Gone herdin'

Yesterday, I left my home for a trip to Mongolia.  I'm going with a health care NGO called Nomadicare, which works to extend the health care available to nomadic herders in culturally relevant and sustainable ways.  My plan is stay with the Dukha reindeer herders in northern Khovsgol province through the winter, living part-time in their winter camp and part-time in the nearby village of Tsagaannuur, where there is a rural hospital in which I can do some volunteer work.

Posting will most definitely be sporadic if it occurs at all over the next 8 months to year.

The time before plastics

The Long Now foundation has posted a talk about the past and future of plastic.

Most "Paleo dieters" and "CrossFitters" are also attracted to machismo, physicality, modern minimalist design... the best example is the interest in Thor's daughter.  The Scandinavian nations epitomize the type of Bauhaus-n-health-fascism typical of the Paleosphere.

Despite being of Scandinavian extraction myself, I don't appreciate Scandinavia.

One of my biggest difficulties is that my compulsions are insensible to most people.  Although I am attracted to Paleo, I am more of a Chap enthusiast type than a typical CrossFitter.  Anyone who thinks tweed and anachronism is incompatible with the type of "science-y-ness" and physical exertion promoted by Paleo-CrossFit hasn't heard of, for example, Simon Fraser and Bill Millin (who later became a nurse).

One of the great attractions of Paleo is its implicit rejection of modernity.  Although some people might object to this interpretation as a type of ideological "Paleo re-enactment," once one starts questioning many of the bases of the modern aesthetic, such as processed foods and sitting in front of the TV, the turn toward antiquity begins, I think, unless it is derailed by compromise.  As Melissa McEwen has said, after immersing oneself in the Paleo diet debates, one becomes not so much interested in food as in our origins and in the past itself.

Since becoming more interested in Paleo, I've become more attracted to the outdoors and physical activity.  I've also gotten rid of all electronics except my laptop and an electric piano that I can't afford to replace with a baby grand. I pretty much just wear wool and leather and metal now with the occasional bit of cotton.  Plastics are verboten in my world to the extent I can manage.

Susan Freinkel's talk on LongNow is available as an MP3: click on downloads:
Bakelite was invented in 1907 to replace the beetle excretion called shellac (“It took 16,000 beetles six months to make a pound of shellac.”), and was first used to insulate electrical wiring. Soon there were sturdy Bakelite radios, telephones, ashtrays, and a thousand other things. The technology democratized consumption, because mass production made former luxury items cheap and attractive. The 1920s and ‘30s were a golden age of plastic innovation, with companies like Dow Chemical, DuPont, and I. G. Farben creating hundreds of new varieties of plastic for thrilled consumers. Cellophane became a cult. Nylons became a cult. A plastics trade show in 1946 had 87,000 members of the public lining up to view the wonders. New fabrics came along—Orlon and Dacron—as colorful as the deluge of plastic toys—Barbie, the Frisbee, Hula hoops, and Silly Putty.

"NorCal" gin & tonic

Summer has arrived, and with it the desire for outdoors parties.  Is there a healthier alternative to summer's classic drink, the gin & tonic ?

Paleo dieters will no doubt be familiar with the "NorCal margarita," designed to reduce the amount of damage caused by sugar, acid, and cheap tequila that one would get with a regular margarita.  The NorCal substitutes lime and club soda for Cointreau and margarita mix.

The NorCal margarita is a fine drink, but personally, as an Anglophile and gin-o-holic, I prefer to drink the time-honored G&T during the summer.  Gin is a great alcohol, and tonic water and lime slice go perfectly with this booze.  While there are actually a variety of cocktails one can make with gin, only the dirty martini (gin, vermouth, olive brine, olives to garnish) rivals the G&T for enjoyment. But the martini is an autumn and winter drink.

Problem is, tonic water is basically like mixing soda-pop with your gin (in fact, if you're not trying to cut out HFCS, try Pepsi and Beefeater's sometime--a combo that surprisingly works well at the level of Cap'n'n'Coke--yes there should be two "'n"s in that name--bet you never thought of that before, huh?).  So what is a Paleo-conscious gin drinker to do?

The solution is simple and was suggested to me by Hendrick's gin, which encourages a G&T with a cucumber in it.

G&T with cucumber garnish doesn't solve the problem, but why stop at garnish?  Simply make cucumber the mixer, too.  Easy to do with R.W. Knudsen sparkling essence of cucumber.  Just substitute RWK cucumber essence for tonic water.  I tried Hendrick's gin with RWK's sparkling cucumber essence, and it's great.

