April 30, 2009

Jane Brody is a liar


I'll put up a more detailed debunking of NYT health shaman Jane Brody's article on the purported risks of eating red meat, probably on Sunday or Monday at GNXP.com, with lots more graphs over broader time periods. In the opening paragraph, the better to frighten everyone, she claims that "Meat consumption has more than doubled in the United States in the last 50 years." Since the article is about the dangers of red meat, the reader is left to infer that this doubling refers to the allegedly dangerous red meat.

Sure it has, you dingbat. That's all I see today -- people gorging themselves on steaks, ground beef, veal, and lamb. She cites no source at all for this claim -- I mean, she's only a journalist.

Turning to reality, here is a look at how consumption of red meat (beef) vs. white meat (chicken) has changed from 1985 to 2006, the most intense phase of the anti-fat hysteria:

Beef consumption dropped from 75 pounds per year per capita in 1985 to 63 pounds in 2006, a decline of 16% in only 20 years. This is actual consumption, not just supply. There are data for all red meat and all poultry, but the change in their values are almost entirely due to changes in the specific foods of beef and chicken (hardly anyone was eating lamb or veal in 1985 to begin with). I pieced the data together from several editions of the USDA's annual Agricultural Statistics, and so could you if you had a free afternoon.

There are also data on supply going back to 1909. These come from a single spreadsheet, one of many that are freely available at the USDA website. Here is the graph:

"In the last 50 years," there has been an increase and then a decrease, as opposed to what Brody implies as a steady increase when she refers to a "doubling." Even there, she is wrong. Starting 50 years ago, in 1959, the retail availability per capita per year of red meat was 134 pounds, vs. 117 pounds in 2007, a decline of 13%. But if we ignore the meaningless time period of "the last 50 years" and instead focus on the period of mainstream anti-fat hysteria, we find a 22% decline from the peak in 1971 of 150 pounds to 117 pounds in 2007.

In short, Jane Brody is a bald-faced liar who couldn't be bothered to spend a single afternoon to check her facts using these bewildering new technologies called the internet and Microsoft Excel. Even worse is that she lacks any common sense, which should have set off her bullshit detector after hearing from some other moron that red meat consumption has "more than doubled" ever since President Eisenhower's heart attacks scared everyone into abandoning red meat.

How lazy, gullible, and innumerate do you have to be to get a lifelong appointment as a health & nutrition gossip at the newspaper of record?

Update: it occurs to me that Brody is one of those people who don't understand rates. Like, maybe meat consumption is going up just because there are a lot more people in the US now than 50 years ago. Obviously the useful statistic is per capita consumption. Still, here is the total availability of red meat, not the per capita availability:

Even here she is wrong. To count the 2007 value as "double" the value of a past year, you have to go back to 1942, not 1959 -- off by 17 years. The increase in total availability from 1959 to 2007 is only 49% -- it increased by half, not by 2.

A commenter suggests that she was referring to all meat, not just red meat, and total rather than per capita consumption. If we use the USDA's data on all meat -- red meat plus chicken -- and use total rather than per capita values, then there was a doubling from 1962 to 2007. So, it's a lie by omission -- the headline and the content of the article are about the alleged dangers of red meat, not simply of meat. "Oh, did I forget to mention I was referring to total consumption of all meat? What would have ever made you think I was talking about how much red meat the average person eats?" She also lies by omission in not saying what the pattern for red meat, the relevant meat for her article, looks like -- a sharp decline.

Jane Brody got a B.S. in biochemistry from Cornell in 1962, before the anti-fat hysteria. Since then, her starving agricultural peasant diet has clearly robbed her of whatever reasoning faculties she had as a young girl. It sure hasn't helped her cholesterol levels -- see here, and a funnier response here.

April 29, 2009

How the skag stole Halloween

Back before parents began panicking about their children existing in an unsupervised state, Halloween was mainly a kids' holiday -- at least back to the 1940s when trick-or-treating had become pretty common in the US. My brothers and I went trick-or-treating every Halloween when we were kids, and so did every other pre-pubescent kid in the neighborhood. Furthermore, we started late, around 7:30 or 8, and stayed out awhile, getting back well after dark. With so much time, we traveled all over, to parts of the neighborhood we'd never normally visit.

When I dressed up to hand out candy in high school, mid-late-1990s, kids had basically stopped going out like that. Only a few would show up, none in big groups of friends -- just accompanied (all the way to the door) by their parents -- and they started very early, around 4 or 5pm, and were done before dark. And these were only the kids within a roughly 3 or 4-block radius. None of this has changed since.

Because our culture has become steadily more geared to adults, rather than children or adolescents, it was only a matter of time before adults decided to take Halloween for themselves, as a sort of Carnival. This was underfoot at least as early as 1994, when the Halloween episode of My So-Called Life featured the two Baby Boomer parents renting pirate and sexy princess costumes, which helps them re-invigorate their flaccid sex life. The streets are still filled with little kids, though, so this must have been a transition year.

To put some numbers on how much things have changed, I did a Google search for "halloween costumes" and went through the first page of results. Five sites had numbers available. Here is a table of the number of costumes available for boys, girls, men, and women, followed by a list of the adult : young ratio and the female : male ratio.

site boy girl man woman
buycostumes 767 719 1109 1556
halloweenexpress 358 330 597 648
halloweencostumes 252 196 329 433
costumes4less 974 813 1762 2577
incostume 121 145 120 315

Adult : Young


Female : Male

No matter which high-traffic site we look at, adult women are by far the target audience for Halloween costumes. Regardless of age, females are buying more than males -- "look at meee!" -- but age is a much stronger predictor, and not in the direction you'd think, i.e., exhibitionistic youth. You might argue that it's just a return to the masked ball tradition, but those men didn't look like queers, nor the women like skanks. No, this is just old people annoyingly and embarrassingly clinging to the spotlight for attention when they should bow out and go where they'll do well (politics, running a business, etc.).

It's yet another example of how young people today are in many ways more mature than the irresponsible adults. For instance, STDs among young people have plummeted in recent years, while among the middle-aged they have shot up. Of course, all we hear from the morons with megaphones is how kids these days don't want to grow up, and if only they behaved as responsibly as we do. Given how few privileges and how little opportunities for fun kids have today, and given how many entertainment and leisure outlets are geared toward adults, there has never been any time in history when young people have wanted so badly to become adults -- so they can have something to do.

I'd melt my eyeballs before I took a long look at the typical over-25 woman in a barely-there costume. Almost every woman that age is too old to have much worth showing off, especially in the legs (which is why they abandon short-shorts around 25). By then their skin's succumbed to too much sun exposure, and their collagen has been zapped to hell by all the glycation that their high-carb diet has brought about. And sorry, but no one with an increasingly masculine face can pretend to be Snow White.

But at least the high schoolers still get dressed up for Halloween. If only you could freeze them at 17, like this one from the teen dance club (who I mentioned here). Now that'll put lead in yer pencil.

April 28, 2009

Why did eggs partially survive the anti-fat witch hunt?

Let's turn from data on the availability of certain foods to actual consumption patterns, which I've pieced together from various years of the USDA's Agricultural Statistics. We all know that sometime in the late 1970s or early '80s, the anti-fat hysteria took off. Some foods show a steady decline from the mid-1980s up through 2006, and I'll show those not too surprising graphs later. But take a look at how egg consumption has changed since 1985 (the earliest year of the data):

At first, there's the predictable decline. Then in the early '90s, it creeps slowly upward, and shoots up from 1999 to 2004, with a modest decline afterward. This is not like other foods that were targeted as evil by the fat-haters. What's going on?

It's true that eggs may have enjoyed a rebirth (or whatever it's called when they were never born in the first place), due to the fashion for low-carb diets during this time period. Here is a graph of the NYT's coverage of the Atkins Diet and low-carb things:

Still, if that's the reason, why didn't any of the other low-carb / high-protein / high-fat foods also see a reversal of their declines? There's no upsurge during this time for whole milk, beef, or animal fats (butter, lard, etc.). The first two decline steadily, while the third stays pretty flat (at a low level) from 1985 to 2006. There's something funny about eggs.

