Consummate dilettantism!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homosexuality, Polygamy, Incest

There's a very interesting argument going on in the comments of this post. Here's what I say:
And what, pray tell, is so abhorrent about polygamy? Moral collapse indeed — whence do our morals come? From a religion whose founder married his niece?

This particular hypocrisy has always struck me as very revealing.
“that the generalized logical and philosophical arguments made on behalf of same sex couples would apply to same-blood couples and loving triples, quadruples, and quintuples.”

Conversely, the same arguments that you use to advocate keeping homosexual marriage illegal also apply to loving sterile couples. I suppose the legality of their marriage “undermines society’s endorsement of the nuclear family” too.

I think Wehner has a point, but I don’t think it’s an argument against legalizing gay marriage. The proper counterargument is that polygamy and marriage involving multiple partners should likewise be legalized. And why not? As Wehner correctly notes, both are very traditional, even Biblical. What objections can be made? Genetic inferiority will result? Why not screen for genetic diseases and prevent those with them from marrying, then? The question is the burden of the individual, not the state. The argument only works if you have some sort of emotional revulsion towards these expressions of love.
“The argument, made by Lincoln and others, is that polygamy is inconsistent with the notions of human equality that support humane, liberal, republican government, and is instead part and parcel of illiberal and inhumane regimes that see some people as unequal, commodities, and in need of being ruled by others.”

Religiously mandated polygamy indeed! (A man can, however, beat one wife or three.) But polygamy doesn’t have to be religious. A wife may have two husbands, a husband two wives. The argument is like comparing having a maid to having a slave. Of course they are similar, but the different is that there is no compulsion involved in the former. Polygamy does not imply coercion. (Correlation does not imply causation.) It has been associated with it for a long time, but that does not mean that polygamy is *only* compatible under a coercive system.

CK, you frame the argument entirely in utilitarian terms. But we don’t live in a utilitarian state, nor would, I think, most of us want to. If we did, then everything mostly harmful to us would be illegal. But many things that hurt and kill (alcohol, tobacco, firearms, fireworks, &c) are legal. There is no evidence that gay marriage is “bad,” and even if there were, this would still not constitute an American argument for banning it, especially when the right to be with someone one loves is of a much higher and more important order than the right to get drunk or amuse yourself with colorful fire.
CK, etymology does not restrict words. Polygamy could well evolve into something healthy -- we don't know. Jeffs-style polygamy is truly despicable, but so is OJ Simpson-style monogamy.

nocubsno, so long as we prevent coercion from occurring, I don't think polygamy is any more dangerous than ordinary marriage. Any man in this country who is presently willing to live in such a relationship is probably not the type who would abuse his wives (except in Utah, where polygamy occurs *despite* its illegality). And why should one relationship be any stronger than two simultaneous relationships? Or three? Who knows -- maybe three partners together create a loving relationship infinitely superior to a dyadic one. But the only way to determine this is by experiment, and we can't say that monogamy is superior to polygamy without seeing what the latter is like in non-religious contexts. There is nothing special about polygamy that creates violence and control. (I should add that your argument about the specialness of heterosexuality to children also applies to couples who adopt. If couples can simply adopt children, there's no point in getting married, right? Today, however, marriage is about love, not procreation. Adoption is, after all, perfectly legal.)

Also, legality does not constitute endorsement, as we see with tobacco. The legality of polygamy, homosexuality, and incest would send a message of freedom of consensual arrangement to our children; it would not imply that polygamy, homosexuality, and incest are moral inferiors or superiors to, or coequals with, heterosexuality. The government would have no say in the matter.

"The exclusivity of marriage is important for other reasons that go to the heart of the sort of individuality that is characteristic of liberal regimes. Exclusivity means that parents can recognize and put their individual stamp upon their children. Similarly, children are not the product of some sort of communitarian or communal relationship, in which their identity with their parents is blurred into a tribal or national affiliation. That is why totalitarian societies attack the family. "

I think this is a strong argument, but I'm not advocating communal raising of children, and I don't believe that polygamy necessitates it. Again, however, parents are free to raise their children on communes today. Polygamy and homosexuality would not add any more communalism to the mix.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chatting, Again

[22:28] M: hey
[22:28] A: hi
[22:28] M: hey
[22:28] M: wats up
[22:30] A: god, every time people say "wat" i think of this:
[22:30] M: lol
[22:31] M: i have seen that som many times
[22:32] A: yeah, it's the biggest meme in the world...but it's so funny. the "wat" is so understated, so brilliant, so genius!
[22:39] M: yes
[22:39] A: no punctuation, nothing; just pure, raw emotion
[22:39] A: i can see his face
[22:39] M: u can feel the anger the confusion the sadness
[22:39] A: yeah, exactly!
[22:40] M: they should make a movie out of it
[22:41] A: dude..that's genius
[22:41] A: "wat"
[22:41] A: i can see it now
[22:41] M: after that it just cuts to the credits
[22:42] A:'re a fucking genius
[22:44] M: just a lonely guy looking for love
[22:44] M: he turns to the internet and finds only heartbreak
[22:44] A: awesome!!!!
[22:44] A: cue sad music*
[22:45] M: yeh
[22:45] A: fuck yer
[22:45] M: flashes back 2 child traumas
[22:45] A: teehee
[22:46] M: lets get martin scorseze to direct it

Friday, December 19, 2008

How Does He Do It?

A commenter asks:
Wow 7 back , thats some serious dedication. Question, do you just let it happen, or do you use active attention? I have heard that keeping a mental image doesn't work well.
I have also heard it said that doing dual n-back intuitively is the best way to do it. But I can't imagine that it's possible to let your unconscious mind take over entirely. As I said here:
I'm finding the task too easy. (By "easy" I mean that I can and know how to do it, not that it comes effortlessly. In fact, it requires a lot of effort on my part.) At first it was ferociously difficult, but now I'm just memorizing sequences of letters and visualizing them on the grid. (I'm not repeating them aloud, but I am rehearsing the letters and their places in my mind during the interludes.) To jump from 6 to 7 required only a little more concentration, not a shift in thought. [...] I've read what everyone has had to say on doing the task "intuitively," but I can't imagine how one can do 7 n-back [sic -- should be dual 7-back] like this. Without intense concentration and memorization, is it even possible? Is anyone able to do, say, 6 or 7 n-back without really trying?
I don't think so. I am presently able to do dual 3-back with a bare minimum of effort, and I consistently score 100% while paying only a little attention. But I don't do it intuitively; my mind has simply become accustomed to doing the task, and so memorizing the a sequence of 3 has become incredibly easy for me. I "chunk" the sequence -- I compare the current 3 blocks with the 3 blocks in memory while simultaneously memorizing the current 3 blocks. Not attempting to memorize anything is, I think, unrealistic. (But I do sometimes find my fingers being correctly compelled to press "A" or "L" when my conscious mind isn't sure of the answer. I find this fascinating.) I don't, however, make a mental image; I really just visualize the position of the blocks and memorize the sequence of letters. Intuitively, I guess, my mind knows the order of the positions; either that or I memorize the "line" of position progression, which I think is an excellent technique.

Interestingly enough, I find dual 3-back easier than dual 2-back. I'm not really sure why -- perhaps it's because I'm not actually memorizing a sequence in dual 2-back, and so it's easier to lose track of whether the present is really the present or not. It's hard to explain. Has anyone noticed anything similar?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can't Do It [NSFW!]

Fuck you, internet!

I can't do it. I give up. Jesus Christ, dual n-back is boring and hard as fuck. Doing it for 20 minutes a day for the past few weeks has been utterly killer. I dread it more than anything in the world. But let me tell you something -- I've gotten up to dual 7-back the past few days. Let me repeat that: dual 7-back. Yeah, I thought it was impossible; it is assuredly not. Think dual 7-back is your grandma's game?

Think again, bitch.

Go ahead. Download the game and try it yourself. You'll probably fail at dual 2-back. But keep practicing and you'll get better.

As for that report I promised you on December 24th, well, it's not coming. [Yeah, fuck you too. -Ed.] I can't exercise like that, I just can't. Even dual n-back isn't sustainable.

But this is all in the spirit of experimentation, right? How do I feel? Has any of this worked? I can say that dual n-back has given me a boost of confidence (and possibly intelligence) -- I think mental math comes more easily, although this could of course be placebo. Whether it is or isn't, however, it's certainly welcome; if it is, then placebo is totally awesome and not to be underestimated. (You really do feel smarter when you do well in the game.) But fluid intelligence isn't necessary for any of my current classes; I'll be taking computer science next year, and may decide to take it up again then.