Although I don't live in Northern California and have never visited Robb Wolf's gym, I'm dubbing this the "NorCal gin & tonic".  You need to find the right balance of gin and cucumber essence for yourself, but you can start off with maybe a 1 part gin, 3 parts cucumber essence ratio and go from there.
  1. 1 part Hendrick's gin
  2. 3 parts R.W. Knudsen sparkling essence of cucumber
  3. cucumber garnish if desired (seems superfluous to me)

The pedant will complain that this NorCal G&T doesn't actually have any tonic in it.  Well, that's true, and if you are set on the sugary stuff, you could try mixing the RWK sparkling cucumber essence with a little Q tonic, or similar artisanal, low-sugar variety.  But I have to say that, while I was expecting the NorCal G&T to be lacking in sweetness, I didn't actually miss the tonic water.  The cucumber essence is bright, fresh, and summery, and that's the quintessence of the classic G&T, too.  Also, if you keep your gin:essence ratio on the high side, the gin alcohols have some natural sweetness.

The biggest drawback to this recipe is that it requires the precise ingredients described.  If you can't find RWK cucumber essence and don't use Amazon, you could try marinating cucumber in Hendrick's or simply adding it to the drink and using seltzer, but I doubt this will turn out as well.

Also, be warned, I tried this recipe with Tanqueray #10 gin, and it didn't really work.  The Hendrick's has a special affinity for cucumber, it seems.

Finally, note that R.W. Knudsen also makes sparkling essence of mint, which suggests the possibility of a NorCal mint julep, although I haven't tried that.

Placebo, extra strength

An Etsy artist/entrepreneur has started selling "Placebo".  If he were smart, though, he would have actually TradeMarked something, like Mindafa or Brainorphine.  It's a clever idea, even though it's only a joke.

h/t BoingBoing

Off the grid

Eric Valli has a very interesting collection of photo stories, including High Himalayas, Jungle Nomads, Children of the Dust... Shown below is an image from Off the Grid, about people who live disconnected from modern society.  Is this Paleo re-enactment or something else altogether?

The Nurture Assumption review

On this Mother's Day, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to The Nurture Assumption, a book by science writer Judith Rich Harris about the mistaken notion that parents have much influence on their children's outcomes in life, at least in the field of personality development.

I got the idea to review this book on this day by going to church with my mother.  Predictably, the homily/sermon focused on "what your spiritual legacy will be," with special emphasis and examples from the legacy of mothers.  Mothers were doing this and ruining their children but then improved themselves and everything was okay.  Or mothers did that and saved their children from a future of emotional and financial destitution.

It's tempting to believe these anecdotes.  Everyone seems to be able to see evidence of them with their own eyes.  As Harris states in the very title of the book, our culture's default assumption is that nurture is somehow responsible for children's outcomes.  But as Harris takes pains to point out, a lot of science is about examining our assumptions and observations in the light of testing and evidence.  And her message is that, when the evidence is examined critically, there isn't much support for the notion that mothers, or fathers, have much influence on their children's personality development.

Readers of this blog who are Paleo dieters will no doubt be familiar with Dr. Kurt Harris (no relation to the author) and his emphasis on ranking different sciences' validity in constructing dietary advice.  Epidemiology is a relatively weak way to find things out about the human body compared with studies in physiology and biochemistry.  When you, essentially, take surveys instead of doing interventional studies, you open yourself to all sorts of confounding problems creeping into your results.  Science journalist Gary Taubes points out much the same thing in Good Calories, Bad Calories.

The point of The Nurture Assumption is much the same.  Harris was an author of textbooks in developmental psychology, but after years of writing textbooks, she had started noticing problems with the research she was citing in her books.  The upshot is that, if you throw out all but the gold-standard studies in developmental psychology, it appears that most of the influence on children's development is genetic.  And the rest is not attributable to parenting styles.  She suggests, then, the non-genetic remainder is attributable to another influence--peer groups.

Her theory rests on several contentions about the brain and the course of development.  For example, she says that, contrary to the assumption that children's brains are trying to figure out how to be successful adults, they are in fact trying to figure out how to be successful children.  She also contends that it is an important part of development for the brain to be able to identify the group to which it belongs and its status within that group.  Both these characteristics make it much more likely that children identify with and look to their peer groups for their ultimate personality development rather than to their parents, who are adults and not part of their group.

Harris examines what's wrong with studies that suggest nurturing is important, reviews the evidence from more robust studies (like those of twins raised apart) but also shows how her ideas are consistent with what we know of our paleo ancestors and other hunter-gatherer groups today.

The biggest obstacle to people assessing her theories fairly is the very strong and persistent tendency people have to confuse, mix-up, or ignore correlation and causation.  The recent hullabaloo over the Mother's Day TIME magazine cover article provides a perfect example:

I was riding in the car the other day when there was a talk radio show on about attachment parenting.  The interviewer asked who attachment parenting appealed to, and the interviewee answered that many of those doing attachment parenting were people who were very concerned that their children grow up into empathetic adults.

