didn't struggle at Stonewall for nothing, and bitch we aren't going back!

Obviously the government isn't going to step in to deal with this market failure either. So really the only option that straight men have is to move somewhere else where the dating pool is not only free of homosexual pollution but has been purified by the tacit collective agreement among men to keep women's self-destructive tendencies from growing out of control.

Extra sugar, but non-fat, please

On my way back home from campus, I stopped by a 7-11 to pick up two hard-boiled eggs to make some egg salad (with bacon bleu cheese dip and horseradish mustard... mmm baby). The 60-something clerk looked at them and remarked, "Oh that's really healthy" with a flat affect. I don't like getting health advice from people with one foot in the grave by age 60, so I told her, "I know -- they're full of B-vitamins."

One of her friends then dropped in to ask what she was up to, and she said, "Oh nothing, just eating candy." I didn't even notice it, but sure enough, she was passing the time by shoveling sugar down her piehole. But hey, at least there was no fat in all that sugar! It's no wonder that her face had been destroyed by wrinkles or that she was lugging around 70 pounds of extra fat.

It's one thing when the vegan faggots at Whole Foods give you weird looks when they see that all you're buying is butter, cheese, beef, and pate -- as misguided as their reliance on grains is, at least they aren't popping heaps of jelly beans in their mouths all day. The average person, though, is perfectly happy to chastise you for eating bacon and eggs: "Don't you know what's in that junk? Here, have some ice cream instead."

It's like those people in Starbucks who order a venti 6-pump hazelnut java chip frappuccino with extra, extra, extra caramel sauce -- oh, and can you make that non-fat? No lie, I truly heard a girl order something with "extra, extra, extra" caramel sauce, but non-fat, please. Buncha dipshits. That's how crazy everyone has become by listening to the government and the nutrition experts: if they get even a bit of whipped cream on their frappuccino, they're certain to drop dead of a heart attack on the way out, but the 50 pounds of sugar is just fine because "it gives me energy."

October 25, 2009

Swedish diet and good skin

Swedes eat a lot more animal products than other nations, especially before the anti-fat hysteria that began in the late 1970s, but even after that they haven't fallen as much as the US and UK have for tofu, green-only salads with non-fat dressing, and piles of pasta.

One obvious health benefit is their stature -- they're overshadowed only by the Dutch (who also gorge on animal products), and stand one to two inches taller than Anglo people in the US and UK. Another is penis size: Swedish men have the second-biggest members, just below the pate and cheese-eating men of France.

What about the benefits for women? Sweden certainly has done well in the Miss Universe competition, especially considering its tiny population to draw contestants from. They've done far better than England, and on a per capita basis they've done better than the US. Stereotypes abound about how beautiful Swedish women are, while just the opposite stereotype holds about their English and German contemporaries.

More specifically, Swedish women seem to have really nice skin compared to similar ethnic groups. Pay attention to the skin on the brunette's legs in this ABBA video (hit the HQ button):

Now, the blond is 25 in that video, so her skin tone isn't surprising. But the brunette is 30 years old and still enjoys some pretty taut flesh -- bouncy enough that she can successfully sport a micro-miniskirt after passing the big 3-0. I don't think this is a "good genes" effect, since her face -- despite having nice skin -- isn't so hot. Contrast this with someone like Halle Berry: she had nice skin at 30, but she had nice everything at 30 due to her good genes.

You see lots of females like the brunette from ABBA, but only when they're teenagers: they have skin to die for, and all over, even though they may have plain or ugly faces. So, what we see here is more like a slowing of the aging process, not the robustness of good genes to all manner of environmental insults. If you want to extend young adulthood into your late 20s and 30s, ditch the grains, starches, and sugars, and pile on the eggs, fish, and cheese.

For those interested in the mechanism, I may put up a more in-depth post sometime, but briefly, the key is to avoid sugars and get lots of vitamin A. When a sugar smacks into a protein, a freakish fused glob results, so that the protein can't do its job anymore. These reactions are more likely to happen if there are simply more sugar molecules bouncing around your bloodstream. In particular, the proteins that give you good skin -- collagen and elastin -- can get screwed up by sugars fusing with them. By lowering the level of digestible carbs, you lower your blood sugar, and so lower the damage done by these reactions.

Vitamin A's primary role has nothing to do with vision, despite all the hoopla you heard as a kid about carrots being good for your eyes. It does do that, but mostly vitamin A maintains the proper functioning of your epithelial cells -- the ones on the "surface" (including the lining of your digestive and respiratory tracts). That includes skin. In fact, the most potent anti-acne drug -- accutane -- is a vitamin A derivative. You can only get real vitamin A (retinol) from animal products, whereas the stuff you get from vegetables (the caretinoids like beta-carotene in carrots) is a precursor that your body very inefficiently converts into vitamin A.

For the real deal, you have to eat liver -- that's far and away the most concentrated source. Take cod liver oil if you are unfortunate enough not to like the taste of pate or braunschweiger. It's fat-soluble, so animals also store some in their fat, such as eggs, the fat left on muscle meat, and dairy products. But it's not a ton, so you really have to make sure you work some form of liver into your diet.

Losers crying monopoly: Booksellers edition

One of the economic themes I try to emphasize is the bogosity of most of our notions about monopolists who fleece consumers. Historically, that has rarely happened, unless the government propped them up. When the business enjoys a high level of control because it won fair and square, there is basically no such thing as a harmful monopoly in reality (theory allows it, of course).