In the meantime, I'll be attempting to experiment on my own intelligence a little more with Rise of Nations and nootropics/assorted things. Will either work? Dunno -- check back right here in a month or two for results!

Now get me a Brompton cocktail or something. Goodnight!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I am 1337

During the month of December, white people face an especially difficult challenge. This is the year when parties and drinking are most appropriate, but the most obvious theme of Christmas must be avoided. This is because Christmas forces Christianity upon others, and though their ancestors had no problem with this activity, modern white people are quite disgusted by the idea. Hanukkah parties are fun, but a bit too exclusive, and a Kwanzaa Party requires an enormous amount of physical, mental, and ironic labor that can only be done by the most elite of white people.
Kwanzaa party at my place!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Maximize Browsing Space in Firefox

Your typical Firefox installation looks something like this:This is very poor space management. Look at all that unused space you have at the top! There are a full three bars taking away from what you want to see (the website, obviously). You might dismiss this as trivial, but over time, more scrolling will mean more time wasted (trust me, it's worth it, especially if you use your web browser a lot). I'm going to show you how to compress all of the information in those three toolbars into one, so that you'll have something that looks like this (click to enlarge):It's all in one more efficient and conservative toolbar. Here's how to do it:

1. Right-click on the file menu and hit "Customize."
2. Move all of the items on the navigation toolbar, including the search box and address bar, to the right of the file menu.
3. Place all of the bookmarks from the bookmarks toolbar to the right of the search bar.
4. Press "Done" and remove the text from your bookmarks by right-clicking on each, selecting "Properties," and deleting the text in the "Name" field.
5. Right-click on the file menu and uncheck "Navigation Toolbar" and "Bookmarks Toolbar."

Voila! Now you've got yourself a slimmer copy of Firefox! If you're really into maximizing space, you can install the excellent Littlefox theme, which is expressly designed to save space, but I prefer the default theme.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dual N-Back Induces Meditation

I never got much out of traditional meditation. I was never able to sit still for that long, not out of a physical inability, but out of a mental one, and I have trouble sleeping for the same reason. (I like to talk to myself to get rid of irrelevant thoughts or to maintain focus on but one, and I think I would quickly go quite insane without doing so.) But performing the dual n-back task repeatedly for about 25 minutes puts me in an incredible, trance-like state. My breathing slows to a crawl, and all irrelevant thoughts are entirely eliminated from my mind. My attention is sharply focused on the game and on the game alone. What's more, the effect is lasting; though I am presently finished with the task, I feel it now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

7-Hydroxymitragynine Versus Morphine

7-hydroxymitragynine is 13 times more potent than morphine, and yet is entirely unrelated structurally! Wow. Read the study here. It produced fewer withdrawal symptoms in mice than morphine did when intravenously administered daily and in increasingly large doses.

This is very impressive, and suggests that this molecule, a naturally occurring, psychoactive component of Mitragyna speciosa, may have significant medical potential. It is probably cheaper and easier to extract 7-hydroxymitragynine than morphine (considering the ridiculously low prices at which Kratom is being sold on the internet), which is certainly a good thing.

How to Tie a Bow Tie

1. Put the bow tie under your collar. Ensure that the two ends are of equal length.
2. Cross the ends. The right end should be on top.
3. Push the now-left end through the hole you've just created.
4. Pull it through, and once again ensure that the two ends are of equal length.
5. Fold the right end over itself. The loop should be pointing left.
6. Use your right hand to hold the loop in place while you use your left hand to place the left end over the loop and through the hole.
7. Gently pull the left loop through the hole. Be sure that you don't pull it too far, as it will come undone if you do.
8. Adjust as necessary. Tug at the ends and readjust to tighten.

Wear one and you assume the mantle of the nerdy, intelligent, socially awkward yet surprisingly cool student. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy; because you're treated that way, you begin to feel that way yourself. Use with caution.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ginger, Zingiber officinale

That's right, common ginger. It's not a psychoactive drug, but it's actually really neat. Used for thousands of years as an safe and healthy culinary spice and medicine, ginger has some very beneficial properties.

Ginger is said (and shown) to facilitate digestion and ward off nausea, so I got a fresh root. I often get motion sickness in cars and plans, especially while reading, so of course I wanted to start experimenting. On a plane, I began to feel nauseated, so I whipped out the ginger root that I had in my backpack and took a bite. Ah, what flavor! The pungency, the bitingly fresh taste! It was very tasty, actually; whether it did anything, I imagined, I could still enjoy this as a tasty and refreshingly revitalizing treat. But to my surprise it actually worked immediately and effectively; the nausea was gone forthwith. It could've been taste-induced placebo, but for the fact that the nausea was gone for too long.

Get some ginger! Now!

Pleasure: 2/5
Distortion: 1/5
Safety: 5/5
Price: 3/5
Usefulness: 5/5

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day 1 of MIG

(Scroll down for a grueling, free, self-devised, completely safe, scientifically valid training regimen called MIG [Multiphasic Intelligence Growth] that will probably increase your intelligence*. No, I'm not kidding. I put a lot of time into writing this post and doing the necessary research and fact-checking, and I do hope you at least read it.)

My interest in increasing intelligence was sparked by a recent, groundbreaking study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that purports to show that increasing fluid intelligence (Gf) is possible. (Fluid intelligence, or Gf, is a component of general intelligence (g) that is related to problem-solving ability and working memory.) The study is the first to show that training can actually improve fluid intelligence (Gf) as measured by a standard test entirely unrelated to the training test. (Individuals' scores on IQ tests have been raised with practice, but only by practicing IQ tests. This study suggests that fluid intelligence itself can actually be raised with a few, albeit extremely cognitively demanding, hours of training.) It suggests, remarkably, that unlike other intensive tasks the Dual N-Back game actually, well, makes you smarter -- this has never been conclusively demonstrated before. Of course, certain caveats apply, but in the words of Yale's Robert Sternberg, "[n]one of these criticisms detracts from the central importance of the results of Jaeggi et al.'s study. On the contrary, they suggest that their study should and probably will be the first in a long series instigated by this pioneering research." Indeed, his most incisive suggestions are addressed by several studies that demonstrate that working memory can be improved dramatically with training, and that this improvement is largely attributable to long-lasting brain changes. These other studies did not measure Gf; perhaps if they had, they would have found similar results.

I began canvassing the literature and seeking other well-established methods that also claim to raise intelligence. I have come to the conclusion that there are two others that when used in concern with the N-Back game will likely do so:

1. Aerobic exercise. One study shows that aerobic exercise improves the cognitive abilities of the elderly, while another suggests that it improves creative potential. A very nice summary of the research to date provides additional evidence that aerobic exercise is indeed causally linked to increases in intelligence. And a dissertation titled "The effect of aerobic exercise on fluid intelligence" may show the same; unfortunately, it is not accessible on the internet. Mens sana in corpore sano!

2. Diet. A veritable battery of studies proves that what you eat and drink can improve cognition. In the article linked to above, evidence is presented that certain foods can increase certain types of intelligence. Moderate consumption of alcohol and possibly marijuana may increase neurogenesis, or the generation of neurons, while fat and sugar intake is detrimental thereto. Chocolate, or more precisely epicatechin, has been "shown to improve spatial memory in mice, especially among those that exercised." A study published in Nature outlines the role of food in brain function. A summary in The Economist will tell you what you need to know: Antioxidants (found in berries), omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish), folic acid (found in high concentrations in spinach, orange juice, and marmite!) and vitamin E (found in green, leafy vegetables) all improve cognitive abilities to some extent. But there is little evidence that taking supplements of these as a healthy adult will increase intelligence; be sure, however, that you do not lack any in your diet.

Meditation initially looked promising, but many of the studies that find benefits, however, are somewhat esoteric. Additionally, almost all of the studies that do report positive results tend to do so over months and years. The most promising of all is one study, published in the journal Intelligence, that finds that "[transcendental meditation] practice produced significant effects on all variables [including IQ] compared to no-treatment controls." "Transcendental meditation," however, is a proprietary technique that costs about $2,500. It is somewhat controversial, and there may be serious problems with the research, which is usually conducted (as here) by members of TM-affiliated organizations and universities. It is also somewhat time consuming; to realize the apparent effect you must meditate anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes per day for up to a year.