So, let's say that these empathy-valuing parents choose attachment parenting and raise some empathetic children.  What does that prove about attachment parenting?  Absolutely nothing.  It is just as likely--actually, I suspect more likely--that empathy-valuing parents pass on empathy-valuing genes to their children.  Mixing up the effects of genetics and parenting styles would be textbook human observational error, and so in the context of the research and analysis Harris presents, I am strongly inclined to favor her theory of genes + peer influence.

good read for HCPs

I wouldn't say this book blew my mind, but I did have one of those "everything makes a lot more sense now" moments.  This is definitely a book that health care professionals should read.  In addition to specific errors the health care system has made in the past, like blaming mothers for autism, the health care system has a general stance of advice-giving to the population at large that is probably largely irrelevant when it comes to the field of pediatrics.  I'm not talking about physical disease here, but child-rearing advice.  Even if you, as an HCP, are unconvinced by The Nurture Assumption's case, it worth knowing about Harris' theory and talking a more skeptical attitude to whatever child-rearing theories you do hold.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo isn't really a great day for eating paleo.  Probably a better day for cheating.  To me, cheating isn't really a big issue in paleo since I've lost my taste for many sugared things, grainy things, starchy things, etc.  However, I do love Mexican food.  It's the only time I have any interest in corn products, for example.  Corn tortilla chips with salsa are outstanding.  And margaritas are one of the best drinks ever.  But it's always instructive to re-visit the NorCal Margarita, which I think is a great hack.

Here's the recipe: 

  1. 2–3 shots of 100% agave tequila. 
  2. Juice and pulp from one lime. 
  3. Shake it all up with some ice. 
  4. Add soda water to taste. 

I personally will be having a traditional margarita with freezer-cooled 1800 Reposado and Cointreau, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and no salt or ice. Delicious. Feliz Cinco de Mayo.

Paleo for Geeks

There is a new book out called Fitness for Geeks, which advises intermittent fasting, resistance exercise, sleep, and meat, fruits and veggies.  In other words, a Paleo plan.

Now there is also a weight loss website for geeks and a crowd-sourced book.

(For a real Geek weight-loss book, however, check out Sayonara, Mr. Fatty!.)

Toothpaste for Dinner, recently

It's inconsistent (although daily, too), but occasionally Toothpaste for Dinner has some hilarious cartoons:


Bookmarks, random

Well, the Blogger platform has gone over to some new format and wants me to switch to Chrome.  So far, I would say that the new format sucks.  It's difficult to look at.

Anyhow, here are some things I'm cleaning out of my bookmarks today:

Addiction for Nurses review

Addiction for Nurses seems to me a very good overview of the current (published 2010) trends in thinking about addiction in the health care field. The author is from the UK, so some of the comments he makes about professional opportunities for nurses in the field of addiction don't apply, but his foreign status also gives his writing a wider perspective.

Specifically, he addresses the theory of "harm reduction," which apparently tends to get short shrift in the US. If you work in public health, you may be familiar with this interventional modality, but as a student who went from school right into critical care, I don't ever remember hearing the term before this book. Harm reduction is a recognition that quitting addictive substances is extremely hard, and that it may be more productive to get users to change behavior related to their addictions rather than stop. In alcoholics, this might entail designated driver campaigns, while in IV drug users, it might entail needle exchanges. Simple ideas that have been tried in teh US before, but the presentation of a paradigmatic interventional strategy puts these programs in a different light and suggests others.

The book is not only about harm reduction, however. It also has chapters that can be used like a workbook to challenge the reader's assumptions about addiction and addicts. And it presents information on professional matters as well as outlining current interventional strategies for a variety of substances and summarizing the research on the effectiveness of these strategies. I had never heard of Motivational Interviewing or Brief Interventions before, either, but both are shown to work with equal or greater effectiveness compared to 12-step programs.

This is a great book for nurses to read, I think. Much of it is available as a preview at GoogleBooks.

Drunken Comportment review

In this book originally published in, I believe, the 1970s and re-issued in 2003, the authors take issue with what was then and still seems to be the widely held assumption that the behavioral effects of alcohol are due to disinhibiting of alcohol on the brain. In place of that model, they propose that behavior when drunk is learned and socially conditioned. Much of the book contains examples from around the world of cultures in which the behavior of people when drunk does not conform to our expectations of drunkenness. The book concludes with an examination of Native American alcohol abuse tries to put that in a cultural-historical context as against the widely held notion that "Indians can't hold their liquor."

While there is definitely some truth in the book, it is not a thorough success. Their cultural examinations are both interesting and informative. To give an example that does not appear in the book, the Japanese now or in the recent past had a habit of going drinking with their boss after work. During these drinking bouts, people were allowed to say things to one another that would not be acceptable in a state of sobriety. This is what the authors call a "time-out," and is the purpose they say alcohol serves in most cultures. This part of the book is very believable. There is no doubt that alcohol can serve as a "time-out."

However, the authors are also transparently at the task of blaming the conditions of Native American alcohol use on Europeans and European culture. If NA are universally violent while drunk, it is because they learned that this is how drunk people act from being around fur traders, frontier soldiers, etc. This is a thin argument. As the authors themselves point out, the violence perpetrated by drunk NA was simply perpetrated by sober NA before the introduction of alcohol by Europeans. So, what Europeans introduced was social restraint with "time-out"s for violence, a net improvement I think most people would say over constant violence.