What we think of as harmful monopolies were actually slashing prices for consumers, boosting the level of output, improving the quality of their product, and thereby driving all of their inferior competitors out of business. It is these losers in the struggle who have raised the biggest stink about an industry becoming more and more concentrated in a few companies' hands. Of course, human nature must harbor a fear of a few people controlling so much stuff, or else the failed business interests could never have whipped up popular support for cracking down on railroads, oil industries, Hollywood, software makers, and whoever will be bruised by the government's antitrust bludgeon next year.

Here is the latest installment of this pathetic story: small-scale bookstores want the government to train its antitrust guns on Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target for slashing their prices on popular books, claiming that this will tend to erode the mom & pop bookstores and give these big guys even greater market share. If you read the WSJ article cited, you'll see that the lower prices are not coming from the retailers paying less to the publishing houses -- instead they're taking greater losses themselves in order to get a leg up on their competitors.

You remember what book-buying was like before Amazon -- hardly any variety, high prices (corrected for inflation), recommendations that reflected whatever weirdos who worked there, and snobby employees who thought that working at a "good bookstore" was going to be their springboard to being crowned Poet Laureate.

I still think bookstores will continue to exist because they allow people to browse through as much of a book as they want before deciding whether or not to buy it. Books really are goods that need to be sampled before someone decides to buy it. That's something that you can't do with any online bookseller. Since bookstores apparently can't compete very well on prices, they'll have to offer a higher-quality browsing experience to stay competitive against online retailers. You've surely noticed how much nicer bookstores have gotten recently, no doubt because of the online threat.

I'm not worried that most people might eventually do their sampling at brick-and-mortar stores and then buy the books they like online. That will wipe out brick-and-mortar stores, but then if they disappeared, so would the online booksellers -- after all, people would have no way to sample books anymore. Only if online retailers can provide a good enough browsing experience will they be able to replace brick-and-mortar stores permanently. As things stand now, though, you can't flip through most books on Amazon. On the plus side, for books that you can browse, you can also search them, which goes far beyond what you can do with a hard copy. Does the book discuss something you're interested in? Just search and find out.

October 20, 2009

Is the decline of the genius due to cheaper information transmission?

This year's winners of the Economics "Nobel" followed up on pioneering work done by a previous Nobelist, Ronald Coase, of whose Big Ideas had to do with why firms exist instead of every individual making market transactions with all others. A firm is a planned collective where some people give orders and most people carry them out. Making sure that this all works out OK is costly. If you just entered into a free-market contract with everyone else you had to interact with, you wouldn't need to spend so much monitoring them -- their part of the deal would be clearly spelled out in the contract, unlike the vague "job description" of someone who works in a firm.

But Coase saw that even using the market carried its own costs, called transactions costs. For example, if the tasks you needed someone to do weren't so predictable, you would have to keep re-writing the terms of the contract in the free market. That could waste lots of your time and eat up money if you had to pay fees to lawyers who re-wrote the contract. In this case, it could be less costly to hire that person as a worker for your firm and pay them not for micro-specific tasks but to simply show up and do what their manager says. This allows greater flexibility in having that worker do what you need them to do.

So, the basic idea is that if it costs too much to use the free market, firms will develop and have lots of tasks done "in-house." If it didn't cost anything to use the free market, firms would start shrinking by outsourcing various tasks to independent contractors who they wouldn't have to micro-manage. Here is a straightforward and lively podcast about the nature of the firm from EconTalk.

I think we see something similar in scientific and artistic accomplishment. In some eras, there are geniuses -- individuals who excel at all manner of intellectual tasks -- and in others there are legions of specialists working together. At first you might think the analogy is to free trade: when there are substantial barriers to trade, you won't specialize so much in what you produce because you can't exploit your comparative advantage and because the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market. During Descartes' day, this argument would go, there were something like high trade barriers between him and other intellectuals, so Descartes and his contemporaries would lean more in the generalist direction. Now that those barriers are diminished, intellectuals can specialize much more narrowly, and so we don't have geniuses but research teams.

The main barriers to "trading" your output with someone else -- I'll take geometry and you take algebra -- were communication costs. I don't mean just the language barrier, since you can decide on a lingua franca like Latin or English. But being able to bounce your ideas off of other people, give feedback to them, and so on, surely proceeded much more slowly when communication was sent by primitive vs. advanced post systems, let alone when it is sent by telegraph, telephone, or email.

Do these seem like the typical trade barriers? Not really. When we talk about more free vs. less free trade, we're talking more about tariffs, embargoes, and whatnot. If the main reason that Newton couldn't instantly communicate with Leibniz was that there was an aroused populace and a bunch of lawmakers who required him to give up one of his fingers each time he received an article from Leibniz, then the trade analogy would be apt.

Instead, the barrier seems more like a transaction cost, just as you would have to make by meeting with a contractor, communicating back and forth about what the terms of the contract will be, and so on. "OK, I'll take this part of the project, and you work on that other part. We'll keep in touch and update our responsibilities as the project unfolds." How an intellectual work will develop is incredibly unpredictable, so these two free-market transactors are going to have to interact very frequently and keep changing their picture of what each one is going to do until the next interaction.

If the problem looks more like one of transaction costs than of trade barriers, then we should look to Coase's idea about why firms exist. In the 17th C., the constant back-and-forth would have proven too costly, not just financially (before postage, telephones, and email were widespread and cheap) but also in terms of time waiting to hear back, which you could spend doing your own thing. So, rather than contract an intellectual task out to someone else, you'd move it "in-house" and work on it yourself. You'd be a one-person intellectual firm. (As far as I can tell, Coase's idea about the firm just applies to bundling tasks together in an operation, not necessarily a bunch of individual people.)