My guess is that since eggs come from chickens, they are protected by the halo of saintliness that we've bestowed on chickens -- what with their negligible fat, once skinned, their white meat, and so on. Chicken consumption has steadily increased from 1985 onward. On the other hand, milk and common animal fats come from cows, and that's where all that fat and saturated fat comes from -- we all know that stuff is going to kill you. (Just like it regularly killed off the Masai of Kenya, whose traditional diet consisted of red meat, whole milk, and cow's blood.) Because we've made a demon of the cow -- ironic, considering how India-emulating a lot of the anti-fat fruitcakes are -- its many dairy by-products are tainted by association.

As a final sidenote, for those who are somewhat lactose intolerant like me, and certainly if you're OK with dairy, I suggest junking yoghurt and using heavy whipping cream instead. Even the full-fat, unsweetened Greek yoghurt contains 7 g of sugars per serving. That's not a lot, but it's enough for me to notice a small spike in my insulin levels -- judging by the fatigue I've gotten while trying yoghurt again. I used to wake up rarin' to go after just 6 or 7 hours of sleep, while on yoghurt I easily slept 9, 10, or at worst 12 hours.

Heavy whipping cream is so rich that you won't need to use very much to cover a small portion of berries. It has less than 0.5 g of sugars per tablespoon, yet it has 6 g of fat, 4 g of which is saturated. Yum yum. The lactose content is a bit above cheese and a bit below yoghurt, so if you can have yoghurt, you can surely substitute this for it. It's been almost 3 hours since I had some, and I've had no problems. Next on my to-do list: Devon cream or clotted cream. I'll have to use a low-carb bread / muffin / scone, and fruit instead of jam to keep the sugar count down, but the pictures I've seen of cream tea have made me drool.

April 27, 2009

Movie data: women decay faster than men in seeking thrills

Steve Sailer recently asked people who can count to analyze movie statistics. I've done some of this already -- see here for analyses showing that under-18 girls, compared to older women, are more likely to dig Alfred Hitchcock, to love good horror movies, and to hate stupid chick flicks.

Now, instead of comparing females of various ages, I'll compare males and females of the same age to figure out the male - female gap in tastes, and then compare this gap across young vs. old age groups. This will provide evidence for what many guys already suspect -- that, while men and women both get more boring as they age, women become dull at a much faster rate.

At age 15 or 20, a girl is just slightly less enthusiastic about going for a ride on the bumper cars than a guy. But at age 45 or 50, the woman will resolutely refuse, while the guy after some arm-twisting will say, "OK, what the heck!" Also, a 45 or 50 y.o. father will happily be athletic with his son -- tossing around the football, or whatever -- while the 45 to 50 y.o. mother will wimp out when her daughter wants a partner to practice cheerleading. (Except for those psycho "cheer moms.")

The data come from the IMDb top ranking horror movies, since appreciating these is a good sign of your willingness to have fun, even if it means getting scared. (Same with athletics -- you're having fun at the risk of getting winded, spraining something, etc.) I simply took the difference between the average male rating and average female rating, for both the under-18 and the 45+ age groups. I only used a movie if each age/sex group had at least 40 votes, as a rough guard against small sample sizes. This left 25 of the original 50 -- there are lots of movies that rank highly due to a small-yet-big-enough minority hyping them up. Quite a few obscure Japanese and Chinese ones, or US ones from the 30s or 40s, for example, and yet no Nightmare on Elm Street?

Anyway, here are the distributions of male-female gaps, first for the under-18 group and then for the 45+ group. For those who failed the data analysis questions on the SAT, positive values here mean males liked it more than females, while negative values mean females like it more. I've made the bins in sizes of 10, and each is labeled with the mid-point. So, the bar for an M-F gap of "5" includes any M-F gap from 0 to 9, "15" includes any gap from 10 to 19, etc. Update: to clarify, all of the original scores have been multiplied by 10 in order to get rid of decimal points, so that the new scale is 0 to 100. Thus, a difference of 5 here is a difference of 0.5 on the original 0 to 10 scale.

As you can see, among teenagers the most typical sex gap is actually one that favors females, and each degree of male-favoring gap is less and less likely. The median gap value is 0 -- i.e., no sex difference. Although they may not be as likely to manifest their drives violently, teenage girls are about as thrill-seeking as boys. This is no surprise to anyone who has spent time supervising them, especially those who they have tried to seduce. However, among 45+ women, the most likely gap is one that favors males, and the median M-F gap is 4.

You can see the distribution shift to the right as you go from under-18 to 45+, which suggests that the M-F gap widens (becomes more positive) at later ages. To show this, I've taken the difference in the age gaps for the older vs. the younger groups, one data-point for each movie. So, for The Exorcist, the M-F gap is 0 among teenagers and 5 among the middle-aged, so the change of 5 shows that the M-F gap widened at later ages. On the other hand, for Dawn of the Dead, the M-F gap is 22 among teenagers but only 10 among the middle-aged, so the change of -12 shows that the M-F gap actually narrowed at later ages. Here is the distribution of all of these age-related changes in the M-F gap:

Again, the most common change in the gap is positive, and the median is 4. Indeed, only 5 of the 25 movies showed a narrowing of the sex gap at later ages -- most showed women becoming even more of a wet blanket at later ages.

This supports what every guy suspects -- that women turn boring faster than men -- but it may not be something they thought was true. After all, the media portray middle age as a time when women are so eager to do fun and exciting things, while the guy is just laying around on the couch spoiling her attempt at fun. Of course, there's nothing fun about zooming off to Crate & Barrel to stare for three hours at napkins, or spending an evening in some overhyped ristorante in a vain attempt to look sophisticated and authentic.

Anything that actually gets the blood going -- athletics, amusement games or rides, fucking -- will only get a response of, "Ohhhh no, I don't have any time for that." When she was younger, she would've jumped up and shouted, "i mean, omigod, i thought you'd never ask!" So, now that the weather's getting better, there's no better time to find someone incredibly younger than you to get the most out of things. True -- both young and old females come with their share of inanity, but I sure know which type of silliness I'd rather be subjected to.

April 26, 2009

What kind of toxic environment?

All those new cases of Type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, ADD, etc. -- everyone knows that's due to our high-fat Western diet, right? If only we could bully the corporate overlords into providing low-fat alternatives to their consumer-wards, we'd see these afflictions disappear nearly overnight!

I plan on showing how things have changed in food availability and consumption, probably at GNXP.com, to get better exposure. But consider just one example -- whole milk vs. low-fat or skim milk. According to USDA data, here's how the availability of the two types have changed from 1910 to 2007:

The less fat that milk contains, the more it becomes made up of sugars (lactose), since the protein amount isn't different. And we all know that sugar is a health food, unlike that artery-clogging saturated fat found in whole milk. So, after heaving all that saturated fat overboard and feasting only on rejuvenating sugar, how have we been doing healthwise?

April 23, 2009

The faggy nineties: environmentalist propaganda directed at kids

Although I wish I could have been 15 to 24 during the 1980s to experience the coolness of roughly 1983 to 1987, I'm very glad that I wasn't -- being born in 1980, I was spared the generalized hysteria that peaked in 1991 - 1992. (It had begun around 1989, and lasted into 1994). The next generalized hysteria will happen sometime in the middle of the next decade -- there are roughly 22 - 23-year stretches between hysterias -- and by then, I'll be in my early-mid-30s, and my social radar won't give a shit about whatever foolishness the college sophomores and grad students will be up to.

It may seem obvious that below a certain age, you aren't affected by the epidemic of craziness, but I thought I'd provide four examples of attempted environmentalist brainwashing directed not at teenagers or 20-somethings, but at kids my age, during the height of the early '90s hysteria.