Another problem the authors don't really address is the fact that most the alcohol "time-out"s they site from South American, Asia, and Africa are connected with cultural rituals, whereas NA would simply drink and get violent when alcohol was available. This poses two problems for the authors. First, if alcohol and rituals are connected in "time-out," is there is a reason to believe that "time-out" occurs when not connected to ritual. The experience of modern bar-goers will demonstrate that people all act very differently when drunk, and also differently when drinking alone as opposed to in groups. Is it possible that some people simply are disinhibited? Second, if there is no ritual reason for drinking, and drinking results in murders and other violence, the question arises why people would seek out alcohol.

Also, the book essentially addresses only the problem of binge or group drinking. The loner dependant who buys up his family's food and education money in booze does not fit into this model.

However, the general point that there are at least some cultural learning effects on drunken behavior is no doubt true. And that point has definite suggestions as far as public health and policy are concerned. I don't know what happened to this theory of alcohol abuse in the decades since 1980 or the years since 2003, but I think it is a good book for nurses to read. Especially those who live ethnically diverse communities where they may be dealing with alcoholics from very different cultures.

Derbyshire: somebody set us up da bomb

As I was writing about Derb's The Talk, someone I know (let's call her "Hair Red") was escorting a school class in Florida.

I try to avoid talking about politics with her, but, when she returned, we talked on the phone and she told me about some local yokels, who were making rude comments about her class, who were the same age as Trayvon Martin.

This circumstance was compelling because Derb's advice in The Talk's bullet point (10a-e) applied to the situation my friend was in as well as the situation of the local yokels. I like and generally agree with Derb, but who did I agree with here--Derb vs Hair Red?

Well, frankly, Hair Red. I agree with Derb that, statistically speaking, your chances of being in danger at any given event are greater, but, without compelling data, I can't say I would feel threatened by being at a public event like a sports competition while a group of black highschool kids were there. Even if they were rowdy. Even if they were very rowdy. I might feel annoyed if they were very rowdy, but I wouldn't feel threatened.

I'm comfortable, morally and in terms of social niceties, with my instincts. I wouldn't feel safe in a poor, heavily black neighborhood in a major metropolitan area, especially at night, but I also wouldn't attend a soccer game in England for wanting to avoid soccer hooligans. (When I was visiting England years ago, I was actually trapped with some drunk soccer hooligans post-game in a train car. They yelled, sang, and argued. They eye'd me. I, a foreigner, was alone. I wouldn't repeat that experience.)

Now, if you're the same type as Barro, you probably think this is a no-brainer... of course, you can't feel threatened by any group of black youths... that would be, ipso facto, racist.

This post is about how that attitude, through its sheer stupidity and the exasperation of dealing with its ubiquity, can lead otherwise well-intentioned people into mental errors.

Dewey: you have no chance to survive make your time. Ha ha ha ha....

If you're like most Americans, you think Barro's no-brainer is not only morally correct but also sensible, because you've been raised in an educational establishment dominated by educators who are in compliance with the dominant state ideology.

It's difficult to describe to someone who's inside this cave how to get out. I can say only that for me it happened by reading about animal liberation. Once you start to engage seriously with the idea that people really are intelligent animals rather than a special class of beings outside nature, it can start to change your view of society. Maybe the walls start to melt, maybe the heavens rend, or maybe--as I think happened with Derb--you start seeing lots of data points. This is my fantasy about Derbyshire: when he sees a news story like "couple stomps elderly man to death amid domestic dispute," he sees something like this:

Imagine for a moment that you're in the jungle and surrounded by a bunch of apes. You don't quite know the rules in the jungle. You can sense that something is wrong, but you don't know if you're trespassing or what, and, mostly, you don't know if or when you're going to get set upon by this troupe of your cousins, who could take advantage of you at any time. This is essentially what Wall Street is like for me and most Americans. I don't quite have a good enough understanding of finance to keep my finances safe around those investment apes. But in fact all cities and all of human society are only larger versions of the same thing--concrete jungles full of apes.

Editor: I left off writing this post at this point, and now I don't remember all of what I was going to write.  But I do remember it was on the theme "All your beliefs are belong to us".  Hence the post title. I think the analogy of modern life being like concrete jungles where you have to constantly be aware of when you are out of your element is a good and analogy, so I'll just leave it here and post as is...

Happy Paleo Easter

Seven-hour lamb. Fell off bone. Delicious.

Happy Easter

Someone e-mailed me this graphic. I don't know where it came from, but I note that the Easter bunny would be hiding his eggs in grains, legumes, and non-food items if he were hopping around the subsidized garden...

Derbyshire's The Talk and hypocrisy

I tried to tune in to RadioDerb today, but the regular Friday broadcast from Buckley Towers in the heart of Manhattan was silent. On investigating, I discovered that Derb has drawn some attention to himself with the publication of an essay known as "The Talk," about advice people could give to children, and which many people find offensive for its racial content. Forbes magazine called for him to be fired from National Review, and NR editors are Tweeting their disapproval/disavowal.