But if the transaction costs were trivial, as they became during the Industrial Revolution and as they have plummeted even further during the Internet Age, you'd feel the relief of crossing off that task from the long list of shit you already have to do, and let someone else take care of it, provided you take care of something they need done. Geniuses no longer make sense because specialization is made possible by cheap communication.

Lastly, there's one idea we can cross off the list of possible explanations -- that geniuses only flourish while there's "low-hanging fruit," so that one person could pick fruit from a number of different trees. Once that's gone, intellectuals have to pick the fruit at the top of the trees, and that requires spending most of your life climbing a single tree rather than dilly-dallying around the entire orchard. The simple answer is that there is no such thing as low-hanging fruit. If it were so low-hanging, why did it take the appearance of someone with a 3000 IQ like Newton to pick it? So-called basic calculus could not have been discovered by schoolchildren in math class. If it were so low-hanging, why didn't it repeatedly smack all previous mathematicians in the face as they were wandering around the orchard? Quite obviously, geometry, algebra, calculus, etc., are stratospherically high-hanging fruit.

The true function of the low-hanging fruit story is to massage our egos when we realize that we're in an intellectually stagnant or even backward time -- it can't be that we're stupid or lacking imagination... it's just that... well, all that baby stuff like differential geometry's pretty much been taken care of, leaving little left for us would-be geniuses to solve. That story sounds fine and pretty during a period of slow growth, but we keep seeing those periods interrupted by revolutions. After Euclid wrote The Elements, what was there left to do in geometry? Indeed, his book was the main textbook for centuries until people took geometry in different directions -- and that wasn't low-hanging non-Euclidean fruit either.

Also, this account isn't as rosy as it may sound -- like, great, we don't have to rely on geniuses anymore! The trouble is that when a bunch of ideas are bouncing around in a single person's brain, compared to the loss-y process of bouncing your ideas off of someone else, you can see the larger pattern more easily. It's true that even Newton will need to chat with others, but there does seem to be a critical threshold of how much work you're doing by yourself. Above that threshold, the big work is done by geniuses -- and it's a lot more important than when it's done by hives of specialists. Our contemporary research team arrangement hasn't yielded anything like Archimedes, Newton, Gauss, Einstein, or von Neumann.

Still, the sciences aren't doing so bad -- the loss of geniuses is even worse in the arts. There, the tasks that make up an intellectual project are even more poorly defined and unpredictable. For one thing, there's not really a problem you're trying to crack but rather an impression or viewpoint you're trying to convey to an audience. And the end-result is much more of a gestalt thing. Darwin's Origin of the Species would've been a more difficult read if a committee of biologists investigated and wrote up separate chapters of it, but you'd still walk away with the same knowledge. But imagine a committee of composers each responsible for separate movements of a piece of music. How it all hangs together is far more important in art, making the cost of teamwork prohibitive.

Now in our age of cheap communication, artists form "circles" or "movements" where the tasks are contracted out to lots of members and followers, not unlike research teams in science. Again, it's not as though Shakespeare and Bach never talked to anyone else, but most of their work was done in-house rather than spread out across a clique of specialists. Here there are also very real costs of contracting, aside from just communication -- an artistic circle, movement, or whatever, requires that its adherents waste a bunch of time and brainpower drawing up a manifesto. How different is that from a contract between a plumber and someone with a clogged toilet? If you're Michelangelo, you don't have to set down a more-or-less binding agreement about where the project is headed -- you make those continual re-adjustments yourself as you go along.

In case you think I'm making this whole thing up, look at the two recent cases of mathematicians who solved long-standing Big Problems. Andrew Wiles basically locked himself in a room for several years in order to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, and Grigori Perelman lives nearly isolated from the outside world but still managed to prove the Poincare Conjecture. I'm not nearly as au courant on the arts, but I'll bet that the exceptions amidst the stinking stew of contemporary literature, music, and visual art are those who insulate themselves from the world of circles, movements, and manifestos. That certainly seems true for film-makers -- most of Stanley Kubrick's or David Lynch's movies are better than the doctrinaire hive junk, for example. Art buffs, feel free to leave comments on this question.

October 17, 2009

Putting girls in their place

God knows we love young girls' throbbing energy level and cockiness -- it makes them more fun to be around -- but that testosterone peak sometimes leads them to act out of line. We can always rely on females to police other females' behavior, but that only goes so far. After all, the target of the policing realizes that most of her persecutors are acting selfishly -- omiGOD, i mean, like, don't be JEALOUS just cuz you're old and ugly. She won't conclude that she's done something wrong, only something threatening to the status of competitor females in the mating arena.

That's where feedback from boys comes in. She won't care if a low-ranking boy calls her out for misbehaving, for the same reason as before -- i mean, are you kidding me? you're just JEALOUS that i'm hot and you're a loser. Such guys aren't likely to call her out in the first place because they're pussies, but even if they did, the most likely cause is resentment. And her male relatives have selfish motives too -- to get the best value out of what they see as their property.

This makes it all the more important for desirable males to whip girls into shape whenever they get out of control. First, they are less likely to call acceptable acts "misbehavior" because they aren't competing with the girl, aren't bitter or resentful -- they have enough choices that one girl isn't a drop in the bucket -- and have no genetic stake in how she behaves. Ideally this would be her boyfriend or husband, but even they may not step up enough because they'll incur a higher cost in the form of a potential strain on the relationship's harmony.

