Consummate dilettantism!

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.