1) The well received cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers, which ran from 1990 to 1992. Read the Wikipedia entry -- it really was as propagandistic as it sounds. The heroes are from all races, while the villains are all white, although some are part-swine or part-rat. Seriously. The heroes are balanced for sex, while all but one of the villains is male -- and even the female was made to be the scientific genius, just to sneak in some feminist nutjobbery for good measure. And of course all the heroes are young (although under the guidance of a hippie elder), while the villains are mean old grown-ups.

No one gave a shit about recycling who watched the program -- it was just cool to see good guys fight bad guys. The just-maturing boys were more interested in banging Gaia than saving the planet.

2) The Jesse Spano character in the immensely popular sit-com Saved by the Bell. In the earlier episodes, filmed in the late 1980s, there wasn't so much emphasis on feminism, environmentalism, political correctness, etc. But during the 1990 and 1991 episodes, Jesse was written into a much more loud-mouthed activist shrew. Every other one-liner in every episode was about women's rights, the environment, bla bla bla. There was even an entire episode where the writers, haunted by the ghosts of muckrackers past, decided that oil would be found at the high school, everyone would be ecstatic except for environmentalist Jesse, but that in the end there would be an oil spill that killed the cute little animals in the school's pond -- complete with a visual of a duck covered in oil.

All I remember about this crap was, "Why doesn't Jesse shut up and move out of the way of Kelly Kapowski?" The show was syndicated well into my adolescence, and still is, and that never changed. By the time I was susceptible to freaking out about what ideas I should have to fit in, I knew that the looniness of the show wasn't au courant -- just as I wouldn't have suspected flaming racial tensions by watching All in the Family.

I recently bought the DVDs of the show, and it's fascinating how abruptly the focus shifted from the things teenagers really care about -- romantic rivalries, outfoxing the authority figures, etc. -- to all that preachy Generation X bullshit, within only two years (1989 vs. 1991).

3) The 1991 line of toys, not terribly successful, called The Trash Bag Bunch. It's more or less like Captain Planet -- there's a host of polluting villains who must be stopped by a holy army of trash-picker-uppers. Read the toy company's incredibly gay press release here.

Too bad none of the kids knew that back story -- again, to an 11 year-old boy, all that matters is that there are good guys and bad guys, and that each has a badass weapon to kill the others. This had zero impact on our development. In fact, what boys born in my cohort thought was the supreme pinnacle of radicalness was Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, which glorified filth and degradation -- something that will always appeal to boys more than cleaning up and being conscientious stewards of Mother Earth. Not surprisingly, Garbage Pail Kids ran from 1985 to 1988 in the U.S., before the hysteria hit.

4) The video game Zen: the Intergalactic Ninja released for the Nintendo and Game Boy in 1993. The plot is the same as Captain Planet again: you're a ninja who must stop the polluting villain Lord Contaminous.

I don't remember it being popular, and I never played it, but it was common enough for me to remember the title 16 years later. If you played it at all, it was probably something you rented from Blockbuster for the weekend and didn't touch again.

In sum, none of these propaganda campaigns managed to influence us at all, even though we were glued to the TV when Captain Planet and Saved by the Bell came on. Pre-pubescent kids just don't have to obsess over all the details of fitting in with their peers the way that adolescents do, so these efforts were doomed to fail. Now, if I were 15 or 16 when Saved by the Bell was on, I would've taken careful mental notes of what was verboten and been sure to avoid doing that in real life. Thankfully, I came of age after most of that insanity had died down.

Looking back, what really would have been a good way to get kids more into preserving the environment is playing into kids' love of outdoor play. Some of the things I most looked forward to then -- and which supply some of my fondest memories now -- are going to the beach, playing mini golf in a mock-highlands setting like the Magic Mountain courses in Ohio, climbing through the network of branches in a group of trees, playing hide-and-seek in garden mazes, and having enough field space and wooded area to fly kites, toss the football around, and play capture the flag. (Not to knock to fun of pavement-based games like four square and butt's up.)

The PR wizards and genius executives who hatched the above list of eco-friendly balderdash should have realized that kids don't care about one-upping each other in some dopey moralistic status competition -- I have no memories of my friends saying to me:

Oh, your Nerf Turbo isn't made from organic biodegradable foam? Oh no, nothing wrong with that... I guess I just thought that you didn't want to turn our community into a landfill before we finish fifth grade.

Kids like playing in primitive, unspoiled outdoor settings. Play to that, and they'll be much more likely as adults to oppose razing a mini golf course in order to put up a townhouse complex for yuppies and welfare addicts.

Older people cling more desperately to bad fashions

One function of clothes is to serve as markers for ethnic groups, broadly construed -- not just Mexicans vs. WASPs, but also emos vs. jocks. When the social world is most chaotic, there is no time to figure out who belongs to what group -- you have to be able to tell right away, both to find other members of your group, and to warn members of other groups that they shouldn't approach you.

Abercrombie & Fitch created the younger-oriented Hollister because they found out that college kids were turned off by all the logos at A&F, which were there to attract teenagers. Hollister then would emblazon logos all over their stuff and draw the teenage customers into their own store, leaving the college kids to breathe free at A&F with no more high schoolers hanging around.

The teenagers' greater hunger for logos follows from their greater obsession with easily identifying members of different groups. College kids' social world isn't quite as crazy, so they're not as hot about logos. And full adults, whose social lives have pretty much settled down, would think it tacky to wear a logo shirt. This also extends to broadcasting your musical tastes through clothing: middle and high school kids love t-shirts with the name or graphic of their favorite bands, while college kids try to dress less like groupies and more like the performers, and full adults don't bother at all to signal their musical tastes through clothing.

On the surface, then, adults would seem to dress better -- no logos, no annoying statements about what music you listen to, etc. But this all stems from adults not being as in touch with the rapid pace of fashion -- they are slower to recover after being infected by a passing fad. And this weaker strength of their social immune system can itself wreck the adult's appearance for a much longer time, compared to the resilient youngster.

Even though teenagers have long abandoned them, I'll bet you still see the occasional woman over 25 (and I've seen some over 55) who still wears low-rise jeans and a belly-baring top that she's constantly pulling down in the back. Search this blog for "thong" to see the sales data showing that since roughly 2004, that whole low-rise jeans, thong underwear, exposed mid-riff look has been dying or dead.

Maybe a picture will help. Here's one from an NYT article on teens cutting their shopping budgets during the recession (click to enlarge):

It's hard to tell how old the woman on the left is, since we can't see much of her body, but I'd guess she's at least in her late 20s, possibly in her 30s or even 50s. Her physical signals aren't really what made me notice (except for the veiny hands) -- it was the pink tracksuit pants with a graphic on the butt. No self-respecting teenager has worn those for at least four or five years -- a lifetime in adolescent years.

The girl next to her is obviously a lot younger, probably 14 or a skinny-for-her-age 15 year-old. Note the lack of overly processed hair, the glowing skin, and absence of veins. But the real giveaway, even if you couldn't see any of the rest of her, is the double-layer tops -- one long enough to entirely cover her lower back / upper ass area, and another one to contrast with that. If, like the woman to her left, she went to school in an outfit that was trying to keep the skanky look of 2004 alive, she'd get laughed at by everyone all day -- and her embarrassed friends would be the first to pillory her, just to distance themselves from the freak.

The younger girl's modest look may catch on among older women, and they might dress that way long after it's cool, but then returning to normal adult clothing wouldn't be so great of a change. It's when older women get infected by the more provocative clothing of young girls that things really turn to shit. Then they not only embarrass themselves like the mom from Mean Girls, while the trend is still hot, but they prolong their pitiableness by hanging on to it for years after it's done.

Once I'm elected dictator, I will mandate modest uniforms for all females over 25, for their own good. Only healthy young girls with social immune systems that are quick to recover will be allowed to horse around in the playpen of fashion.