Derbyshire: gives The Talk "in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen"

The Atlantic magazine claims Derbyshire hasn't been fired from National Review previously because he is useful for drawing in money from racist donors. I can say that I've attended an NR "fundraiser" in the form of an NR cruise, and I find The Atlantic's position laughable. Not just wrong, but laughable.

NR does not appeal to backwoods rednecks for funding. Derb is a math geek, sort of nerdy and... not a schmoozer. Even less does NR appeal to those who'd be interested in donating to VDARE or similar publications where Derb geekery would be appreciated.

The talk among NR staff and potential donors on an NR cruise sounds very much like any other people from the urban upper middle classes, with paeans to diversity included. NR editors are just modern American urbanites with slightly different views on deficits and taxes from those on the left. Derb says this outright in his book We Are Doomed, pointing out that, despite its image, National Review is full of atheists who are completely at ease in the East Coast urban cultural milieu.

As far as race goes, the class of people to which NR editors belong are mostly hypocrits. As one federal government employee likes to point out, the type of upper middle class white person who works and lives in Boston, NYC, Philly, etc actually acts as though they believe what's in The Talk despite what they tell each other or themselves. When I moved to Crystal City to work in Washington, DC, I was told by a Democrat who graduated from the hyperliberal "Kremlin on the Crum" not to take a certain exit ramp while driving into our fair capital or I wouldn't make it out of the neighborhood alive.

Commenting on The Talk at TakiMag, "clairesolt" writes:
I do think some of the advice should be race neutral. when people asked me about living in DC being scary, I always replied that you stay away from bad neighborhoods everywhere. btw, there are very good black neighborhoods in DC.
This is more typical that the advice I got. "clairesolt" lives her life knowing that it is too dangerous for her in certain black neighborhoods. But she makes qualifying statements in order to avoid any cognitive dissonance. "clairesolt"s term "race neutral" doesn't mean without noticing race, it means without talking about race.

The year I was in Washington, there were people who simply wouldn't go into the city on certain days if there were demonstrations. This is essentially the same attitude as Derbyshire's bullet point number 10, which Gawker calls a "hideous monstrosity." Most people in DC probably assume there are important differences between their views of crime risks and Derb's, but there aren't. The difference is only in what type of social signaling you want to send.

If you doubt the hypocrisy, consider what is arguably The Talk's most cynical advice, that whites should cultivate black friends. Now take a look at Stuff White People Like #14. Derb's advice is internalized widely enough that it could be incorporated into self-effacing humor four years ago. Just make sure you don't talk about this stuff any more seriously than SWPL.

why did Derb write The Talk at this time?

The Talk is a response to the Talk black parents are recently reported to have with their boys. Commenters are suggesting that Derb's essay is a parody and a complaint similar to people who are complaining about the bias in the original Martin & Zimmerman photos. I think it's obvious there's some sort of reaction here, but also a serious opinion. Derb's essay has a quality that says he isn't just making the hypothetical case "what if a white person said what this black person just said."

The Atlantic goes to lengths to demonstrate that Derb has a history of racist statements that have been ignored by NR's editors, but de-contextualized quotations notwithstanding, The Atlantic article was apparently written by someone who is not familiar with Derbyshire's writings. Derb is actually a measured and careful thinker--a math geek as I said--who is entirely unsentimental but concerned about the potential impact of counterfactual beliefs about such an inflammatory issue as race. The Atlantic fails to note, for example, Derb's recent warning that current denial of social science data could result in a divisive racist backlash among the upper middle class elites.

Derb's views are more nuanced than his critics can allow. Gawker's title "Most Racist Article Possible" sets the tone for the criticism. Importantly, all of The Talk's bullet points address either questions either of probability or of the vagaries of living in a society where one's career can be destroyed for accusations of incorrect thought. What's interesting is that I haven't even seen yet a critic who has bothered to say that Derb's advice is, statistically speaking (because that's how the Derb rolls), not more likely to keep you safe and successful.

As I pointed out recently, Derb has cancer. I don't know his prognosis, but he's recently been revisiting his childhood, writing about his dead mom, thinking about the end of western civilization, and ruminating/fantasizing Buchanan's ouster from MSNBC. He recently started a RadioDerb broadcast with the line

"this is my last contract with NRO"

and ended one with an Irish song that concludes

"Ah, but I'm sick now, my days are numbered so come all ye young men and lay me down."

In short, sick or not, he's in a morbid and fatalistic mood.

On the recent NR cruise I took, Derbyshire was on a panel discussion on pessimism in conservatism. He re-stated some of the points from We Are Doomed, but he didn't bother to engage any of the "optimistic" panelists. It felt like he had been over the points before with the others present and wasn't interested in arguing anymore. My guess is that Derb works on the assumption that he's going to be the target of a putsch at some point.