I used to do my part for the greater good of humanity by keeping young, cocky girls in line when they were my tutorees. To them, most of the time I was like their friend's cool, cute older brother. If they lost my respect, they'd feel sick showing their face where I work, and that put a real brake on their impulse to act like wild animals. Again, rambunctiousness is healthy to a certain extent, especially when you're young, so I only put my foot down when they stepped too close to the boundary.

Now that I no longer have that outlet, I have to rely on my interactions with them at dance clubs. Most of the time, they're somewhat out of control, but they aren't carrying on like maniacs. Once more, the only parties who would be deeply disturbed are male relatives, bitter loser males, and all manner of competitor females -- especially the older ones, who don't like being reminded of how slack their skin has become and how close their libido and energy level in general is to flatlining. But every once in awhile, they do act like retards and need to be corrected -- for their own benefit and for the well-being of everyone around them.

At '80s night this week, there was the usual circle of groupies staring up while I was getting into the groove, and as usual a few climbed up on the mini-stage to get closer. But instead of delivering a lame pick-up line or just going right for it and grinding their pelvis against my body, one girl gave me a light kick to the calf -- and when my back was turned. Given how crowded the place is, and given how much people are bouncing around, I thought it was an honest mistake. But then she gave me another light kick like the first one, and shot me a come-hither look when I turned around to see what the fuck she was doing.

I paced slowly over to her, set my hand down on her shoulder, and said, "Don't... Do that... Anymore..." I didn't have a scowl on my face, nor a coddling or reassuring expression. Just that look like, you're being annoying and need to knock it off. She stopped horsing around at that point, and when she was about to leave the area 10 minutes later, she tugged at my jeans from the floor and reached up to shake my hand and say i'm sorryyyyy with an honest worried look in her eyes. I took her hand but merely half-smiled and waved her off as though she were overreacting and being weird, which must have fucked with her mind a little more.

The next time she feels like being too aggressive with a boy she likes, she'll remember how ashamed she came out of it the last time. Girls get away with too much shit, and someone needs to rein them in when they push the limits of appropriate behavior. Accosting a boy that you're ga-ga over is one thing, but kicking -- even lightly -- is another. Now, playfully bumping into me -- oooops, i mean, i guess i'm just clumsy -- would have been OK. And I certainly don't mind when a group of them rushes up and gooses me -- believe me, that'll put lead in your pencil. But unless someone is there to give her negative feedback, how will she learn where the borders are?

Now in fairness, she may go to a girls-only high school and so might have had little feedback from boys during her adolescence so far about what's normal in pursuing them. Elementary school girls punch, kick, or push down the boys they have a crush on, but we expect that to stop as boys' feedback to her trial-and-error approach teaches her that that's not acceptable. She definitely wasn't drunk or hyped up on caffeine, so she really did have the wrong view of how to act.

The only alternative to going to a girls-only school is that boys her age are too desperate and afraid to call her out on her bullshit. You don't have that much bargaining power at that age, while the girl who sits in front of you in math class can wrap any guy around her finger, and that makes confronting them pretty intimidating. Even the most popular guy in school still pays a higher social cost, or takes a larger risk, compared to when he's more mature and secure socially. And she was pretty cute, which makes it even harder for guys to suck it up and crack down when necessary.

This is one unfortunate consequence of a greater degree of age segregation in society. All groups split up somewhat by age, but ours especially does so. Parents -- let alone adults with no children -- are pretty clueless about what young people are up to, and this naturally leads to paranoia and moral panics. Video game violence, goth music, an epidemic of oral sex, etc.

But the other side of this coin is that young people are more clueless than before about what real life is like. If the only males you interact with are also young, you're very unlikely to ever get smacked down when you mouth off. More experienced guys, by contrast, don't believe that you have something they've never seen before, or that it's too risky to tell a pretty girl that she's acting retarded. Again, she wouldn't care at all what most older guys thought, for good reasons that we've already covered. But there is that subset of "my friend's cool older brother," or rebellious actors or lead singers, and so on, who they're deathly afraid of pissing off.

In all societies, people will fragment enough by age that these encounters will be rare, but like earthquakes, even a rare event will leave an indelible impression if its shock is great enough. By shielding them from the harsh events of the real world, we give them an artificially high sense of invincibility, and as a result, they'll behave more recklessly. Now, this doesn't translate into higher rates of crime or promiscuity -- the things we tend to worry about first -- because the costs there are mostly in the form of state punishment or same-age social shaming. Still, having to live more in adult-world would temper their conviction that they're the shit and that they can act as obnoxiously as they please.

October 13, 2009

Small farmers, not big corporations, gouge consumers

Recently I pointed out how backwards were the complaints about the large corporate buyers of farmers' raw milk being "too big" and supposedly wielding their buying power to fleece people who like dairy products. In fact, it's the dairy farmers themselves -- not those who buy up the raw milk and distribute it elsewhere -- who are trying to take the consumer for a ride.

The basic way that a monopoly harms consumers is by restricting output in order to send prices skyrocketing. Imagine when De Beers controlled almost all of the world's diamonds -- if prices were to fall unexpectedly, they'd simply choke off the supply. With fewer diamonds available, consumers will fight more intensely over them and so drive up the price. By creating an artificial shortage, De Beers makes consumers pay higher prices just so it doesn't bring in less money.