This is the routine that I have developed and will follow for a month, after which time I will report on my subjective mental state:

1. I will complete 25 minutes' worth of n-back sessions per day for 4 or 5 days per week with a free, open-source n-back program that closely imitates the conditions of the original study.
2. I will perform a vigorous aerobic activity (jogging) for 30 minutes per day, as recommended by the United States federal government.
3. I will endeavor to reduce my consumption of saturated fats and sugars and to increase my consumption of vegetables and complex starches. This is facilitated by the abundance of such foods, which would ordinarily be more expensive to consume, in the dining halls of my university.

I will not be taking any intelligence tests either before or after, but will instead choose to "report on my subjective mental state." Obviously there is some danger of succumbing to placebo, but I have become quite adept at avoiding this trap.

Doubt I can follow it? Return to this blog in a month for my full report. I do not lie and I do not cheat, and when I pledge to the world my allegiance to MIG, I mean it.

*If followed properly, of course. Whether the increase will be permanent is another matter, but the evidences presented here suggest that it will be long-lasting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Caffeine Sucks

Perhaps I have an extremely high tolerance to caffeine, but I have not been able to realize any of its vaunted psychoactive effects. Four cups of coffee does nothing to me. Nothing.

A few days ago I drank two cups of coffee in the morning and two cups in the afternoon. I felt nothing. Today I drank three cups of coffee in ten minutes and likewise felt nothing beyond placebo (and an urge to urinate). It's a shame, too; the dining hall has a free adenosine antagonist, and I can't make use of it!

I should add that no energy drink, even when consumed very quickly, has ever sped me up.

Ah! Look at what I've found! Apparently, caffeine only "works" because of the alleviation of withdrawal symptoms. But regardless, the researchers do note that it is supposed to provide a "buzz" in new users.

Some people have reported that caffeine does not affect (or even depresses) those with ADHD. I don't think I have ADHD, but I may have less adenosine than most people.

Google Preferences

Why must Google save my preferences in a cookie and not my account? I do not want my results filtered, and I want 100 results displayed per page. I cannot tell you the frustration I feel when resetting my preferences for the 15,000th time because Google is too stupid to save them in my Google account. When I log onto my account from any computer in the world, my Google results should reflect my preferences.

Cookies are not stable, and it's time Google realized that.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sad Thai Life Insurance Commercials

Watch this commercial, this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one. This company must have some very good people -- these are the saddest, most touching videos I've seen on YouTube or anywhere else.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Should "internet" be Capitalized?

No. Pedantic schmucks will tell you otherwise, but the internet is mine. Got that? Mine. Proper noun my ass.

Wired, of all places, refuses to do so. Why? Let them explain:
Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the "I" in internet.

At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net.

Why? The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words. Actually, there never was.

True believers are fond of capitalizing words, whether they be marketers or political junkies or, in this case, techies. If It's Capitalized, It Must Be Important. In German, where all nouns are capitalized, it makes sense. It makes no sense in English. So until we become Die Wired Nachrichten, we'll just follow customary English-language usage. (Web will continue to be capitalized when part of the more official entity, World Wide Web.)

Still, the decision wasn't made lightly. Style changes are rarely capricious, since change plays havoc with the editor's sacred cow, consistency.

But in the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.

This should not be interpreted as some kind of symbolic demotion. Think of it more as a stylistic reality check.

Naturally, as part of a company name or organization -- the Internet Movie Database, for example -- the "I" remains capitalized. It also remains capped in headlines, where Wired News style decrees that all principal words are capitalized.

But now, by lowercasing internet, web and net, Wired News is simply giving the medium its proper due.
The internet is no longer a thing reserved for academics, scientists, and researchers; it is no longer something exclusive. The internet is like an apple, a chair, or a desk; everyone is familiar with the medium, and it has lost its status as a specialized research tool. It is no longer ARPAnet, and its ubiquity has eliminated its status as proper noun. The case for capitalization might have been stronger 30 years ago, when anyone using the word "Internet" would certainly have been referring to something very specialized and not widely known. But presently everyone uses the word "internet" to refer to something that is not well-defined in the minds of most; it is merely something with which people interact every day. It is not California -- California is a Reserved Thought. Its boundaries are strictly defined, and there is nothing else that claim to be California. Not so with the internet, which has usurped paper as the medium of communication. How can it be capitalized?

Of course one can be a pedant and point out that the internet now is fundamentally the same as the Internet then, but this ignores the crucial distinction in global thought that allows, nay, necessitates, writing "internet." It's the way of the future, man.

EDIT: Someone here has something very funny to say:
Of course Internet is capitalized. It's always capitalized on the Television, and in the Newspaper. People even say it with a capital letter when they're talking on the Radio or the Telephone. In fact, I've even seen it capitalized in Books and on Signs beside the Road.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Typealyzer will analyze a blog and come up with a psychological profile of its author(s). Here's what mine gets:
INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy [sic] attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.
They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.
It does seem to work; Mankiw gets a "scientist" rating, Gizmodo gets a "mechanic" rating, Wired gets a "doer" rating, Perez gets an "artist" rating, and Volokh gets a "thinker" rating.

But in my case, of course, it's completely inaccurate; I don't use a Mac. Via Mankiw.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Cult of the Food

I have always been renowned for the speed at which I eat. But I don't think I have a greater stomach or mouth capacity; I have simply acquired a set of techniques that enable me to eat much more quickly than a normal human being.

Of course, these steps should only be used if you want or have to eat quickly. They should not be used, obviously, if you're eating something like sharp tortilla chips or chicken wings (these situations are in fact quite different). I take no responsibility if you choke to death or otherwise kill or horribly injure yourself by stupidly assuming the role of Master Eater with no experience in these sacred ways. I will, however, vouch for their effectiveness; they do work. (Seriously, though, if you have little experience in eating very quickly you should not do what I tell you to do here!) But they can be addictive; once you have acquired the distilled wisdom of the ages presented herein, you may not be able to revert to the inefficient methods of the rabble. As Zen Buddhism is open only to the wise, so too is rapid eating open only to those of a philosophical mind and a jaw of steel. You should have a reason. These techniques are not for the faint of heart.

This is your chance to take the blue pill. Take the red pill and be led down a dark, spiraling hole of knowledge that may well lead to your expulsion from the Garden of Eden. That said, here are some techniques:

1. I do not use the knife to cut. Rather, I use the knife to hold the food still while I rip a chunk therefrom with my fork. This requires fewer steps and generally facilitates food consumption.

2. I do not drink while eating. This would seem counter-intuitive; it is not. Drinking requires swallowing one's food, putting down one's utensils, lifting the glass, drinking from the glass, and putting down the glass. Perhaps 10 seconds are wasted on this maneuver in a fast eater, and up to 30 in a slow one. I wait until the end of the meal to drink. If you need water to help you swallow, you need more practice.

3. The necessity of excessive chewing is much exaggerated. It is a myth that you need to expend 35 (!) wasteful cycles of jaw movement (otherwise known as chewing) before you swallow. I typically chew relatively solid food (pizza, ground meat) no more than 5 times before swallowing. If your goal is to eat more quickly, your food should not be pasty when you swallow! Eliminating excessive chewing will do more than anything else to improve the rate at which you eat.

4. I maintain an ungodly concentration on the food at hand (when I am not in the presence of others with whom I like to talk). Eating need not be a passive endeavor; utmost effort is required to consume food quickly.

5. When I am in a hurry, I will move more quickly. Usually, however, I do not. Eating quickly does not require moving quickly, but moving quickly does indeed improve one's eating speed.

6. Maintain full mouth capacity at all times! There is no need to give your mouth a break, just as there is no need to give your legs a break when you're walking, or your arms when you're writing (of course, in longer sessions there will be a need to do so, but these situations are quite rare). One's cheeks should be bulging at every second, and the shoveling of food into the mouth should be undertaken at a rate similar to that at which swallowing is performed. When you swallow, you should have a forkful of food waiting to enter your mouth.

Let's answer the question I had posed in the title of an earlier version of this article: What is the limiting factor of food consumption? It is mastication speed. Swallowing and insertion of food into the mouth can be done much faster than chewing can be. Essentially, ceteris paribus (and as you can see from the steps, this is not a given), how quickly one can chew determines how quickly one can eat. Mouth capacity, however, must not be overlooked. It is important to realize that unless the size of your mouth is not proportional to your the width of teeth, your chewing generally acts on whatever you have in your mouth at the time. In other words, you are wasting jaw cycles if your mouth is not at maximum capacity.