And my guess is that The Talk is doing just what Derbyshire would like it to do. If you want to understand, read Derb's comments at CPAC and on the coming end of multiculturalism. His view is that it's only a matter of time before science trumphs the dogmatic denial of science, and that the sooner we can deal with political questions rationally, the better we'll be at avoiding the social, political, and economic disintegration of the nation. The Talk is opportunistic, but it isn't a screed. It's an intentional attempt to get people to engage with the problems Derb sees coming on the horizon by piggybacking on some current popular news.

update 20:00 April 7:

Somehow, this post became the #7 Google search result for "Derbyshire The Talk":

Also, Rich Lowry of National Review announces that Derb has been booted, as I suspect he expected. (Download the last episode of RadioDerb soon, before it's gone!) I, for one, will probably let my NR subscription lapse soon. Not out of retaliation, but because there's not much point. The main reason to read the magazine in recent years has been the columnists, of which Florence King and John Derbyshire were two of the best, and both are finished now.

I understand this editorial decision on NR's part. There really wasn't any other choice. It's a shame, though, because now Derb's voice is going to be relegated to publications like TakiMag, which is provocative, but also frequently wrong and embarassing. Lowry is right that Derb's association with NR gave a mainstream veneer to Derb's writing. Derb deserves to have a mainstream veneer as his lack of dogmatism and interest in science and research in fields both related and unrelated to politics were a welcome addition to the intellectual smorgasbord of the conservative movement. Only Razib Khan fills a similar role (and aren't we all waiting for him to weigh in, too?).

Derbyshire will probably be hurt personally in all this, too. I can't say I agree with all his points in The Talk, either. Much of the essay is simply impolite, but I can't agree with his approach to personal relations, such as manipulative friendships or ignoring those in obvious distress. And his comment about vetting politicians probably had as much to do with being burned by his recent early endorsement of Hermann Cain as anything, and was I suspect a mistake that he doesn't entirely believe himself.

Anyhow, I guess that's all done with now.

Better Angels review, part deux

I previously wrote a lengthy review of Better Angels of Nature. The following is another, shorter piece I wrote to submit to TakiMag, and I was reminded of it by reading Foseti's recent (and late) post. Although I usually enjoy Foseti's posts, I think his take on this book was weak, quite weak. In fact, as I mentioned in my longer piece, reviews of this book seemed to be dominated by people who either (1) didn't read enough or read carefully enough and (2) people who got bogged down in the minutiae of war statistics. The first is a problem because many reviewers made criticisms that Pinker addressed in the text if the reviewer had bothered to make a close reading. (For an example of a good reviewer on this score, see Steve Sailer, who mentions in his review that as he was reading, Pinker kept addressing issues Sailer had noted earlier in the book--this was my experience, too.) The second is a problem because (a) the statistics about war were vetted by other scientists and by previous presentations of this material long before the book was ever published, and (b) Pinker admits that his prediction of a decline in violent war is only a guess and he might very well be wrong, and (c) it doesn't address the core of the book's argument, which the relationship between historical forces and neuroscience. That said,

knife versus fork

In the Middle Ages, men used a dagger for everything from spearing rumps of pork to picking their teeth to, literally, cutting off the noses of their dinner companions. By the 20th century, place settings included several versions of dull, blunted knives, and good breeding included learning rules for their use. Today, an aggrieved party guest might throw down his napkin and walk away from the table, but no one fears having to recreate a scene from an Errol Flynn movie over a meal.

The development of the knife as tableware is the story Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker uses to introduce the concept of the “Civilizing Process” in his latest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, on the decline of violence throughout history. This theory of little known sociologist Norbert Elias claims that the decline in impulsive and violent behavior since the Middle Ages (homicide down 95% since the 14th century) is due to the gradually increasing civilité needed to thrive in society.

The Civilizing Process isn't the only historical trend in Pinker’s book, but it's the one that best ties the decline in interpersonal violence to the innate human nature he documents in a host of studies on brain and behavior. People seem to be hard-wired for revenge, but also for self-control. Whether the inner angel dominates the inner demon can be influenced by the social milieu.

Why did people start down the path to giving up dinnertime dueling for the pleasantries of high table? One answer Pinker gives is the state. Knights and burghers turned into citizens who experienced more intimate state-on-man behavior. Self-regulation is more important when cops and tax collectors are ubiquitous; also when you have to curry favor with the court, or the bureaucracy.

The other answer is "gentle commerce." As the primary focus of wealth changed from farming to trade, exchange of ideas and empathetically getting inside the head of that guy haggling with you became more useful skills.

As a fan of liberty, I like gentle commerce, but it's important to Pinker for a very specific reason. The meta-narrative of Better Angels is the growing dominance of people like him—utilitarian liberals—in organizing society and how great that is. Gentle commerce is Pinker's way of projecting proto-liberalism into the pre-Enlightenment Middle Ages. You see, even before liberals existed, liberalism was working its ineffable magic on history.

In fairness to Pinker, his brand of thought isn't kooky but scientific. Before you breathe a sigh of relief, however, you need to read his account of inner psychological demons. Next to sadism, he lists ideology. We can all get behind condemning Marxism, but a closer reading reveals that by ideology Pinker means, pretty much, thoughts not derived from the lab. Some problems of the brain in Pinker's world: depression, anxiety, and beliefs.