Unlike De Beers stuffing diamonds in their sock drawer, though, dairy farmers would have to pay huge costs to maintain cows that they'd taken out of milk production. So they just get rid of them altogether (from this WSJ article)

[L]ow prices have forced farmers to sell dairy cows through an industry program called Cooperatives Working Together. Member farms contribute money to the program, which purchases cows and slaughters them. So far this year, the number of working dairy cows in the U.S. has fallen by 170,000 to 9.2 million, says industry expert Jerry Dryer.

There you have it. Right in the pages of the newspaper with the widest U.S. circulation, we have an open-and-shut case of a group colluding to restrict its output in order to push prices back up to where they'd like them to be. For god's sake, they don't even break the law behind closed doors -- they've established the anti-competitive Cooperatives Working Together in plain view!

Of course, since they're farmers, they're not "gouging consumers" or "breaking the law" but merely struggling to preserve their endangered habitat. You can imagine the reaction if McDonalds and Starbucks saw their prices dropping due to the coffee war competition and agreed to destroy fully 2% of their coffee output so that they could charge higher prices for the remainder. Ditto if Wal-Mart and Target colluded. Actually, the elites would give Target a pass because they bring edgy designer junk to those who could otherwise only afford tacky crap. *

With most layers of government strapped for cash, the best policy response here is to shutter the DoJ's Antitrust division and have these glorified hall monitor pansies go do something useful.

* BTW, looks like the word "edgy" isn't so edgy anymore. One last slang-tastic paroxysm from the euphoric culture before it tumbled over like a drunk into a sewer.

October 12, 2009

News is the new sugar

Human beings spent most of their time thriving on a diet that had very little sugar, aside from the occasional in-season fruit -- and these were more like berries, not mangos or bananas -- or the odd glob of honey. Even when refined sugar became available, it was too expensive for most people to buy. But today sugar is incredibly cheap (tariffs on foreign sugar notwithstanding), and as a result the average person consumes a lot more of it than they used to.

Does it make sense to say, then, that "the cost of sugar consumption has gone down?" Only if we're talking about the monetary cost. There are myriad non-monetary costs to our health because we're consuming so much more of it now, and our bodies were not designed to cope with that much of it. (In general, our body wants there to be about 1 teaspoon of sugar in our blood, not 1 cup or however much gets in there when we eat a bagel with jelly, banana, yoghurt, granola, and fruit juice.)

And of course there are the opportunity costs -- that is, what do we give up by eating sweets instead of the non-sugary foods like eggs, steak, and liver? Again, plenty: sweets provide basically no nutrition, while the less saccharine foods give us vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids -- and above all, the feeling of a full stomach!

So, when we count up all of the costs -- and not just the monetary ones -- our consumption of sugar actually costs us a lot more than it used to, given how much we now consume and how outta-whack that is with our ancestral diet. (Natural selection is always at work, of course, so if we leave sugarholics to fend for themselves, a rare mutant might arise that doesn't get so screwed up by the stuff. Perhaps 100,000 years from now, that mutant's descendents may inherit the Earth, and human beings of the future will thrive on granola bars like cows on pasture.)

If the average person instinctively took account of all costs, especially if they had to work out a disillusioning calculus of what else they could be doing with their time, money and effort, then sugar might not be such a problem. So what if its monetary costs fell? -- we wouldn't be suckered into downing the stuff by the pound, since we'd see the far greater hidden costs. But most people aren't tough-headed accountants, and so sugar is a problem.

There are lots of similar examples where the monetary cost to gain access to something has fallen dramatically, perhaps to almost nothing, our consumption of it shoots up accordingly, though to such an evolutionarily new level that we're harmed. And because we don't attend to the full range of costs (especially what we could be doing instead), we have a tendency to keep harming ourselves, fooled into thinking we're on top of the world because this great stuff is so cheap.

The obvious examples are other chemical substances like cocaine or tobacco or alcohol, but I'm not really worried about these. Hardly anyone does hard drugs, drunkenness is way down, and there are no replacement smokers. The same is true for the other major worry of cultural conservatives -- porn. Young males will spend lots of their time masturbating or thinking about or looking at representations of naked girls. With lower monetary costs and higher quality, downloaded porn can make the young male demographic worse off. But again, people whose lives are made noticeably worse off by a porn habit aren't that numerous.

What's far more troubling is our addiction to news, broadly construed to include what newspapers traditionally covered (and so what blogs and internet forums now cover too), as well as the news or gossip in your social circle. Back on the African savanna, after all, shit didn't happen. On the rare occasion that it did, it was big news -- "Look out, there's a lion!" or "Hey, I found an abandoned honey comb!"

Even most of what was newsworthy you never heard about because it was too costly to find out, let alone to relay to paying consumers (remember, no advertisers back then). Thus, there weren't many sources to tell you the news. The upper limit on your daily dosage of news reflected the frequency of local social intrigue -- "Dude, did you hear that Thundarr's cheating on his wife?!"

Now, that has changed quite a lot. For one thing, a lot more shit happens today. But more importantly, the monetary cost to consumers of news is minuscule: you just go to the New York Times website, a blog, Facebook, email, or your text message inbox. That's a lot cheaper than corresponding by post or schlepping out to a news-stand to buy a hard copy of a newspaper. Given how thirsty we are for news -- that extra bit of information about which direction the lion was headed could have saved your life -- and how incredibly cheap it is now, we spend most of our waking hours consuming news of one sort or another. (And then spend most of our sleeping hours dreaming about deleting all of our unread emails, or telling people who barely know us to stop leaving retarded comments on our Facebook wall.)