Here are the formulae:

Provided that M (mouth capacity) is directly proportional to some standard T (teeth width) (M∝T) and that the mouth is full, the maximum speed at which one can eat food under ideal conditions (see above) can be roughly modeled by:

(C (grams/second) - F (grams/second)) = E (grams/second)

C is mastication speed, F is food resistance (measured by the loss in mastication speed; if the food were so hot, sharp, acidic, or disgusting as to cause you to pause for a second for every gram you ate, F would have a value of 1), and E is eating speed. This formula only applies when C < W (swallowing speed). When C > W (very rare), the formula below should obviously be used:

(W (grams/second) - F (grams/second)) = E (grams/second)

As C and W are the limiting factors, they represent the base rates of these equations. Provided that they remain so, one can more accurately model eating speed as such:

(C or W) - F - Σ(Sx, x = 1, 6) = E

S is the array of techniques outlined above. When they are implemented perfectly, each has a value of 0, and the equation simply becomes (C or W) - F = E. But the techniques usually are not, and so each adds a little resistance to the base rate.


I could write more, but I'm kinda tired. Somnio, ergo sum!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa)

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a plant used traditionally in Thailand as a stimulating drug, opium substitute, and anti-diarrheal agent. Workers there chew the fresh leaves to induce what is described as a "numbing, stimulating effect." This contradiction makes the plant very interesting; at lower doses it reportedly stimulates, while at higher doses it creates a narcotic euphoria. It is one of the few drugs that is known to act in this way. It is legal in the vast majority of countries, including the United States (it has not, however, escaped the attention of the DEA).

Needless to say, I bought a little from the internet (it is cheap -- one can buy 30 grams for $10, and the active dose is about 5 grams, although this certainly varies) in powdered form, mixed it with water and drank it down. At first I consumed about 2.5 grams -- from the reports I had read, this was an effective dose. But I felt very little (not even the stimulatory effect), so I downed another 2.5 grams. At this point it will suffice to say that Kratom sludge is utterly abhorrent -- it is dark green and tastes like very bitter green tea. I was able to tolerate it at first, but I have since developed an intense aversion to its taste. It's essentially a Pavlovian reaction, but it's a particularly potent one because we're biologically wired to avoid emetic plants. I can barely smell it now without gagging. I cannot mask it with anything else, either; the taste of Kratom inevitably wraps its gruesome tentacles around whatever it touches. (One can purchase capsules, though.)

But I think I'm confident in saying that apart from alcohol, Kratom is probably the most pleasurable and consistent legal drug there is, and easily the most pleasurable legal plant in existence. For a few hours I felt very, very pleasant, warm, comfortable, and sedately calm. It was really quite incredible; the trip didn't feel "artificial" in the least. In fact, I was amazed by how much it resembled the description given to opium in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater:
First, then, it is not so much affirmed as taken for granted, by all who ever mention opium, formally or incidentally, that it does or can produce intoxication. Now, reader, assure yourself, meo periculo, that no quantity of opium ever did, or could, intoxicate. As to the tincture of opium (commonly called laudanum) that might certainly intoxicate, if a man could bear to take enough of it; but why? because it contains so much proof spirit, and not because it contains so much opium. But crude opium, I affirm peremptorily, is incapable of producing any state of body at all resembling that which is produced by alcohol; and not in degree only incapable, but even in kind; it is not in the quantity of its effects merely, but in the quality, that it differs altogether. The pleasure given by wine is always mounting, and tending to a crisis, after which it declines; that from opium, when once generated, is stationary for eight or ten hours: the first, to borrow a technical distinction from medicine, is a case of acute, the second of chronic, pleasure; the one is a flame, the other a steady and equable glow. But the main distinction lies in this, that whereas wine disorders the mental faculties, opium, on the contrary (if taken in a proper manner), introduces amongst them the most exquisite order, legislation, and harmony. Wine robs a man of his self-possession; opium greatly invigorates it. Wine unsettles and clouds the judgment, and gives a preternatural brightness, and a vivid exaltation to the contempts and the admirations, to the loves and the hatreds, of the drinker; opium, on the contrary, communicates serenity and equipoise to all the faculties, active or passive; and with respect to the temper and moral feelings in general, it gives simply that sort of vital warmth which is approved by the judgment, and which would probably always accompany a bodily constitution of primeval or antediluvian health. Thus, for instance, opium, like wine, gives an expansion to the heart and the benevolent affections; but then, with this remarkable difference, that in the sudden development of kindheartedness which accompanies inebriation, there is always more or less of a maudlin character which exposes it to the contempt of the bystander. Men shake hands, swear eternal friendship, and shed tears, -- no mortal knows why; and the sensual creature is clearly uppermost. But the expansion of the benigner feelings, incident to opium, is no febrile access, but a healthy restoration to that state which the mind would naturally recover upon the removal of any deep-seated irritation of pain that had disturbed and quarrelled with the impulses of a heard originally just and good. True it is, that even wine, up to a certain point, and with certain men, rather tends to exalt and to steady the intellect; I myself, who have never been a great wine-drinker, used to find that half-a-dozen glasses of wine advantageously affected the faculties, brightened and intensified the consciousness, and gave to the mind a feeling of being "ponderibus librata suis;" and certainly it is most absurdly said, in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety; and it is when they are drinking (as some old gentleman says in Athenæus), that men display themselves in their true complexion of character; which surely is not disguising themselves. But still, wine constantly leads a man to the brink of absurdity and extravagance; and, beyond a certain point, it is sure to volatilize and to disperse the intellectual energies; whereas opium always seems to compose what had been agitated, and to concentrate what had been distracted. In short, to sum up all in one word, a man who is inebriated, or tending to inebriation, is, and feels that he is, in a condition which calls up into supremacy the merely human, too often the brutal, part of his nature; but the opium-eater (I speak of him who is not suffering from any disease, or other remote effects of opium) feels that the diviner part of his nature is paramount; that is, the moral affections are in a state of cloudless serenity; and over all is the great light of the majestic intellect.
For the sake, therefore, of witnessing, upon as large a scale as possible, a spectacle with which my sympathy was so entire, I used often, on Saturday nights, after I had taken opium, to wander forth, without much regarding the direction or the distance, to all the markets, and other parts of London, to which the poor resort on a Saturday night, for laying out their wages. Many a family party, consisting of a man, his wife, and sometimes one or two of his children, have I listened to, as they stood consulting on their ways and means, or the strength of their exchequer, or the price of household articles. Gradually I became familiar with their wishes, their difficulties, and their opinions. Sometimes there might be heard murmurs of discontent; but far oftener expressions on the countenance, or uttered in words, of patience, hope, and tranquility. And, taken generally, I must say, that, in this point, at least, the poor are far more philosophic than the rich; that they show a more ready and cheerful submission to what they consider as irremediable evils, or irreparable losses. Whenever I saw occasion, or could do it without appearing to be intrusive, I joined their parties, and gave my opinion upon the matter in discussion, which, if not always judicious, was always received indulgently. If wages were a little higher, or expected to be so, or the quartern loaf a little lower, or it was reported that onions and butter were expected to fall, I was glad; yet, if the contrary were true, I drew from opium some means of consoling myself. For opium (like the bee, that extracts its materials indiscriminately from roses and from the soot of chimneys) can overrule all feelings into a compliance with the master key. Some of these rambles led me to great distances; for an opium-eater is too happy to observe the motion of time.
The author later and herein describes walking around, talking to people, and listening to music, all of which are precisely what Kratom makes you want to do. But the similarity is not entirely surprising, given that Kratom activates the same opioid receptors that opium does. None of its molecules, however, are opiates, hence its legality.

A few days later I consumed 5 grams of another (more potent) strain and felt only fairly mild effects. I had the two different strains at the same time of day, at the same initial mood, on an empty stomach, and with water. This is not attributable to tolerance, as I later consumed more of the initial, pleasing strain and replicated the high. The former does indeed have a higher concentration of mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine (the active components), but through conversations with Kratom suppliers I have learned that Kratom is very unlike alcohol in that there is no "standard dose." This is not to say that Kratom does not work; unlike some other very disappointing legal drugs, Kratom actually does work and does so consistently. Most people are able to realize its effects, but perhaps not from the same material. Different strains have different blends of alkaloids. But the cheapest strain (from Bali) worked for me and generally works for most people -- the extracts seem to have different rates of success.