April 22, 2009

Lots of food stuff

* Turtle Mountain has expanded its coconut milk product line to include -- milk! I've only tried the unsweetened kind, since the others have too much sugar for something you'll drink regularly. As expected, it tastes pretty bland, but not offensive, just like unsweetened soy milk, unsweetened almond milk, etc. But because it has more fat (5 g per serving, and all of it saturated), it has a richer feel. You can sprinkle a tiny bit of splenda in, and it'll be fine -- even better with a tablespoon and a half of unsweetened cocoa powder.

It's great for a quick energy boost -- it goes down much easier than my old habit of eating a tablespoon of solid coconut oil.

I think the recent explosion of coconut oil / milk products is going to be the wedge that allows people to eat lots of fat, especially saturated fat, without worrying about what a bunch of know-nothing experts tell them. I mean, it's from a coconut, and if you're against coconuts, you're just some kind of anti-fruit-and-vegetable, anti-tropical racist. It's silly that we can't get people to eat more fat by promoting butter, which has less saturated fat than coconut oil, but butter is from an animal and made by evil white people. Hey, whatever works now, works now.

The entire side of the milk carton explains why the fats in coconut milk are good -- actually, it refers to them as medium-chain fatty acids and the sterile acronym MCFAs, which don't sound as harmful as the plain word "fat." When have you ever seen a low-fat or non-fat product refer to specific fatty acids like a biochem textbook would, and list their benefits? The carton's design is eye-catching, so hopefully people will be intrigued enough to give it a look and be somewhat deprogrammed of their anti-fat prejudice.

Turtle Mountain has also released a bunch of coconut milk yoghurt flavors. I didn't bother trying any because they've got around 17 g of sugar per little container -- if I want that much sugar, I'll buy some of their ice cream instead.

* Speaking of yoghurt, despite being lactose-intolerant, I took a risk and bought some cow's milk yoghurt, since I read that it isn't so bad. I went with the super-fat Greek yoghurt by Fage, the only type that had any fat at all. (At least frosting has sugar and fat -- non-fat yoghurt is worse than frosting.) I had two big bowls in one day, both yesterday and today, and I've had zero problems. Thank fucking god.

And just as I noticed when I started eating cheese again, I had a zipper-bursting boner for hours last night, and my libido's been on turbo today as well, like I'm right back in high school. This suggests that there's something in milk that's responsible, not just in cheese. High dairy consumption is probably responsible for French and Swedish guys having the biggest dicks in Europe, and the English having nearly the smallest, as well as for East Asians having notoriously small ones. They need to eat more dead animals and animal products instead of all those damned vegetables and grains, and they might one day produce a porn star.

* The Freshman 15 has become an area of academic research -- search PubMed for "freshman 15." First, it shouldn't surprise me, but it's astonishing how socially retarded researchers are -- they actually took the phrase literally and decided to test whether or not the "gain 15 pounds" idea was truth or fiction.

Goddamit, the word "fifteen" was chosen because we don't want numbers that don't end in 0 or 5, and for prosody and plausibility. "Freshman 5" doesn't sound plausible to us -- the very perceptible changes seem greater to us. Plus it sounds like a superhero group, or a bad boy band. And "freshman 50" is too implausible. 25, 35, etc., don't roll off the tongue like 15 does. What is it about geeks and interpreting everything literally? "Freshman 15" simply means "gaining a noticeable amount of weight or body fat during your freshman year."

And all of these studies do show that, if not 15 pounds. It's probably between 5 to 10 pounds, but that's still about what we've gained on average during the obesity epidemic -- and a decent change in the mean will have even more pronounced effects in the tails, where we're looking at the real tubbos. Moreover, some of the abstracts show that less than half of the students weighed at the beginning followed through at the end of the year -- I wonder what quality these drop-outs may have had. Obviously the ones who bloated out during the year are more embarrassed to be weighed again, so in such cases, the weight gain is an underestimate.

Also, when the studies' abstracts compare college students' weight gain to weight gain in other adult groups, they always say it's much greater. So, just as everyone suspected, there's something particular to college life that makes you huge. Therefore, the freshman 15 is not a myth -- it was totally obvious.

Just browsing through the abstracts, none of the studies bothered to measure whether macronutrient intake affected weight gain -- for example, did higher carb consumption predict greater body fat? However, here's a nice anecdote from an NYT article on the freshman 15:

And a few students do gain more than 15 pounds. Zoe Hall, Ms. Oz's best friend from childhood, gained 20 pounds during her first year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville because her class schedule conflicted with the opening hours of the university dining hall and she subsisted mostly on candy, frosted animal crackers, bagels and also late-night pizza delivered to her dorm room, she said.

You get one guess about what the boldfaced foods have in common, foods that caused a girl in the bloom of youth to gain 20 pounds in 9 months.

Here's another good NYT article on how much cereal college students eat. Most of their milk will be skim, and thus have lots of sugar and hardly any fat. And the cereal itself is of course empty carbs, both the grain base and the sugar coating. If you ever doubted that high carb consumption causes cellular starvation and a craving for more, look at the accompanying picture:

That's not counting the gallons of fruit juice, soda, bagels, bread, pasta, fries, the cornucopia of deserts, etc. You don't see college students tearing into a marbled steak, then salmon or tuna drowned in butter, followed by a plate of eggs with melted cheese on top, all washed down with whole milk or water. Obviously fat has nothing to do with the freshman 15 because they're hardly getting any of it, aside from the odd bowl of ice cream.

If you think back to before you left for college, you probably wanted as much sugar and carbs as any other teenager, but you at least had one meal prepared by your parents that had a decent amount of fat and protein. The junk you ate for breakfast, the froo-froo school lunches, and whatever you snacked on after school until bedtime was bad, but there was a respite during dinner: some kind of dead animal, a butter dish, few fruits, lots of vegetables, and a bit of starch (say, one dinner roll). Milk, water, or unsweetened iced tea to drink, not soda -- and definitely no alcohol, and hence no beer belly.

As girlfriend material, college girls are a huge let-down compared to teenagers in many ways, and this is yet another. However poor their diet may be in high school, it just goes to shit in college, and their appearance and behavior show it right away. Their face looks puffy, their eyes look smaller, they get thunder thighs, not to mention getting moodier and bitchier. It only gets worse when they go off meal plan -- then they definitely aren't getting any protein or fat, since preparing meat or fish is something they aren't interested in. They're basically living off of microwave pizza, starchy soups, chips, ice cream, candy or cookies, and soda. If they're well-to-do, they may be buying the organic version of this trailer trash food, but still.

This protective effect of living with your parents, as a youngster, shows up in binge drinking too: commuter students who live at home are less likely to drink, and drink less when they do, compared to students who live in dorms, even after adjusting for just about any demographic variable. Parents don't need to be breathing down their kid's neck -- the kid just senses that home isn't the place where they should try all sorts of risky behavior. These barriers of course make doing it so much more exciting -- having to orchestrate a party when someone's parents are gone, or stealing away in your car to make out, rather than hosting danger-free dorm parties or unceremoniously leaving a rubber band on your doorknob to tell your roommate that he's being sexiled tonight.

Getting more fun out of getting into less trouble -- another reason to make your kids live at home when they're in college.

April 21, 2009

Women aren't interested in things

The 2008 version of the General Social Survey is available, and one of the new series of questions focuses on what news topics people are interested in. Women follow the news less than men, but what about for particular topics?

No time to make lots of graphs today, but you can see for yourself. Go here, open the tab near the bottom called "2008 Variables," then the one within that one called "Interest in News Issues." In the box in the main area that says "column," type sex. Then click on each of the news issues, and click the box in the upper left that says "Copy to: Row." Hit enter.

Men are much more interested in international issues (that's why there are few female politicians), farm issues (although more feminizing than hunting, agriculture still requires a guy to run things), new scientific discoveries (Larry Summers was right), economic issues (the only glass ceiling is a woman's own lack of interest), technologies (Larry Summers again), space exploration (Larry Summers for the third time), and military policy (someone has to think of something more workable than "give peace a chance").

Men and women are equally interested in environmental issues -- grow a pair, guys. The only issues that women are much more interested in are medical discoveries and local school issues -- that is, in healing and nurturing.