Of course, this isn't a quantum leap, since there have been other cheap forms of quick printing and mail couriers. Still, even with those technologies it would have been prohibitively expensive to ask someone to update you with all manner of news every five minutes. But that's no problem at all now -- just keep your cell phone on and a bunch of tabs open in your internet browser for each source, and you can get your news fix all day, every day, without having to pay a red cent.

So we're binging on news, but is it as bad as sugar? After all, knowledge is power, right? Yes, but you hit diminishing returns very quickly. Most of the shit you're reading about won't help you in an absolute sense -- knowing which cave the bear went into -- or even in a relative sense -- knowing where a good water source was discovered. You'd squeeze most of the power from the knowledge you'd gain by simply reading the morning news, as opposed to re-visiting the newspaper's website for a total of four hours per day. And you'd know all the really important social gossip from your daily face-to-face interactions plus some time talking on the phone, as opposed to spending an additional two hours cumulatively per day checking your text messages, email, and Facebook. For most people, a daily news report and an hour on the phone each day is about all that's needed, and many could get by with a weekly news report and an hour on the phone per week.

Compared to previous patterns of news consumption, we're not benefiting a whole lot more in terms of learning stuff that will help us out. The only additional benefit we're getting is the purely hedonic one, like the rush we feel when we eat a chocolate brownie. The monetary cost of taking in the news is obviously way down, but the other costs are enormous. Remember that these technologies only speed up the transmission of information. We still have to search through the endless lists of headlines, Facebook profiles, email subject headers, and so on, to find a bit of news to consume. Then we have to actually digest it -- and reading takes just as long as it used to. When we respond, it takes just as long to think of our own news, how to phrase it, and to set it down in discrete form.

If we were only as plugged into the world of the news as we were before, clearly our total cost would be lower. But because the monetary cost is tiny, we're consuming a lot more news and reading and sending a lot more messages to people in our social circle, and the price we pay to participate in those processes is scarcely affected by the internet, cell phones, etc. Only the transmission costs have gone down -- composing and processing are still as costly as ever. As a result, most of what we're doing with these technologies is a waste.

Many people already see this -- aside from the vice of writing in blog comment sections, I've always worked to abstain from all this pointless bullshit. But others will claim that we really are better off with all this extra news -- again, knowledge is power, they'll say. It's really the opportunity costs of staying plugged in that no one thinks about, since it isn't very satisfying to dwell on all the even more pleasurable things you could be doing with your brief time, other than "making the rounds" yet again through your motley group of news providers and corresponding with people about nothing important.

The self-appointed cool people are eager to remind you that they don't watch TV (and probably don't even own one), but being hooked into the news stream is far worse. At least with TV, there is a predictability to what there will be today. Indeed, if you just remember back to the days when you missed school from sickness, most TV programming is unwatchable. The remotely good stuff didn't come on until 3pm and only lasted until 11pm or midnight. That still sounds like a big fraction of your waking hours, but most didn't watch eight or nine straight hours of TV, compared to far more people now who get little done for work or for play because they're hooked in for that long.

In fact, you have to keep searching your news sources all day because you never know when something will pop up. It starts right after you wake up, continues through much of your work day if you have a computer at work and don't have a boss constantly over your shoulder, persists through much of your so-called free time, and only ends right before you go to bed. At least with TV, you know that it's not even worth turning on before 3pm -- so let's do something fun until then. And most of the good stuff is done by 10 or 11pm, leaving plenty of time afterward (for night owls anyway) to catch up on work or have some more fun. Can you imagine most people blacking out such a long stretch of time as a "no internet, no cell phone" period, day after day?

Three consecutive hours of TV is much better than three hours of news-checking spread out across the day. With TV, you can concentrate your feel-good, mind-atrophying stuff into a three-hour chunk and get on with life outside of that timeframe -- it's like getting a solid night's sleep. Checking your news sources and corresponding are more frequent, if briefer, interruptions, like suffering from narcolepsy. We all need to sleep, but don't count on getting much done if you keep fading in and out of consciousness all day.

Our desire for following what's new in the world in understandable given the world that natural selection adapted us to, no less so than our desire for sweet stuff. But now that the cost of accessing it is negligible, we consume a lot more than we were designed to. The additional benefits either are not there or are at best small, while the other costs of our consumption have skyrocketed. We pay a huge price to process all that sugar we can now buy so cheaply, and we waste too much time staying abreast of nearly free, abundant news. Fortunately for our egos, the deus ex machina of self-deception will swoop in and reassure us that we really are gaining more power over our lives by staying plugged in for so long, and that we aren't doing those other so-called fun things because they aren't actually as pleasurable as refreshing the NYT's homepage for the fifteenth time in three hours.

But just as you'll naturally lose your sweet tooth after going on a low-carb diet, you'll find it pretty easy to unplug yourself from the news after awhile. I read the WSJ through my library's journal subscription, so I can only read what's in today's newspaper, not whatever else they've added to the newspaper's website in the past minute. I only turn on my cell phone a few times during the day. And for the most part I only look through my email when I get up and before I go to bed. No doubt I find this easier than others will because I have a lower opinion of what everyone else has to say, so that my typical response to a news item is "Who cares?" rather than "Omigod, I like totally have to share this on Facebook!!!"