Another interesting property of Kratom is the "warmth" it bestows on its user. As I said, I feel warm and surprisingly comfortable on the drug; ironically, however, I seem to consistently shiver and chatter when outside on a cold day while using it. Kratom is indeed a painkiller, and it does numb: One is notably less receptive to physical pain and to temperature changes. I was able to venture outside on a particularly cold and windy day without wearing a hood. This is fairly unremarkable by itself, but I didn't feel any need to wear one -- I felt fine.

Kratom would presumably work well as a meditative aid. It is very safe, and is addictive only if used daily (which is very easy to do when you're surrounded by Kratom trees). Although mitragynine is a μ-opioid agonist, it is not an opiate, and its molecule structure does not remotely resemble that of opiates. It thus does not produce the powerful addiction that often accompanies opiate use. (I can, of course, testify to this personally.)

I have occasionally felt mild nausea on Kratom, as is reported by many others. The nausea is not insurmountable, and it generally fades if no rapid movement is done. (Beware: Riding a bus or driving a car while one is on Kratom can indeed induce nausea.)

My recommendation? This drug is definitely worth a try. It is a drug of peace. It does not push its user towards violence or intoxicate the mind, as alcohol does. Tolerance may develop; one should consume Kratom only once every two weeks. I would not purchase more than a test amount. Remarkably, the drug may also interrupt opiate addiction in some. With the risks firmly in mind, get it here.

Pleasure: 4/5
Distortion: 2/5
Safety: 4/5
Price: 4/5
Usefulness: 3/5

Infinite Access

One of the best things about college is that it gives you free access to the entire corpus of scientific literature. For someone like me, who's been using the internet for independent, fun research for a long time, being able to access all private literature on a topic in addition to the available public literature is tremendously enlightening. (Sometimes you even realize that the scientists know little more than the public.)

Video Games Are Good For You

From the ever-compelling Gladwell:
Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page. . . .
Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . . .
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. . . . This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they're powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it's a submissive one.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Love Lockdown!

The music video for Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" is one of the coolest I've seen in a while. The song isn't bad either.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Floor Tile Avoidance

Wow. I didn't realize that other people actually did this:

Floor-tile avoiders unite! Someone should organize a convention...

Chinese Teacher Quotes

My Chinese class is excellent. My teacher is an old Chinese man from Beijing who's very funny, sometimes unintentionally so. Here are some of his sage sayings:

"In the land of adverbs, 也 comes first."

"In tea houses, people mostly drink tea and listen to Chinese music."

"Any questions here?"


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How to Get Revenge

Sign the target up for spam. If you're in a particularly nasty mood, try this. (Warning: NSFW!) You will wreak havoc.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Marijuana Tea House?

Via Flickr:The characters are "麻葉茶館", which means "Hemp leaf tea house."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Synsepalum dulcificum, the Miracle Fruit

(I am hereby introducing a new category of posts about my experiences with various substances, this being one of them. I will review the substance in question, rate it in several categories, and provide links to websites from which it may be purchased.)

First discovered by Europeans in West Africa in 1725, Synsepalum dulcificum was witnessed being used by natives whose meals were often intolerably bitter. Miracle fruit is not a drug, but it is quite expensive; 10 concentrated tablets will set you back $20. It's completely legal, and in fact was once approved in the U.S. as a sugar substitute (until being nixed under curious and perhaps conspiratorial circumstances). But what does this marvelous fruit actually do? It's very interesting, really; it messes with your taste receptors. Its active component is a molecule called miraculin, which is a glycoprotein with a few carbohydrate chains -- it binds to the taste buds and makes acids taste sweet. It doesn't affect the central nervous system at all, and it's completely legal.

And I'm not making this up.

Of course, you're looking for an experience; what is this stuff like? Does it work? I coated my tongue with a tablet by sucking on it for about a minute; it tasted a little like an apricot. I went downstairs and began trying the foods I had assembled for this purpose. At this point I was highly skeptical; I felt no different and my tongue felt no different. But I very hesitantly (as though not wanting to find that I'd wasted my money) tilted the container of grapefruit juice (the campus juice is normally sour) to my mouth and took a sip. The grapefruit juice tasted like fruit punch! There was not a hint of sourness; I could easily have consumed an entire lemon on this stuff. Unfortunately, my collection of foods was inadequate for my exquisitely tuned palette; neither the chocolate nor the pretzels nor the sweet candies tasted remotely different. (The sour candies were very sweet, obviously, but unenjoyable.) Lemonade was sweet, and alcohol tasted no different. The experience lasted for a few hours.

My verdict? This certainly has potential, but it's not worth the price unless you have a niche usage -- perhaps you really dislike like sour foods, perhaps you know a chef who can supply you with foods prepared specifically for this purpose, or perhaps you're dieting. It doesn't affect the flavor of non-acidic foods, so its utility is really quite limited. To truly enjoy it, you should really be at a tasting party, which would of course obviate the need for purchasing it in bulk for oneself. But it goes without saying that miraculin is extremely safe; it does not affect the chemistry of the brain, and it doesn't affect your food, either. It merely temporarily rewires the palette. Remember, however, that there is a reason acid tastes sour; one is not meant to consume that much. Downing a bottle of concentrated lemon juice might sound fun, but it'll give you ulcers.

Anyway, get it here.

Pleasure: 2/5
Distortion: 2/5
Safety: 5/5
Price: 2/5
Usefulness: 3/5

What Was This Election About?

Ben Shapiro lets us have it:
This election was about one thing and one thing only: Americans’ puerile need for unity through self-congratulatory, cathartic membership in a broad, transformative political movement.


Barack Obama was the vessel for that movement. He was an utter cipher. But he embodied the need of the American public for unity by hearkening back to the ultimate unifying feature of American life: third-grade slogans. He spouted Hope and Change. He told us, “We’re All Americans.” He told us, “Yes, We Can.”

From any other politician, it would be ridiculous drivel. From a black candidate, it was inspiring. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn’t talk like that -- they spoke the language of division. Because Obama spoke the language of unity, he had to be a moderate. So went our logic.

Barack Obama had us from the moment he said, “Hope.” In that moment, Obama accomplished two simultaneous transformations. First, he transformed himself into a moderate. Second, he transformed himself into a messianic figure, the object of our longing: the physical embodiment of America’s progression beyond racial conflict. If America wanted to move beyond conflict, what better way than to embrace a candidate who could end all racial conflict?

And the Obama campaign subtly played on this theme. They implied that if we voted against him, we were engaging in racial hatred; some supporters even implied America would undergo a race war if he lost. That’s the last thing we wanted.

We wanted to feel good again. That is what the Great Election of 2008 was about. It was about Americans’ desire to feel a part of Something Larger. To do something together, as Americans. In today’s day and age, that Something Larger cannot be the America Ronald Reagan preached about -- the left has attacked that America as racist, sexist, and selfish. That Something Larger had to be an individual who could provide us with the feeling of unity.

Barack Obama told us that we could do Something Larger simply by voting for him. When he said, “Yes We Can,” and we followed by screaming it, chanting it, shouting his name in unison, we were Doing Something Larger. We were uniting.

America has always recognized that unity for its own sake is useless at best and dangerous at worst. Unifying behind a mysterious charismatic figure promising transformational change may make us feel good, but it is a betrayal of the open and honest governmental debate our Founding Fathers sought and so many Americans have fought and died to preserve.

Americans think they grew up during Election 2008. They think they moved beyond the past. In one way they did. In another, more important way, they regressed dramatically -- to a time before politics mattered. In the next four years, there will be plenty of growing up to do.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Pietro Poggi-Corradini, via Boudreaux:
The People order, spur, nudge, encourage, politicians to go out and play with the market. The Politicians do. They fiddle, tweak, castrate, pick wings off, etc….and eventually things go terribly wrong. A catastrophe ensues. The People get very angry. They shout and tell the Politicians to fix the mess. "It's your job to fix this!". The Politicians in turn, like three-year olds charged to put grandmas set of crystal glasses back into the cupboard, go busily about their business, hauling over-sized delicate objects above their heads, struggling to hang on to several heavy and mis-shaped precious items. This is the world we live in.
Why did Obama win? It's fairly unsurprising, really. There was no "strong, 21st century" campaigning, or the assumption of the "reform mantle." The reality is much simpler: Voters do not seem to realize that the president does not run the economy. They vote as though he does.

Where Were You When Obama Gave His Grant Park Speech?