The reason that the feminist whackjobs of the Women in Science and Engineering programs (or Women in Law, or Whatever) will never bring about parity is that women simply aren't as interested in their world. They'd rather become a nurse or schoolteacher than invent stuff, decide whether or not to bomb someone, or negotiate with foreign leaders.

The activists come to realize this very quickly, and devote most of their time, resources, and effort into badgering the poor undergrad girls in the student union. "Don't you want to show the boys that you can do math too? Oh, you're a nursing major... well, I mean, you don't want your potential future husband to think you're just a silly airhead, do you?" Once they're free of the peer-pressure of the activists, most such women leave to do what they truly want to do. Of course, feminists refer to this as female science majors or grad students "leaking out of the pipeline" -- when it is more like a P.O.W. breaking loose from their internment camp.

April 20, 2009

Painters who are over or under-valued

If you were interested in my previous post on measuring which composers are over-rated vs. under-rated, you might like a new GNXP.com post I just put up, which does the same thing for painters.

Comments closed; yak over there.

April 17, 2009

Finally, a cure for bronchitis: Umcka

Whenever I get sick, it's almost always bronchitis -- I appear immune to everything else. Still, I'd rather have a runny nose and hot forehead than cough up phlegm throughout the day.

Thankfully, I just learned about a rather inexpensive medicine that randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies have shown to be effective in bringing bronchitis to a halt -- Umckaloabo, an extract of Pelargonium sidoides, sold in the US as Umcka. I got a 120 ml bottle of syrup for $15 at Whole Foods. Tastes fine. It takes days for it to end bronchitis, but even after the first day of taking it, I notice that my symptoms aren't as bad as they've been.

Read more about it and its possible effect on the common cold at Michael Eades' blog, an excellent resource for low-carb and general health / nutrition information. Search PubMed for "bronchitis pelargonium" to leaf through the literature. Probably the most important is this recent Cochrane Review paper:

P. sidoides may be effective in alleviating symptoms of acute rhinosinusitis and the common cold in adults, but doubt exists. It may be effective in relieving symptoms in acute bronchitis in adults and children, and sinusitis in adults. Reliable data on treatment for other [acute respiratory infections] were not identified.

How did I manage to get sick on a low-carb diet, while taking 2400 IU of vitamin D in addition to whatever I'm getting from dead animals and sunlight? Simple: after watching Adventureland, the wistful chord it struck made me want to indulge in something sweet. So I had a pint of coconut milk ice cream that same night, another pint the next day, and two pieces of bread and a large fries from Burger King the day after that. I'd been completely unaffected by the various rounds of bugs going around this year, even though I go out to crowded night clubs at least twice a week, which are pathogen breeding grounds. Then within a day or so of binging on sugar or starch (probably between 50 - 60 g per day), I got slammed with fucking bronchitis once more.

This just goes to show how harmful it is to focus on weight as the main signal of health -- being a lardass is probably not healthy (although some fat people are pretty fit), but there are plenty of freaks like me who can funnel a ton of garbage down their gullet and not put on a single pound. Of course, all of the other effects of high blood sugar and high insulin continue on course. Yet when all we tally up is weight, we can't take account of all those other ills.

At any rate, stick to your low-carb diet, get plenty of vitamin D, and have a bottle of Umcka ready just in case.

April 15, 2009

On the playing fields of cretins

Via Razib, I came across this review of Sufi Coffee Shop in Silicon Valley. Please, read the reviews of people's first-hand experiences before continuing. They part the canopy of civilization, and sweep away the underbrush of our shared human nature, to reveal a sharp faultline that divides the minds of the sane and the insane.

Let's get right to it: every person who wrote a positive review is a complete fag. You can tell just given their choice of words -- "quirky," "authentic," "unique," etc. -- and their tongue-bathing of the "inspirational and spiritual quotes" on the shop's walls, while glossing over the signs that read:

Don't smile or I'll go to Big Toilet all over your face

I'm in the middle of From Bauhaus to Our House, and it's depressing and funny how little has changed within our high culture over the past century. "Bourgeois" may now be spelled "yuppie" or "corporate," the egomaniac prophet of today may be an indie coffee shop owner rather than an architect, and the elite who suffer to bask in his Sufistic anti-corporateness may be more poorly educated than their Lost Generation ancestors -- but still.

Of course, this cultural vortex isn't confined only to independent coffee shops: it swallows up life at indie movie rental stores, indie used book stores, indie used CD stores, and indie used bicycle grease stores. Say what you want about the boho dopes of yore -- at least they jockeyed for status over skyscrapers, paintings, novels, and symphonies. Their professed anti-consumerism notwithstanding, the war for supreme coolness these days is waged over coffee, bikes, and tennis shoes.

The temptation of Saint Agnostic 5: Kylie

Previous parts. All identifying words have been changed.

Kylie is Riley's girlier, non-alpha sister, who was also 15 to 16 when I was 25. She liked me as much or more than her sister did, but being less aggressive, made more girly advances. While I was checking another student's work, she was sitting next to me and began tugging gently at my suit sleeve. I had to ignore her in order to finish up with the other student, so she kept tugging for awhile, smiling up at me when I turned around.

omg he's so letting me touch him and he's not even like moving away!

At one point during Valentine's Day, she was frozen in place like a sniper, and as I passed by, she quietly forced the words "hey agnostic, will you be my valentine?" from her lips. I was zooming around from one area to another, so I didn't even register what she'd said until a good 30 seconds later, and therefore didn't respond. When it dawned on me, I thought she must be dying of embarrassment from being ignored after such a bold self-exposure.

So I went over to her and matter-of-factly asked, "Hey did you ask me something before? I was running around like crazy, so I didn't hear you..." But by that time, she'd been crushed: "ummm...well, no... not really..." I knew she'd get over it, but it still feels bad to accidentally hurt a girl of that age. Intentional teasing is one thing, but it was as if I'd oafishly trampled over and broken her little foot in my haste, no matter if her resilient young bones would heal quickly.

During the summer, she grew more bored of tutoring, and therefore more desperate. "agnostic!" she cried from 15 feet away. Yeah? "...come over here..." Why, what do you need? "....just... come over here." OK, what is it? "oh nothing... i just wanted to know what you're up to this summer! what are you doing???" As cute as it is when they call you over for silly talk, I had to get back to my other students, so I told her just a little bit about visiting M Street in Georgetown, doing some research in the GWU library, etc.

Then after I'd returned to my assigned students, she walked over -- "hey agnostic!" Yeeeeeessss? "....ummm... let's have a staring contest!" I decided to indulge her -- and myself -- because it was a slow summer day, and it would be a pleasant relief to wade out into the pool of her big, brown eyes. I won, of course, and dominating her in a contest that she started was her point of no return. Girls, especially young and hormonally possessed ones, dream about spying a guy from afar and sneaking up to him, at which point he acts unsure about her worth but ultimately chooses to overpower her and sweep her away. Just go to your local '80s night, one where lots of college girls hang out, and wait for "Like a Prayer" to come on -- that song puts their pussies into the deepest trance.

Once, as we were closing up, she and her sister ran up to me and got all up in my face to see if I'd crack. The alpha Riley just locked eyes and fired rapid questions, her eyes wide and her mouth grinning. Kylie, although staring at me, kept a bit away and didn't say much -- until she lept at me shouting "Italia!" She sprung into the air with her chest thrust out and arms slung back, smashing her left breast into my right shoulder, and smiling mischievously.

The final blow came as she and her sister were waiting to be picked up, and I walked by the office they were sitting in. As I came into her view, she reflexively blurted out to everyone in the room, "omigod, look at agnostic, he's sooooo cuuuuute...." She had a longing tone in her voice and a pained, saddened look on her face, like "could he ever think i'm cool?" I pretended not to hear that and went about my business. They left a month or so after that, although I did hear back from her a few times. Another milestone in teenage temptation -- those sisters, I'd be pursuing someone closer to my age right now if it weren't for them!