That's the best practical advice I can give to the more caring souls reading this: each time you come across a headline or whatever, just ask "So what?" And whenever someone sends you an email, just say out loud "Oh shut up." It doesn't matter whether it's one of the few interesting news stories or an urgent message -- you have kick your habit of caring about what's going on cold turkey. After you've hardened yourself, then you can gradually re-introduce the limited amount of news and correspondence that you need. In the meantime, you're just going to have to be more cold-hearted.

October 10, 2009

The geek does the cheerleader's homework -- who, if either, is the parasite?

Increasingly often teachers will force students to work in groups, which usually results in the smartest person in the group pulling all of the weight while the others more or less freeload. It's pretty easy to describe the others as parasites and the smart person as parasitized, although we might not judge the parasites so harshly since they didn't intend for the class to split up into groups -- they were compelled by the teacher -- so it may be more like a case of stronger people who cannibalize the weakest person when all are forced by shipwreck into a foodless situation.

However, lots of other study groups form voluntarily, with both the smart and the less-smart finding it agreeable. The smart one is obviously providing his smarts -- probably he'll end up doing the other person's homework -- so clearly the less-smart person gets something nice out of the deal. And the smart guy must be getting something good too from the less-smart partner, or else he wouldn't have signed on in the first place. When we see these voluntary exchanges, we should suspect that each person is getting more than they're giving up, unlike the earlier case of mandated partnerships.

If we reflect on what we've seen ourselves or have seen time and again in fiction, we find two recurring patterns of the smart person who agrees to do someone else's homework. One is where the less-smart person is a high-status guy, maybe a good-looking rebel or a popular athlete, who can afford the nerd some protection, teach him how to behave around girls, or have some of his higher status rub off on the nerd when news gets out that they're hanging out with each other, even just to study. The smart guy, of course, won't see his status rise to the heights of the guy whose homework he's doing -- but some improvement is better than none, and again if the smart one agrees to it, the boost to his status must be worth doing the other guy's homework.

The other case is similar: there's some good-looking girl, possibly popular too, who he'd be delighted to be around -- and not just as though he were standing behind her in the cafeteria line, but alone in one of their rooms, close to her, with a frequent verbal back-and-forth, sustained eye contact, and so on. He'll soon realize that he won't get to make out with her, but this lower level of relationship may be worth enough to him, or perhaps he'll be able to attract some female attention after the word gets around that they're hanging out. He may have been invisible to girls before, whereas now at least a couple of 4s or 5s will take notice and he'll have a positive, rather than zero, chance of getting laid. These benefits make it worth giving up his time to do her homework.

And clearly the popular guy or cute girl find the cost of hanging out with the geek worth it, since they'll benefit from passing rather than failing the course, or else they wouldn't have bothered to form the study group to begin with.

Thus, both of them gain from this "social trade," and so it's not quite right to describe one as the parasite and the other as the parasitized. But if we had to point to who's only a little better off, and who's really better off, which would it be? Well, we just look at who's more eager to form this kind of relationship. We can use eagerness as a proxy for what price the person perceives the relationship to cost -- if you're really eager to form the relationship, it's as though you were demanding a lot. Say, you'd be happy to study 40 hours a week. If you're only somewhat eager, you're demanding less, like only 10 hours a week.

Assuming the relationship between demand and price is the same for both people, whoever is more eager perceives a lower "price" to pay for forming the relationship. (And so the less eager person perceives a higher "price.") Again looking at what you've seen in your own experience, or judging from cultural depictions, we know that it's the geek who's more eager to begin the study group -- by a longshot. He gives up an hour of his time, which he probably wouldn't be doing much else with -- maybe some resume-padding stuff for college applications -- and he gets what amounts to a low-pressure date with a cute girl. She has to give up an hour of her time, which is a lot more valuable -- she has a lot more that she could be doing, being young, pretty, and popular -- and she gets a small increase in her grade.

Since he jumps at the chance, while she goes along grudgingly, if anything the geek is the parasite and the cheerleader is the victim. Again, both profit from the exchange, but the closest parallel to the host-or-parasite question shows that we should feel sorry more for the cheerleader. Most smart people would automatically see the geek as the parasitized -- she's just using him to get a good grade, like all those other times he's had to pull all the weight in group work. But if you step back and look at who's more eager than the other, you see just the opposite -- that poor doe-eyed cheerleader has to suffer the creepy presence of such a geek just for a measly boost to her grade.

Arts people are generally smart but not good-looking, so most of the images we're familiar with here may show both sides, but they're much more favorable to the nerd. They reveal his not-so-pure motives, but they're shown as far less despicable than the cute girl's shallowness and boredom while around him. How different our picture of the world would look if cheerleaders wrote the social history books.

October 6, 2009

Twitter does even less than you thought

First, for Twitter messages relating to some product or brand, more are about facts than feelings. So, rather than being the "pulse of the planet," it is turning more into a Yahoo! Answers service, just with faster response rates. It's doubtful that anyone would pay to use Twitter for this purpose since you can use Google, etc. right now, and those responses are already pretty quick. You'd have to bet on there being a large enough group of people who would want information right away, rather than take a minute or two using Google. Maybe, but I highly doubt it.

Ads won't work long-term. They hardly earn money in the first place, except for companies like Google who get a decent buck from advertisers who want their product to show up when someone does a relevant search. The difference is that whereas Google has developed an algorithm for returning relevant results, Twitter doesn't provide a list of results at all -- the users who answer the question do. These users would receive none of the ad revenue that Twitter made from search-based ads. Of course, most of the people on there are completely insane, so they might not notice. Or they may be so pathetic that they'd work for free just to obtain their own slice of internet immortality, like those prolific Amazon reviewers.