I'll be able to say, in 50 years, that I spent the night playing video games.

And I'll say it with pride.

Angels cry out! The clarion call to worship our Lord, our One and Only! Here in corporeal form, our manifest King! !שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד I am nothing, I am a man — before you alone do I kneel, O God! O Captain! My Captain! O God! My God!

All it takes is one man to fulfill the most lurid fantasies of salvation through government.

Obama will win tonight. I don't want to have anything to do with the man or his policies. I shall proceed with life as though nothing has happened. I don't need Obama to delight me, to render me senseless, to bring me to lofty heights — I am who I am. Let him tickle someone else.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What Am I?

I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover,
Yet within I bear a burning marrow.
I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,
Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.
But you will find in me no quality of any worth,
Unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow.

I'm pepper!

Why Is a Ship "She"?

Because the rigging costs more than the hull!

Seriously, though, nobody really seems to know. Someone on Yahoo! Answers suggests:
Well, Great Britain in Medieval times was known as the Mistress of the seas. Shipping was very important. Especially during the reign of Queen Elisabeth I. So ships were taken as living beings and in Queen's honor as female.
But the Navy says otherwise:
It has always been customary to personify certain inanimate objects and attribute to them characteristics peculiar to living creatures. Thus, things without life are often spoken of as having a sex. Some objects are regarded as masculine. The sun, winter, and death are often personified in this way. Others are regarded as feminine, especially those things that are dear to us. The earth as mother Earth is regarded as the common maternal parent of all life. In languages that use gender for common nouns, boats, ships, and other vehicles almost invariably use a feminine form. Likewise, early seafarers spoke of their ships in the feminine gender for the close dependence they had on their ships for life and sustenance.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Disable the Incredibly Annoying "Do You Want to Run This File?" Prompt

Here's how:
Run gpedit.msc

Go to User Configuration >> Administrative Templates >> Windows Components >> Attachment Manager

Add "*.exe" to the "Inclusion list for moderate risk file types" setting.
Bless this anonymous internet user's heart.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the consumer versions of Windows Vista do not have gpedit.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Article's Up!

"In defense of the U.S. News rankings" runs in today's Maroon. See it here.

It's. Called. Google.

It's really funny how people ask me for things that could be had after literally 5 seconds on Google. This happens all the time. It's as though they don't know it exists. Seriously, people. Google is your friend.

People are really extraordinarily lazy. But in this case, their asking me probably takes longer than looking for it themselves. Not everyone's really that good with Google, anyway; I guess a master like me just attracts needy disciples.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hong Kong Spam?

I have never received something like this from Asia (nor any continent except Africa, for that matter):
Complement of the day,

Please be patient and read my email to you, thank you for giving me your time.

I am a staff of Standard Chartered Bank attached in Private Banking services. I am contacting you concerning a customer and, an investment placed under our banks management 4 years ago, I contacted you independently of our investigation and no one is informed of this communication and I would like to intimate you with certain facts that I believe would be of interest to you.

In 2004, the subject matter; ref:SSCB/SCB/bank/77 came to our bank to engage in business discussion with our Private Banking Service Department. He informed us that he had a financial portfolio of 23 million United States Dollars, which he wished to have us turn over on his behalf. I was the officer assigned to his case; I made numerous suggestions in line with my duties as the de-facto chief operations officer of the Private Banking Service Department, especially given the volume of funds he wished to put into our bank. We meet on numerous occasions prior to any investments being placed. I encouraged him to consider various growth funds with prime ratings.

The favored route in my advice to customers is to start by assessing data on 600 traditional stocks and bond managers and alternative investments. Based on my advice, we spun the money around various opportunities and made attractive margins for our first month of operation, the accrued profit and interest stood at this point at over 10 million United States Dollars, this margin was not the full potential of the fund but he desired low risk guaranteed returns on investments. In mid 2005, he asked that the money be liquidated because he needed to make an urgent investment requiring cash payments in Europe.

He directed that I liquidate the funds and had it deposited with a firm in Europe. I informed him that our bank would have to make special arrangements to have this done and in order not to circumvent due process, the bank would have to make a 9.5 % deduction from the funds to cater for banking and statutory charges. He complained about the charges but later came around when I explained to him the complexities of the task he was asking of us. Cash movement across borders has become especially strict since the incidents of 9/11.

I contacted my affiliate in Europe and had the funds available in main land Europe. I undertook all the processes and made sure I followed his precise instructions to the letter and had the funds deposited in a security consultancy firm, the firm is a specialist private firm that accepts deposits from high net worth individuals and blue chip corporations that handle valuable products or undertake transactions that need immediate access to cash.

This small and highly private organization is familiar especially to the highly placed and well-connected organizations. In line with instructions, the money was deposited. He told me he wanted the money there in anticipation of his arrival from Norway later that week. This was the last communication we had, this transpired around 25th February 2006. In June last year, we got a call from the security firm informing us of the inactivity of that particular portfolio.

This was an astounding position as far as I was concerned, given the fact that I managed the private banking sector I was the only one who knew about the deposit, and I could not understand why he had not come forward to claim his deposit. I made futile efforts to locate him I immediately passed the task of locating him to the internal investigations department of our bank. Four days later, information started to trickle in and I we were inform by the USA homeland security, that he is dead. A person who suited his description was declared dead of a heart attack in Cannes, South of France.

The bank immediately launched an investigation into possible surviving next of kin to alert about the situation and also to come forward to claim his estate. If you are familiar with private banking affairs, those who patronize our services usually prefer anonymity, but also some levels of detachment from conventional processes. In his bio-data form, he listed no next of kin. In the field of private banking, opening an account with us means no one will know of its existence, accounts are rarely held under a name; depositors use numbers and codes to make the accounts anonymous. This bank also gives the choice to depositors of having their mail sent to them or held at the bank itself, ensuring that there are no traces of the account and as I said, rarely do they nominate next of kin. Private banking clients apart from not nominating next of kin also usually in most cases leave wills in our care, in this case; he died in testate.

What I wish to relate to you will smack of unethical practice but I want you to understand something. It is only an outsider to the banking world who finds the internal politics of the banking world aberrational. The world of private banking especially is fraught with huge rewards for those who occupy certain offices and oversee certain portfolios. You should have begun by now to put together the general direction of what I propose. There is US$ 23,000,000.00 deposited, I alone have the deposit details and they will release the deposit to no one unless I instruct them to do so.

I alone know of the existence of this deposit for as far as the finance firm, the transaction with our deceased customer concluded when I sent the funds to the firm, all outstanding interactions in relation to the file are just customer services and due process. The finance firm has no single idea of what's the history or nature of the deposit. They are simply awaiting instructions to release the deposit to any party that comes forward. This is the situation. This bank has spent great amounts of money trying to track this man's family; they have investigated for months and have found no family. The investigation has come to an end.

My proposal;

I am prepared to place you in a position to instruct the finance firm to release the deposit to you as the closest surviving relation. Upon receipt of the deposit, I am prepared to share the money with you in half and no more. That is: I will simply nominate you as the next of kin and have them release the deposit to you. We share the proceeds 50/50. I would have gone ahead to ask the funds be released to me, but that would have drawn a straight line to me and my involvement in claiming the deposit.

But on the other hand, you as a foreigner and also with all the necessary legal and official documentations from me and the presiding attorney and also with the authority vested upon me by the original depositor, you would easily pass as the beneficiary with the rights to claim. I assure you that I could have the deposit released to you in a few days. I will simply inform our bank of the final closing of the file relating to the customer. I will then officially communicate with the finance company and instruct them to release the deposit to you.

With these two things: all is done. The alternative would be for us to have the firm direct the funds to another bank with you as account holder. This way there will be no need for you to think of receiving the money from the firm. We can fine-tune this based on our interactions. I am aware of the consequences of this proposal. I ask that if you find no interest in this project that you should discard this mail. I ask that you do not be vindictive or destructive. If my offer is of no appeal to you, delete this message and forget I ever contacted you. Do not destroy my career because you do not approve of my proposal. You may not know this but people like me who have made tidy sums out of comparable situations run the whole private banking sector.

I am not a criminal and what I do; I do not find against good conscience, this may be hard for you to understand, but the dynamics of my industry dictates that I make this move. Such opportunities only come once in a lifetime. I cannot let this chance pass me by I hope you understand because for once I found myself in total control and face to face with my destiny. These chances won't pass me by. I ask that you do not destroy my chance, if you will not work with me let me know and let me move on with my life but do not destroy me.