If you doubt Pinker's antipathy to belief, just look for instances of judgmentalism in Better Angels. They occur only when Pinker discusses the "Abrahamic religions," especially Christianity. He even takes time to lecture us on the historical Jesus, pointing out the preponderance of similarities (acknowledged by Christians since the early church) to Jesus' life in pagan deities of the time--a topic totally not germane to this book.

(Of course, if there were a hundred Christian-like religions in the Roman Empire, it raises the question of why Christianity survived. One secular proposal is that Christianity simply made people better. Indeed, Julian the Apostate complained of trouble re-paganizing the Empire because Christians were such damn better neighbors than pagans.)

But not only are beliefs indefensible in Pinker's utilitarian worldview, so are values, which is why violence is central to Pinker's meta-narrative. Utilitarians can really get behind only reductions in violence and increases in consumption. In fact, Pinker basically says that MP3 players and out-of-season vegetables are his answer to Notre Dame de Chartres. The Better Angels of Our Nature is Pinker's apologia for having his set continue to sit in state at Cambridge.

If you're still unclear where Pinker parts company with other fans of gentle commerce, just turn to his chapter on children's rights. For Pinker, children stand in the same relationship to the state as adults. While this principle is probably inculcated in the law already, its logic hasn't been extended, and Pinker is all about extending logic. What happens when some day DHHS decides you have to get special permission to expose the little citizen you're raising to violence-inducing activities like Scottish Highland Games, where battles are remembered, feats of physical strength praised, and animals made to work for man?

In fact, you don't have to read the book to understand what I'm getting at, you just have to look at the portrait the author picked for the dust jacket. A Chuck Close-esque androgynous, disembodied head stares back. If it could speak, it would say "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." In Cambridge, the alternative to the rule of diversity dogma is the rule of reasoning divorced from human aims and sensibilities.

[I had to cut some of this essay out to fit TakiMag's wordcount for article submissions. In summary, Pinker says civilization is the result of greater state control of the population and more of the commerical-financial style of thought necessary for trade. But he is completely okay with elites making laws for the sake of abstract concepts rather than people and then forcing them on the population--i.e., civilization is the result of the world moving away from humanity.]

The Civilizing Process sort of ended in the 1960s, and to find out what Pinker thinks of current culture, you have to read the book. What I thought of while reading is the history of the fork. That pronged utensil, once shunned as a symbol of devilry, is accepted everywhere. Now, whenever I see my forks and butter knives, it reminds me of utilitarian triumphalism. While I don't want any church to start dictating table manners, I'm going to make more use of my steak knives in the future.

Zimmerman Martin prediction

I don't normally follow these cable news things, but since I was in Miami at the time the story hit the headlines and I know someone marginally involved, I've been following it. And I'm starting to let myself get sucked in as well, on multiple levels. First, it was endorsing Jim Goad's TakiMag article by forwarding it to people without fact-checking it myself first (some of the claims in it are dubious). Now, it's checking websites every few minutes to see if there's any breaking news!

So, having seen the new police surveillance video of Zimmerman that was released last night, here's my prediction about the outcome of the case.

I predict Zimmerman is going to be indicted and that the case is going to turn on old-fashioned forensics--creating a timeline and establishing the distance of the shooter, angle of bullet entry, etc.

I also predict that Zimmerman is going to be convicted of manslaughter unless there is clear evidence that establishes Zimmerman's cuts, broken nose, and grassy clothes existed at the time the police arrived on the scene.


As I mentioned, I worked out at CrossFitA1A while in Miami. They kicked my ass. Here is today's workout from them:

“We Will Rock You”
1000 Meter Row
50 burpees
10 15′ rope climbs
100 squats
100 walking lunge steps
50 toes to bar
50 burpees
30 minute time limit

CrossFitA1A is a relatively new box. We don't have a CrossFit box in my hometown, but I pay $35 for my gym, so $175/month seemed like a lot to me. Good luck to them, though, as they have a great location and I liked the people. My trainer for the day I worked out was Jessica, who is featured in the first photo below.

Weight: set point

When I recently visited Miami, I wore long wool trousers on the airplane to and from. So, basically, I went 2.5 weeks between wearings of the same pants/belt combo. While in Miami, I lost enough weight to go down a little over 1 notch on my belt. That's pretty good.

So how am I dealing with that? By building on my success by continuing to eat less, walk a lot, and sweat off weight, right? Wrong!

I've been inexplicably ravenous ever since I got back. I want meat (my friend is a vegetarian)! I want fat (my friend believes in low-fat)! I want more calories! This hunger doesn't make sense, as I haven't done anything since getting back. The only physical recovery that could be prompting hunger is a low-level quadracep injury I sustained at CrossFitA1A.

I think my experience is possible anecdotal evidence of the set point theory of weight control: that is, your body gets comfortable a certain level of adiposity and tries to get back there if you lose...