The only possibility would be to charge lots for ads like Google does for its search-based ads, and give some portion of that to the users who answer questions. That seems like an awful mess, though, because then every user has an incentive to respond -- no matter how vapidly -- just to say that they were part of the response that the question-poser was looking for, and whose eyeballs the advertiser wanted to target with the search-based ad.

Trying to figure out which users really were providing useful information would be a nightmare. They couldn't hire enough people to look through every response to every question, so they'd have to use something like a customer rating system. But again, to figure out who among all responders merited a cut of the ad revenue, the question-poser would have to rate every single responder. In reality, they would likely give a high rating to one of the good responders and not bother rating any of the others, even the good ones.

They'd have to turn to something like About.com with its experts who field questions. That way, the responder can build up a reputation and assuage some of the worry that an asker might have, and a customer rating system (to determine the cut of ad revenue) would be easy with just one person responding. Of course, this is just another variant on all previous forms of pay-for-info services. It would look nothing like what it does right now, where anyone can write about anything to anyone else. There's an obvious parallel between Twitter's likely path and that of Wikipedia, where participation must ultimately be fettered in order to ensure quality -- and certainly to get paid, if they wanted to really improve their site.

Related to this is the uselessness to marketers who want to know how the public perceives their product. It's bad enough that most people don't share their feelings, but even when they do, they are almost uniformly positive, and all across the internet. Of course, that means the marketers can't learn shit from Twitter's pulse -- they get a highly biased estimate from self-selected fanboys who, after opening up their new toy, immediately rush to their MacBook to send off a gushing Twitter message, typing with one hand.

It's an odd finding that those who hate what they've bought tend not to register their complaints online -- or in real life, as the WSJ article says that most word-of-mouth is positive too. But writing detailed negative reviews, or ranting on and on in person, only reminds you how badly suckered you were, and most people would rather not dwell on getting hosed big-time. Owning something makes you think more highly of it.

The only case where people could get useful feedback from customer reviews are where the rater has no stake in the thing being rated, which eliminates almost all reviews by people who own the thing. Take Hot or Not -- the people whose looks you're rating aren't related to you, aren't your friends or partners, and won't ever run into you. Thus, raters are perfectly clear-headed when judging looks and tend to give low or middling scores. (If memory serves, Hot or Not actually "corrected" for this tendency by artificially inflating scores in Lake Wobegon style. If you noticed all those fugly dogs who scored 6 or 7, that's why.)

So if you need to know how good-looking you are (or aren't), you can profit from internet ratings. If you're a marketer who wants to know what the broad public thinks, you'll have to go back to test panels or focus groups where the raters don't have a personal stake in the rating. Investing in Twitter will only hasten your descent into cluelessness.

October 1, 2009

File-sharing is for sexually frustrated losers

While playing around with the General Social Survey for a class, I stumbled on a question that asks whether or not you use the world wide web to download music. This question was asked in 2000 and 2002, before iTunes was available for Windows (and even for Macs it wasn't available in 2000), so it clearly refers to using Napster and other piracy technologies. I should put the results of what I found over at my data blog, but it's too sweet not to share with the world.

Let's start with the file-sharer's self-image: he imagines himself to inhabit a dystopian world rather like the one in Blade Runner, The Matrix, or that tentacle anime that he depleted half his tissue box to. He just as often believes that he himself is being singled out for oppression as he believes that it is his entire race of subterranean mole-geeks that's being persecuted. Similarly, the source of all evil is at one moment a sprawling, faceless hive -- the Microsoft corporation, The Government -- and the next moment an individual wielding concentrated power -- Bill Gates, George Bush. You would be foolish to expect some consistency of narrative since, after all, his religious texts did not flow from the tongues of trained wisemen but were regurgitated by the teamworking four-chambered stomach of the Creative Commons.

But it's not really important who The Devil or the legions of demons are, as the cult's focus is on what role they the file-sharers play -- the rebels who will, Prometheus-like, rise up against the powers that be and deliver free information unto mankind. Back on planet Earth, we easily see the file-sharer for what he really is -- a teenager throwing a temper tantrum all because he has to cut the yard before taking his daddy's car out.

If they were truly the bold scofflaws they make themselves out to be, then they'd surely be picking up chicks left and right. The rebel archetype has an inherent sex appeal, at least to a decent number of girls.

So let's just see what the GSS tells us about the sex lives of file-sharers. (The mysteries that a little federal funding can solve...) I limited the results to males between ages 18 to 35. The pattern is clear using even younger ages, but going up to 35 gives better sample sizes.

The first graph shows that, compared to young guys who didn't illegally download music, file-sharers are much more likely to be virgins and less likely to have had several partners in the past year. The second graph looks at it in the other direction: in the sample, 100% of virgins were file-sharers, and file-sharing declined as the number of partners increased.

Strangely, all that time devoted to optimizing their piracy programs hasn't won them the outlaw appeal they were praying for. It's all obviously the work of Bill Gates and George Bush -- they've brainwashed normal girls into viewing them not as rebels but as a bunch of bratty cheapskates. It may take one thousand creepy emails, but they will ultimately lift the veil from those couple of girls who also hang out at Gamestop on Saturday night. And let's just see The Government stop that.

GSS variables used: musicget, partners, sex, age