I am a married woman with 2 kids and this is an opportunity to provide them with new opportunities. There is a reward for this project and it is a task well worth undertaking. I have evaluated the risks and the only risk I have here is from you refusing to work with me and alerting my bank. I am the only one who knows of this situation, good fortune has blessed you with a name that has planted you into the center of relevance in my life. Let's share the blessing.

If you find yourself able to work with me, contact me through this email account or If you give me positive signals, I will initiate this process towards a conclusion Please observe this instruction religiously. Please note again, I am a happily married with two kids. I send you this mail not without a measure of fear as to what the consequences might be, but I know within me that nothing ventured is nothing gained and that success and riches never come easy or on a platter of gold. This is the one truth I have learned from my private banking clients. Do not betray my confidence. If we can be of one accord, we should plan a meeting, soon.

I await your response.


Wan Yonghong
It is really remarkably creative. Kudos!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pilsen + Fuck the Hood

We went to Pilsen today. Pilsen is a Latino neighborhood in Chicago. I decided to go there because everyone was going downtown, and as I had already been there on several occasions, I thought that Pilsen would be a more unique choice. As it turns out, it was a very, very good choice.

We (I and few friends) went to a good Mexican restaurant and thence a bakery, wherein we enjoyed some very tasty pastries. Spotting this utterly phantasmagoric street art, we went and took pictures. At this point it should be noted that Pilsen isn't a touristy place; it's a bit ghetto, especially as you progress farther from the train station. At a lovely, decorated square between a church and a school, we happened to see a group of men filming what appeared to be a music video. We stopped and stared for a while, until one of them, who seemed to speak Spanish and French and English fluently, came over and began talking with us. He was an interesting and somewhat philosophical man, and invited us to follow the group. We did, and in doing so of course ventured into the poorer and less flashy part of Pilsen. (What made the situation odder was the presence of a strange, well-dressed man who followed and talked with us. His sudden disappearance was, or seemed, suspect.) But when we caught up to the group, we were actually invited to participate in the video! We immediately consented (how often do such opportunities arise?), and participated in a few takes with these very friendly hip-hop artists. We held up our middle fingers to the camera and, grim-faced, mouthed "fuck the hood," the name of the song being filmed. It's a good song (albeit obviously profane) with a good message. Listen to it here. It was, to say the least, a tremendously enlightening experience. That there is such beauty, culture, and warmth (we were happily greeted by random strangers) to be found in the "ghetto" is not something of which many people are cognizant. I only now realize just how stifling and sterile a suburb can be. Safer, of course, but in safety lies a removal of some of that which makes life worth living. One must move beyond one's comfort zone to experience cool, unadulterated shit.

I will inform you when the video is completed!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

Why the Recycling to Which You Are Accustomed May Not Be Recycling at All

The premise on which "recycling" is based is a simple one, and to all appearances eminently sensible. In a world whose resources are limited, man must attempt to reuse what he has used or run the risk of overusing what he has. That is, used paper must be refashioned into recycled paper, used plastic into plastic, used aluminum into aluminum, &c. But often people fail to check their assumptions when recycling: There is something of a cultist aspect in the entire endeavor.

The key words here are "renewability" and "sustainability." A product is to be judged by its performance in these categories. But what is often omitted is the plain fact that "renewing" something isn't effortless. As with any process, energy is required; one cannot simply turn used plastic into new plastic without an expenditure thereof. And herein lies the fatal error: A recycling of physical items simply obscures the energy cost inherent in the process of creation (or re-creation). It is easy to see the costs of creating new paper: The cutting down of trees, the clearing of land, &c. But the cost of renewing paper is just shifted: The energy used in renewing the paper is non-renewable, and, depending upon the method of energy acquisition, the costs are just as obvious. Indeed, in most cases, it is more energy-intensive to recycle old items than to find new ones. There are, of course, some exceptions (aluminum is the most notable), but this holds true for most things. Recycling is often not only not economically feasible but also inefficient and even environmentally destructive.

This, by the way, is the same fallacy that accompanies the mythologizing of hybrid cars: To borrow a phrase from the noted Milton Friedman, there is no free lunch. It may be the case that the production of electricity for battery-operated cars is easier on the environment than gasoline production and emission, but one must recognize that hybrid cars, unless their electric energy is derived from fully renewable sources, are not "emission-free."

But perhaps this energy expenditure is worth it. After all, maybe it is better to use more energy in the short run to preserve our natural resources. Perhaps the derivation of energy used in recycling taxes the environment less, perhaps the supply of the material from which the energy is derived is in abundant supply (and thus less worthy of conservation), or perhaps the source of energy used in recycling is renewable. One cannot hide the fact there is only a limited supply of plastic and paper. Won't we run out of trees or plastic? In most cases this "problem" is much exaggerated. Sometimes the non-renewable source is only partially non-renewable or even renewable: Paper comes from trees, which, although limited in number, are living organisms that can multiply and reproduce. They hook into, in the wisdom of The Lion King, the circle of life, the primeval cycle of renewable. But most often, as the brilliant economist Julian Simon theorized, there are substitutes for the resources which we think are utterly critical to our survival. Although whale blubber was once the method of choice for light, this is no longer the case, and whale blubber is no longer sought. Many, many resources are fast becoming irrelevant. How foolish would environmentalists in a paperless future sound when proclaiming the destruction of trees for paper! The notion of "peak oil," too, is bunk: As the price of oil increases, incentives will abound to either find more or to use something else. In the words of Donald Bordeaux, we will never run out of oil, not because there is an unlimited supply, but because demand will always change to meet supply. Indeed, on this counting, recycling may even be counterproductive, affording us the unaffordable luxury of sticking to primitive resources like plastic and paper when we could be searching for newer, better technologies.

There is no limit to human ingenuity. The human mind, not government, not God, not Gaia, has created out of nothing the vast wealth of the developed world. Why have material conditions improved as they have? Whence has come this astonishing increase in wealth? The ultimate resource, again borrowing from Simon, is the mind. What is truly infinite is the output of ideas, whose momentum is ever-increasing and whose power is monumentally tangible. It is not what we have but how we use what we have that matters.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Blog Update!

Doesn't it look nicer? Check it out. It has more meta-content and is a little more readable.

Raising a Family Is *Not* the Most Difficult Job in the World

This Pelosi comment really infuriated me, so I ranted.

But as challenging as it is, nothing is as challenging as raising a family -- nothing.
The fact that well over half of American citizens attempt to do just that somehow renders her statement less than plausible. The difficulty of being a parent is often grossly exaggerated -- nothing is more challenging than raising a family? Really? Not developing nuclear weapons, not running a country, not reading ancient Sanskrit literature? Why, then, are there so many people employed in the former and not the latter?

Before you say that she's merely employing a bit of hyperbole, or that she's cynically grasping at the mommy vote, consider that one hears this from many, many people about their chosen professions (especially unionized professions). It's common to hear police and firefighters and soldiers talk about the ludicrous difficulty of their jobs and how they deserve more respect than anyone else. What is so grating is how any challenge is immediately confronted with "You don't know what I do everyday," or even "You couldn't even begin to imagine the difficulty of my job." These statements effectively bludgeon people into submission: Who would deny that police, firefighters, soldiers, and mothers all play important roles in our society? (For they do: These jobs are critical, the very foundations of modern life.) These are such big constituencies that no one ever does, and so nonsense like this goes unchecked. Most people could make at least a decent stab at raising a family; very, very few could comprehend the nature of our universe as Einstein could.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jews, Genetics, and History

Who are the Jews? It is a simple question. It is less simple to answer properly. I will attempt to do so now.

The Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) records the history of a pre-Jewish tribe of Semitic nomads (by Semitic I mean, very roughly, "Middle-Eastern") generally referred to as the Hebrews. (It is important to remember that racially, these Hebrews were not European -- they had more in common with contemporary Palestinians and the Lebanese. According to the Bible, their ancestor was Abraham, who compelled by God left the ancient city of Ur in Iraq for Canaan.) It contains 24 books. The first five, whose original stories are probably older than history and whose basic text first began to be written down around 1000 BC, are extremely ancient. Religious Jews, unlike Christians, believe these 24 books to be not only divinely inspired but also divinely authored. To them, every single letter was spoken to Moses by God Himself on Mount Sinai, and every single letter has survived to this day. This position is patently false according to modern scholarship. It is also belied by a simple reading of the text itself, which differs stylistically from book to book and which itself hardly suggests Mosaic authorship! Indeed, it greatly undermines it at Deuteronomy 34.5, requiring an absurdly contortionistic effort by the Rabbis to deny the obvious. It is generally agreed that the full text of the Old Testament was compiled by 200 AD.