That was three years ago, and looking back, I see how much my tastes have changed. Then, I would have preferred getting fired over Riley, the more wild and popular queen bee, while now I recognize how much I'd underrated her girlier sister Kylie. It wasn't an act on her part either -- no exaggerated skipping around, etc., although like every adolescent girl she did think of herself as a princess. It reminds me that I should find a way to interact with girls her age in a normal setting again, since it took some getting-to-know-you time for Kylie to start crushing on me, whereas her higher-testosterone sister became interested much sooner.

P.S. Yes, same girl as shown here.

April 13, 2009

Adventureland review

See here for an earlier blurb. Since a lot of the movie's appeal is nostalgic, I thought about including more data on the social history behind the movie, but that'll go up in a separate post, probably at GNXP.com. Briefly, though, Adventureland does a good job of capturing the twilight period of society and culture after it had gotten over the dopey counter-culture of the late 1960s and early '70s. Starting around 1989, though, and peaking in 1991 - '92, a new wave of generalized hysteria infected the culture, giving birth to Generation X.

Set in 1987, the movie provides a refreshing glimpse of what it was like when people were still pretty carefree -- especially the relation between the sexes, which would soon become poisoned by moral panics about date rape, sexual harassment, and other legal fictions. The soundtrack captures the zeitgeist well too: even the sad music is catchy and upbeat, reflecting the heyday of "college radio" music, before grunge and alternative rock.

Another key to the movie's success is in casting actors who are all about the right age -- early 20s. Em is a bit younger, but that works out for the best, since we're supposed to feel sympathetic. Nothing is worse than movies about a particular stage of life, which star people who are much too old to be able to get into character.

The rest of this review contains spoilers.

On the surface, Adventureland is a male coming-of-age story. However, just like The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the movie is really about something else entirely: it is a movie that encourages single women to choose the more secure and stable boyfriend, however goofy or awkward he may be, over the more volatile and therefore more exciting boyfriends.

The male lead, James, faces no dilemma in choosing who to pursue: there is the female protagonist, Em, who he shares a lot in common with, who is pretty, and who gets a pretty sympathetic treatment from the writer; and then there is the elusive hot chick, Lisa P., who he doesn't relate to at all and who, although not caricatured, hardly gets portrayed in a positive light. We are never lead to believe that James has fallen emotionally for Lisa P., and since Em is pretty cute herself, it's a no-brainer throughout the entire movie that James should go for Em.

On the other hand, Em has become emotionally attached to and physically involved with two men: James and the smooth, older musician / technician Connell. This is the true source of dramatic tension -- will she stay addicted to the handsome, aloof guitar player, or will she fall for the guy she describes as "sweet"? The details about James' experiences and coming of age are not the point of the movie -- they serve only to establish that he's the right guy for Em.

Unlike the female character in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Em is still young enough to fall irrationally in love -- the actress who plays her was 17 during filming -- so in this movie, ending up with the safer boyfriend doesn't result from sobering up to reality and making a clear-headed decision to settle down. Something inside just compels her to. Because the focus here is on falling for someone -- which is involuntary -- and since young people act mostly on impulses, we're kept more in suspense about whether she'll end up with the good guy or the bad boy.

So, in contrast to the more didactic message of The 40 Year-Old Virgin, this movie only tries to remind young girls of who they should end up with. Even though adolescents are ruled by their passions, there is still a rational, calculating piece of their brain that takes into account -- however unconsciously -- the pros and cons of potential boyfriends. When dealing with middle-aged women, it is more appropriate for the movie to be a list of instructions to a compliant audience on how to behave. But Adventureland is more like a nervous advertiser that must cater to an unpredictable youth market. It therefore makes the best case it can for the benefits of choosing James over Connell, without coming off as preachy, and then just sits back and hopes that the female viewers will be persuaded on a gut level.

There's more to talk about, but in all the reviews I've read, the aspect of the movie that's least appreciated is who the movie is actually about -- Em, rather than James. I'll save a treatment of the movie's nostalgia for a follow-up post at GNXP.com, where there will be plenty of graphs on the change over time in the number of amusement parks, job-holding among young people, and so on.

April 12, 2009

Unlike the WPA, this stimulus won't produce any beauty

Back during the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration gave lots of people jobs to erect buildings in the then-popular Art Deco style, including lowly public high schools. To take just a handful of high schools that look like this, consider Will Rogers, Ogden, Venice, Berkeley, and Kensington.

They're not just nice to look at -- as high schools, they easily outshine the Modernist ghost-town schools of the post-WWII era, although depending on your taste, they might not meet the high standard set by the various revival style schools built between roughly 1890 and 1930. No matter what, you'd love to have one in your neighborhood for your kids to go to.

Of course, this time around, the construction industry is employing too many unskilled, illiterate Central American peasants for buildings of such high quality to come out the other end of a federal money injection. And even if only native-born, skilled Americans were working in construction, the industry doesn't give a shit anymore about high-quality materials or pleasing ornaments, by and large. So don't expect plaster walls, terra cotta details above the main entrance, or terrazzo floors.

I make a sport out of needling social conservatives who think the world is going to hell, simply by digging up a bunch of data showing that people are behaving better than ever before. But these data are all about what the majority of people are up to -- once you look only at the cultural elite, you can easily find signs of decay. One is schoolhouse architecture, and that is by no means the only example within architecture. It's no accident that preservationists strive to keep drive-in theaters or diners from the 1950s and '60s intact, while not caring whether the school buildings from the same period, that resemble barren airport terminals, were turned into a bunch of Starbucks.

Hopefully the efforts of preservationists will make sure that pre-WWII schools, after renovation, will continue on. Then again, "They'll probably knock it down soon."

April 10, 2009

Male dancing skill as a signal of fighting ability

Last night was the first time I nearly got into a fight since... probably elementary school. Some dude and I were walking past each other in a not-so-crowded night club, and he bumped me with his shoulder. Not a body-check, but enough for me to have to respond -- you never let another guy touch you without touching back. That tells him that he was wrong in assuming you were lower than him in the pecking order, and it usually ends there -- "Oh hey, my bad."

Because it was an above-normal shoulder bump, though, I gave him a good shove with my elbow in his lower-mid back. Both of us realized that these were a little uncalled for, but once the provocation starts, it's hard to stop it -- the reason that insults used to be considered crimes before the rise of centralized states and police forces. A typical misunderstanding in a tavern used to easily escalate into a heat-of-the-moment murder.

Now we've both turned around to face each other and size one another up. He was about 3 inches taller than me, probably 40 - 50 pounds heavier, mesomorphic shape, and probably 5 - 8 years younger. He was South Asian, almost certainly a foreign student, since he had his shirt unbuttoned to show chest hair and gold jewelry, and had chin-length curly hair. So, he surely came from a place with a stronger "culture of honor" than most people I see in clubs. (Of course, being half Scotch-Irish hillbilly, I've got the "you're stepping on the wrong man's dick" genes too.)

Most conflicts like this in the animal world are not settled by an all-out brawl. The two try to signal to each other about where they score on all of the traits relevant to winning a fight: muscularity, size, energy level, speed, and so on. This benefits both of them since they can walk away if they're evenly matched, rather than get locked into a wasteful war of atrition. For example, the behavior of stotting displays the health of the prey animal, which tells the predator that it would pay off more to pursue some other individual -- "I'm too vigorous for you to catch, so don't even bother." It may also be an example of the handicap principle: "Only a super-fit animal like me would slow down and bait you into approaching me." See some springboks stotting here.

If fights between humans depended only on sheer strength, we would only signal who was stronger, and there's a very clear way to tell -- who is more muscular? If there were any asymmetry in muscle mass, the two could easily tell, and either the less muscular guy would not start shit in the first place, or if he did, the more muscular guy would always escalate the fight and beat him up.