I will not discuss the Biblical stories now (I do recommend reading them if you are not familiar), but it will suffice to say that this nomadic tribe (traditionally, fresh from enslavement in Egypt) conquered Canaan/Palestine (what we now know as Israel), an area possibly including parts of present-day Lebanon. Infighting (described more or less accurately by the other 19 books of the Bible) among member tribes of the Kingdom of Israel was common, and by 700 BC the Assyrians had carved out a nice chunk of northern Israel. The Southern Kingdom (whose capital was Jerusalem) survived until it was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BC. A massive population transfer ensued, and the Jews did not return to Israel until 539 BC, after Persia had conquered Babylon. Thereafter, the Bible became the central Jewish document and biblical prophecy began to wane. The Macedonians under Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire in 331, effectively gaining control over Israel. Their attempt to "Hellenize" the Jews lead to the Maccabean revolt in 168 BC (commemorated by the modern Jewish holiday of Hanukkah). Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 63 BC (who called the area "Iudaea"), but the Jews rebelled ceaselessly. Nevertheless, the Roman/Byzantine empire held onto the region until 640 AD (!), at which time the Arabs captured the region. It changed (mostly Muslim) hands many times over the ensuing centuries, until it was captured by the British in 1917 and became an independent state in 1948.

But it is important to remember that under Roman (Pagan or Christian) and Muslim rule many Jews found the region inhospitable (Judaism was often banned) and left for other places. For almost two millennia, Rabbinic Judaism outside of Israel remained firmly in vogue; in place of temple sacrifices well-codified prayers were offered, and European Jewish schooling centralized into the institution known as the shul. Astoundingly voluminous commentaries on the Bible and commentaries on those commentaries and, remarkably, commentaries on those commentaries were written. A very rich and distinct Ashkenazic Jewish culture came into its own, producing an awesome lineage (whose members include such secular figures as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, Milton Friedman, and Leon Trotsky).

(To impress upon you the uniqueness of the culture, consider this passage from a New Republic article written by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker:
The appearance of an advantage in average intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews is easier to establish than its causes. Jews are remarkably over-represented in benchmarks of brainpower. Though never exceeding 3 percent of the American population, Jews account for 37 percent of the winners of the U.S. National Medal of Science, 25 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in literature, 40 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in science and economics, and so on. On the world stage, we find that 54 percent of the world chess champions have had one or two Jewish parents.

Does this mean that Jews are a nation of meinsteins? It does not. Their average IQ has been measured at 108 to 115, one-half to one standard deviation above the mean. But statisticians have long known that a moderate difference in the means of two distributions translates into a large difference at the tails. In the simplest case, if we have two groups of the same size, and the average of Group A exceeds the average of Group B by fifteen IQ points (one standard deviation), then among people with an IQ of 115 or higher the As will outnumber the Bs by a ratio of three to one, but among people with an IQ of 160 or higher the As will outnumber the Bs by a ratio of forty-two to one. Even if Group A was a fraction of the size of Group B to begin with, it would contribute a substantial proportion of the people who had the highest scores.
Why is this the case? That is beyond the purview of this post, but the article explores the issue.)

There are two lines of Jewish descent in what is known as the Jewish diaspora: The Sephardi line and the Ashkenazi line. "Sephardi" refers to those Jews who remained in the Middle East (or in areas under the control of the Muslim caliphate) -- it covers, among others, Spanish, North African, Persian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian Jews. "Ashkenazi" refers to European Jews. Racially, they are somewhat similar to gentile European populations. (And yet quite distinct -- see below.)

But the obvious question remains: How do Ashkenazi Jews today look almost indistinguishably Caucasian, remain genetically distinct, and yet derive from the Middle East? It's an immensely complex question, but what prompted this post was an interesting article about precisely that by Commentary's Hillel Halkkin. See this as well.

I should also note that Jews are not necessarily Israeli and that they do not necessarily have any connection whatever with the modern state of Israel or its culture. To give but one example, my father's family hails from Lithuania and Hungary, and my mother's, ultimately, from Poland and Russia. (But I cannot establish this with certainty, as my family has been in America for quite a long time.) I have utterly no cultural ties to modern Eastern Europe; I have never visited and probably never will. When people suggest that I am Israeli because I am Jewish, I cringe -- I have never been to Israel, let alone the Middle East. I am Jewish and American, and in spirit only Jewish and American.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

In Defense of the U.S. News & World Rankings

It is now received wisdom that the U.S. News & World Report college rankings are at best meaningless and at worst deliberately manipulative. No more accurate than astrological predictions, these rankings can never hope to compete with the learned judgments of counselors or friends. This may be so, but can't anything be said in their defense? Is the standard narrative really true? I doubt it.

You see, to better examine the question, you've got to look at what the magazine actually uses to rank schools. (You didn't think it threw darts, did you?) According to its website, the factors used are peer assessment (25%), retention (20%), faculty resources (20%), student selectivity (15%), financial resources (10%), graduation rate performance (5%), and alumni giving rate (5%). These certainly give the lie to the claim that the rankings are "arbitrary" -- each is, at the very least, somewhat tangential to the difficult-to-define "academic quality." And, although the weights are slightly subjective, they seem reasonable -- any other weighting would be just as subjective. Indeed, the magazine does not claim that the weights are not (i.e., objective) -- it itself states that each "reflects [its] judgment about how much a measure matters." Tweaking may produce a different ranking, but the factors as assembled do not create entirely meaningless results.

It is also often claimed that because the relative positions of the schools change from year to year, the system has no reliability. How can the University of Chicago be worse than Duke and then, quite suddenly, not? But, in fact, their changing implies precisely the opposite: The system is working. If a list of schools in order of quality were to remain constant for years, there would be grounds for suspicion. As matters stand, however, that the academic quality of schools is constantly in flux is no cause for alarm. That the University of Chicago was placed below Duke in one year and matched with it the next is no caprice: It merely reflects how U.S. News & World perceives academic quality. The change is admittedly barely perceptible, but it is there.

But what of the charge that there are certain factors that are immeasurable? What of Chicago's reputed intellectualism? How can anyone possibly pin that down? I think the answer is that in many cases these "immeasurable" factors are exaggerated. No offense to the school, but I don't think that Chicago's students are significantly more inquisitive, intelligent, and intellectual than, say, Columbia's or Harvard's. Perhaps in some ways, but not in others. Chicago's pool of students may be a little more unique, but I would guess that most Chicago students would not be unwilling to attend Columbia or Harvard. The importance of individual tastes is not to be discounted, but you must remember that students, the men and women who give a school its character, who share the same brackets are similar.

Are there legitimate criticisms to be made? Of course. There are serious concerns that "peer assessment" has devolved into a prestige-fest and is far too subjective. Some colleges (notably Sarah Lawrence and Reed) have even refused to play ball. But I think that the methodology remains valid on a macro-level -- i.e., colleges within a certain bracket (5, 10 slots in size) can together be fairly judged against other brackets but not against each other.

Can U.S. News & World ever replace visiting colleges, speaking with current and former students, and feel? It patently cannot: Choosing one's college is an immensely personal experience. Nor, however, does U.S. News & World claim that it can:
Of course, many factors other than those we measure will figure in your decision, including the feel of campus life, activities, sports, academic offerings, location, cost, and availability of financial aid. But if you combine the information in this book with college visits, interviews, and your own intuition, our rankings can be a powerful tool in your quest for college.
The purpose of the U.S. News & World rankings is to give rationally ignorant parents (hopefully not students!) who do not have the time to study colleges a reasonable list of high-quality schools to investigate. They should be used as a starting point, like Wikipedia -- not as a research paper.

Consider: If your local community college (whose academics, according to U.S. News & World Report, were lousy) happened to feel inherently great, would you prefer it to the University of Chicago? Would you attend? Before you dismiss the rankings as meaningless, ask yourself how many colleges not on the list you applied to (that you would seriously consider attending for the next four years). Did you investigate the academic prowess of every single college in the United States? How comes it that included on the list are almost all the schools to which a Chicago student would likely apply? I suspect that there is a real correlation between presence and placement on the list and academic quality, however indiscernible.