But we're not that simple: as long as he has some muscle tone, a much leaner guy can win a fight if he's quick, high-energy, and uses explosive moves. Think of Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter Anderson Silva, who can knock out any tank-shaped, Neanderthal-skulled wrestler, and who often shows off his dancing skill. It's probably no accident that sub-Saharan Africans excel in both dancing and beating people up, compared to Europeans or East Asians.

And it's just like MMA in a night club, bar, or wherever -- since there are no rules, the agile, explosive guy can knock out a big galoot. With the energy high I was on, and having warmed up long before and already gotten into high gear, I could have easily jumped and planted my knees in that guy's gut 10 times in under 5 seconds. Shit, I could have climbed the walls if I wanted to. To signal this to him, I simply showed off my dancing skills, moving my whole body, taking up a lot of space, and making explosive moves with my limbs. Luckily, "Thriller" had just come on, so it was simple to get into the groove here.

He was very pissed off and stared at me for the better part of the song, and was talking to his buddy as well. Again, if sheer strength were all that mattered, he would've quickly moved in and started a fight. But by displaying my own physical prowess, albeit of a different type than his, as well as signaling emotional coolness (with a confident smile) and high status (by taking up lots of space without being encroached on), I shut him down.

I also wonder if odor plays a role. A recent study showed that men's underarm smell ("stress related odor") is harder to disguise than women's, and that women's noses are much more difficult to fool than men's when researchers try to mask the smell. I have a hyper-sensitive sense of taste and smell, so much so that I can perceive how the percent of girls who are ovulating changes from week to week in dance clubs. Perhaps when that guy bumped into me, I smelled that he was afraid and wouldn't escalate, so that I could shove him pretty hard and not suffer any consequences, as well as not run away and even bait him into coming up to me by leaving my torso area wide open and undefended while dancing.

It's not that I'm foolhardy -- last week, a group of guys had gotten into a fight outside the same club, and one -- who weighed over 250 pounds and looked like a serial killer -- gave me a good shoulder bump, but I let it go that time because my gut reflex was that I wouldn't even be able to respond with a strong, solid series of pats on his shoulder. (There were also lots of security guards nearby.) Still, most of the time when some guy tries something like that, I respond in kind and nothing happens, despite the other guy almost always being taller, bigger, or more muscular. Maybe I can smell who is a real badass and avoid them, and who is just pretending and respond with impunity.

It may seem strange that men have not evolved stronger noses, since they'd profit much more greatly by being able to smell fear. But the trouble is that our sense of smell isn't very good, so we have to be very close up -- and aside from the cases where someone bumps into you, you're probably going to be far enough apart while sizing each other up that you can't rely much on smelling fear.

Given how rare it is for me to not do something back, I conclude that most guys who act tough by trying to start shit are actually insecure pussies. They're losers, at the bottom of the social ladder, and are merely making some desperate, last-ditch attempt to look powerful in public, much like muggers or other petty criminals.

April 8, 2009

More on fat

* Just got my copy of Fat Head and watched it twice. (Here's a recent 2blowhards interview with the creator, Tom Naughton.) It's pretty funny and is a nice condensed form of Good Calories, Bad Calories. Either one would be good to recommend or lend to others, but Fat Head will probably go down more easily. One point that is emphasized a lot more than in Taubes' book (although it does show up there too) is the depressive effect of high-carb diets, which I discussed here. New fact learned: the creator and follower of one popular high-carb diet, Nathan Pritikin, died by suicide.

I never saw Super Size Me because it seemed pretty obvious that eating a bunch of garbage all day would harm your body. After watching Fat Head, I now have another reason not to watch it: its creator, Morgan Spurlock, later chose to follow his girlfriend's vegan detox diet. Following your girlfriend's detox diet -- and which is vegan. That's all kinds of gay. I'm sure she made an exception, though, when he snipped off and deep fried his own balls for her to tear into.

* ScienceDaily reports on yet another study that shows the benefits of a low-carb, high-fat diet for epileptics. See the related articles on that page as well.

* In A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark mentions several times that during the late Middle Ages, workers' wages were supplemented with high-fat foods like meat. Contrast that with the typical lower-class diet of mostly carbs, at least in an agricultural society. For the history buffs, is there some well known change in lower-class culture during this time? They must have been more sharp-minded, vigorous, lusty, and better-looking than during other times.

* Continuing with history, here's a neat blog post on obesity in ancient Egypt by the creator of the Protein Power diet, Michael Eades (who is extensively interviewed in Fat Head). He points out that depictions of the rulers, whether paintings or sculptures, were idealized and thin -- unlike the obese shapes that they actually had.

I wonder how far this generalizes. One stupid pop-sociology theory you've probably heard is that we've only recently viewed obesity as a bad thing, and that this has to do with our post-agricultural society. Before, the theory says, the lower classes worked hard and ate little, and thus were thin, while the upper classes were idle and ate a lot, and so were fat. Once the lower classes started to work less physically demanding jobs, and as fattening food became cheaper, it was then the poor who were fat. And so to distance themselves, the elites strove to be thin and cultivated the cult of thinness that is still with us.

(This is the same silly reason that is supposed to account for the changing popularity of pale vs. tan skin.)

One problem with the theory, though -- it's bullshit. Sheer number of calories and exercise do not determine weight gain or loss -- it's how much carbohydrate you have in your diet, as the insulin response is what stores energy in fat cells. Upper class people may or may not have been obese, but it would not have been due to eating a lot and exercising little -- as with the ancient Egyptians, it was due to eating a high-carb diet, which we can see by how rotten their teeth were. And the lower classes would have been even more obese, since dead animals -- the primary source of protein and fat -- have always been luxury items. Just look at Spanish peasants who subsisted entirely on corn, or Irish peasants who ate only potatoes.

Therefore, there has been almost no time or place where the rich were overweight or obese, while the commoners were lean, perhaps aside from the most destitute who were wasting away from starvation. Of course, the rich don't seek to distinguish themselves from vagrants, but from commoners. Indeed, if you look at depictions of European royalty, you see almost no fat people. Just search Wikipedia for "List of ___ monarchs," and for most countries, you'll get a list of them in order with portraits. I looked over all of the European ones from the Middle Ages to the present, as well as Roman Emperors, and there are at most 2 overweight monarchs per country. It's a "see it for yourself" thing, though -- just play around for 10 minutes.

Again, these portraits may not reflect reality -- the ancient Egyptian depictions certainly did not. However, for the 19th C and later, there are photographs, which can't be faked (no Photoshop), and these all show thin people, aside from Queen Victoria. This is long before the supposed transition point around the early 20th C. And remember, the real question here is not "were the elites fatter than they were depicted?" but "were the elites more overweight and obese compared to the commoners?" This is what the theory depends on.

Moreover, even if the portraits of thin or muscular kings are embellishments, that still contradicts the theory -- it shows that the ideal has never been that overweightness is good, but that being thin or athletic has at all times and places been the preferred way to lie about what the ruler looked like. In conclusion, there is simply no observation to explain -- the idea that overweightness used to be idealized, or associated with the elites, is complete horseshit.

And it's not just the royalty to whom this applies. Most of the people portrayed in Western high art are rich patrons, and none of them look fat either. Look at the man in van Eyck's Arnolfini Wedding (1434), Renaissance portraits of the Medici family, Franz Hals' portraits of the elite during the Dutch Golden Age (17th C.), Fragonard's view of the French Ancien Regime (18th C.), depictions of fashionable wealthy people in the 1820s, and so on and so on. You might be able to find a few fatties, but most are either thin or athletic.

Lastly, consider religious art. It's well known that artists paint religious figures to look more like the local norm than the person truly was. They idealize the figure's appearance. So, if overweightness used to be considered elite or healthy, why are no religious figures drawn as fatsos? As with royalty and the rich, they're all thin or muscular.

Fat people believe in this myth because it gives them hope for a return to a Golden Past, where they'll be lionized and lusted after. And thin people believe it to ameliorate the envy of fat people: "Don't worry, it's not human nature that makes people revile the obese. It's just a social construction -- so please don't eat me!" Whatever their reasons, they're all wrong. Rolls of lard have never been considered hallmarks of the pious, patrician, or pulchritudinous. There's a simple reason for that, of course: we evolved to prefer signs of health and vigor, not starvation and lethargy. (When you follow a high-carb diet, you may have lots of energy stored in fat cells, but that energy is not available to all other cells for fuel, so you're actually starving.)

Yet another ugly theory slain by beautiful facts.

April 7, 2009

Hank Paulson's son trying to bring soccer team to Portland hipsters

Read about it in this Bloomberg.com article. Steve Sailer has always criticized Obama for pushing for luxury policies during a recession, such as wind power. But we see that even mainstream conservative businessmen may still believe that we have all sorts of money that we actually don't. While bringing a major league soccer team to Portland would delight the local SWPL dopes, the economic forecast there doesn't look hot enough to splurge on such a luxury.

Indeed, after the heavily black states of Michigan and South Carolina, Oregon has the highest unemployment rate -- no surprise for the state that boasts the highest per capita rate of semiotics majors. All of that educational malinvestment in phony arts degrees during the booming 1990s and 2000s is finally coming around to bite them in the ass.

Which composers are under- or over-rated?

Just a quick self-promotion for my GNXP post on measuring the over-ratedness of artists. Comments closed here; discuss there.

April 6, 2009

Adventureland portrays two age gap romances

Just saw Adventureland this weekend, and I'll put up a review later today or tomorrow. Without giving anything away, a key source of conflict in the plot is the competition over the lead female character, Em, a recent college grad, who is fought over by the lead male character, James, also a recent college grad, and an older (30-something) rock guitarist / maintenance worker, Connell. So, there appears to be a dilemma that Em faces -- the smooth older guy vs. the more awkward guy her own age, who she relates to better.

In fact, the actress who plays Em was 17 when the movie was filmed, and her two suitors were 24 and 31. Even the "I get you" relationship between Em and James involves a 7-year age gap.

This is proof of what I've been saying forever at this blog -- that people exaggerate how great the social or psychological chasm will be when there's a substantial age gap. It's so tiny that no one watching this movie will notice it. Give two people the chance to bond (by shooting the shit at work, having similar music tastes, etc.), and it's no big deal.

Note that not only is the age gap 7 years, but what a 7 years -- she's not even old enough to be in college, and he's old enough to have graduated and started establishing himself for several years. He could easily be her high school English teacher. During the recent wave of anti-age-gap hysteria, highlighted by the TV news show "To Catch a Predator," we've forgotten how natural an affair like this is. Whether or not you favor such a relationship developing, you can't argue that it's coercive, based on a power imbalance, or unnatural.

Go watch Adventureland and you'll see how sweet a teenage / mid-20s couple can be.

April 4, 2009

Time to retire to Spain

Since the Spanish housing bubble has burst and the economic forecast is the gloomiest in Europe, you can afford to live there for much less than I did at the height of the exuberance around 2003 to 2005. If for some perverse reason the Mediterranean climate isn't to your liking, you can live in the more woody, mountainous region in the northeast and still be only an hour away from Barcelona. Here is Montseny Natural Park from that part. Spain also has the second-greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, at 40 (just behind Italy's 43).

And having all of those cute Catalans around will make sure you'll never want for a conversation partner.

So, although the price of enjoying life is plummeting everywhere, as the hype implodes, the fundamentals of good living remain strong in Spain. In the meantime, there sure are worse places to be without money.

April 2, 2009

Question about indie rock dorks in the internet age

When I was 14 years old, my friends and I defended our favorite band like a farmer would try to fence off his land against raiding nomads. There was a tacit understanding that The Dead Milkmen was my band, Cibo Matto was another's band, and so on -- you could listen to them a little, but never really go steady with them, to mix metaphors. And you would never commit the faux pas of showing up to school wearing a t-shirt of Someone Else's Band.

Back then it was very easy to be the only one in your whole school or college who knew about your favorite obscure band. When we went to see Jad Fair at the 9:30 Club, the 30 other people there must have represented his entire East Coast fan base.

But after the internet became mainstream in the mid-1990s, that wasn't quite so simple. At first it posed no real threat to your indie ego -- "cool, I found a group of people who like writing messages about my favorite bands!" You'd never meet them in real life and be forced to compete face-to-face. (Although I did meet up with a bunch of internet-fans of They Might Be Giants somewhat regularly, mostly I-95 road trips toward Irving Plaza or the Mercury Lounge.)

Now things seem a lot different, with all of these websites like musicforants (I was pointed to this site a year ago -- may no longer be cool). They put up mp3s from bands that remain obscure for, roughly, 30 minutes -- until the other 10,000 dorks who follow the website click the play button too. Has the ubiquity of these sites changed the social dynamics of these people?

Now that people don't get out and socialize much anymore, especially music nerds, most of their interpersonal contact is gushing over the internet with their peers about the hot new bands on these websites. Of course, this just makes fatigue set in much faster than before --

Oh... you've heard of them too? Yeah, I guess I kinda got tired of that album after the third day. I'm so into ____ right now.

The basic model here is the co-evolution between a host species and a parasite species. The indie rock nerd sees himself as the host, and anyone else who likes his band is a parasite with no musical radar of their own. This drives him to abandon the band once he senses enough others are listening to them, and to find a new band. Now, though, the parasites can locate and exploit the host so quickly that the host ends up spending most of his time, energy, and resources trying to out-run the parasites -- a Red Queen scenario.

Is there anything to this? I matured beyond indie oneupsmanship when I was about 17 or 18 years old, so I don't have a really good feel for what the music dorks are like now. But from what I've read on the mp3 promoting sites, there's always some neurotic mess saying that he can't stay passionate about a band for longer than a week -- "after that, I'm so over them." Are they now locked into 18-hour days of indie drudgery, their only obsession being to unearth that one band that no one on the internet has heard of?

Buncha dopes. At least they won't have the time, or the social skills, to reproduce.

April 1, 2009

Aging gracefully

At the deli counter tonight there was a woman working there who was somewhere in her 40s or 50s -- hard to tell since she'd been in the sun too much, smoked too much, etc.

She clearly hadn't seen anyone worth pursuing in awhile, since she was staring wide-eyed and mouth agape nearly the whole time I was there. Asking my name -- IOI. Offering me a slice of meat that I didn't even ask for -- IOI. After I told her my name was a common one, she replied that, "Well, I sure won't forget that face" -- big-time IOI.

Could she be any more obvious? I thought mature women were supposed to have mastered their emotions, and yet here one is, just as boy-crazy as she was in tenth grade. And none of it was calculated, seductive, or trampy at all -- just the head-over-heels type of word-vomit you'd expect from a teenager or something.

It's like fathers who have given up hope of attracting any more women, and who settle for ogling their daughter's cute friends (hardly a bad consolation prize). Having dropped out of the game and settled down, she didn't reek of resentment, unlike her on-the-prowl age-mates who still think themselves "sexy and single." Well, one out of two correct is still pretty accurate.

On the car ride home, I thought about the unusual episode a little more -- maybe the pathetic Sex and the City women are only a minority, leaving most women entering middle age still capable of uncontrollable boy-craziness. Perhaps after leaving the hellish dating and mating market so long ago, their girliness has been restored much closer to baseline.

True, I'd have to find one who was a lot better looking than the woman tonight. But still, in the same way that old people become as cranky and stubborn as teenagers, might not middle-aged women come full circle after a long bitchy streak during their 30s?

So, perhaps I've been unduly harsh in my judgment of "women over 25" -- some of the over-40 ones might actually still be worth pursuing, as paradoxical as the logic seems. As I just mentioned, I'm more motivated by avoiding long-term regret -- you'll never know until you try.

So maybe this week I'll try something a little different and attempt to bait some more mature women into asking my name, not in a nightclub obviously -- god, I could never stand that again. But there must be plenty of bookstores, furniture stores, etc., where I could run some day game. Worst case scenario: one day wasted.