Choked up: Derb vs. CA

As any hypothetical-mythical person who reads this blog carefully knows, I am a big fan of The Derb, i.e. John Derbyshire. As a disaffected former political junky, the Derb's ruminations have kept me connected to my former life. I agree with almost everything he says. In fact, I can't, off the top of my head, think of any opinion he has ever expressed with which I haven't agreed easily, quickly, and mostly intuitively. Essentially, he is something like a friend I never had*. Back-logs of RadioDerb kept me company when I was studying for my board exams, and We Are Doomed is the first book I read after taking my exam--in fact, went straight to Barnes & Noble, bought if straight off the shelf, and read it right in the store.

So you can imagine my dismay when I returned from Miami to find that the Derb has cancer. Apparently, he announced this already, but as I hate/am-bored-with victim-ribbons, I avoided that column since I didn't know it was biographical. Anyhow, as he has started chemotherapy now, we must assume that the wait and watch methodology originally employed has been less than completely successful.

In fact, the fact that he has published some frankly sentimental columns on childhood fascinations and his dear old mum make me think that his mindset is even more morbid than usual. Whether this represents any medical reality, I don't know.

I was actually choked up tonight. I don't get choked up often, and often it is at odd and seemingly trivial things. But tonight I felt the full force of my participation in the human race as my "heart went out" to the Derb.

Derb, be well. Take care of yourself. KBO. I don't want to live in Constantine's Camelot.

Honestly, I thought Derbyshirism would accompany me at least into my 50's. Let it be so.

* William F. Buckley is the only other public figure about whom I have ever felt this way. I went to Swarthmore College the year after WFB had been there under the auspices of an ISI speaking engagement largely because he had been there to bless the inaugural year of the Swarthmore Conservative Union. I felt a very strong compulsion, which I resisted out of embarassment, to visit Buckley, and then he died. I had two of his Firing Line episodes on J.S. Bach digitized at Stanford. What shall I do with Derb since I failed to make anything of my opportunity to meet him? So far, I have drunk about a 1/2 bottle of cognac, and at that only the cheap plonk-distill I have on hand at all times. (Although I have to say Salingac is the best plonk-distill I've found.)

Tsaatan Dukha alcohol use

I don't have real information here, but anecdotes I've been told about the Tsaatan reindeer herders in Mongolia correspond very closely to the reports of alcohol use given in Reindeer Peoples and Khanty, which are frustratingly similar to one another:
  • vodka,
  • binge drinking,
  • profligate use of money,
  • domestic problems,
  • violence,
  • suicide.

Not much to say here. We in health care know these problems. If anyone finds out how to fix them (without Soviet-style enforcements of prohibition, which failed anyway), the world would be a much better place.

The Reindeer People review & Khanty of Taiga

Looking for The Book on reindeer herding culture, past and present? I was, and I thought it would be Piers Vitebsky's The Reindeer People, which has a very romantic cover. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite what I was looking for, and perhaps that book can't be written anymore.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. It's part ethnology, part travelogue, part political journalism, and part memoir, recounting as it does scholar Vitebsky's various trips to study reindeer herding peoples in the former Soviet Union and the relationships he made there. The book contains descriptions of the herders' culture and lifestyle as well as recounting the author's impressions and reflections of his time there and the changing social and political circumstances of the people as they transitioned into the post-Soviet future.

Who is this book supposed to appeal to? It's so idiosyncratic that it feels as though it were written to be esoteric, as though its labyrinthine storylines were meant to protect the reindeer peoples' identities from all but the truly devoted reader. Where does the inspiration for a book like this come from? Vitebsky was originally a student of Classics and then ended up in India before Siberia. Is this history-memoir written on a model from antiquity or from the colonial period? Who knows.

What I was really hoping for was a book that tied the current peoples' lifestyles to any existing evidence of the archaic origins of reindeer cultures found in the archaeological record. This type of writing is more or less tied to the books' first chapter, which was fine, and could have been spun into an entire work in itself and held my interest. It's possible that there simply isn't enough information available in today's world to write this sort of book. Maybe The Vanishing Tungus is as good as it gets?

It sounds as though I'm knocking the book, but I'm not. It's not a bad book, just not what I was hoping for, and it's not without usefulness to me, either. Recommended? Meh, sure.

Khanty of the Taiga

I also picked up Khanty: People of the Taiga, but it appears to be a book very much like Vitebsky's, on the same scholarly memoir model with a lot of current politically-oriented journalistic content. So instead of reading it, I simply skimmed some sections that had information I was interested in.
I have to say that the bibliography for this book does look interesting. Like Vanishing Tungus, it has some older books on the reindeer peoples that I hadn't found in Amazon or in my university "card catalogue" searches. Worth a look if you're into this topic.

Miami, as it should be experienced

Back in November, I posted a scathing review of the city of Miami. This March, I returned to Miami on a whim for reasons I wouldn't have been able to predict in November. While some of my impressions of the city have remained intact, I was able to find the Miami of my imagination this time around, and can recommend now at least a visit.
The Miami of my imagination is based mostly on the impressions I formed growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. Miami Vice, Seinfeld, etc. In my ideal Miami, poor Hispanics mingle with rich Jewish people and patriotic descendants of Cuban immigrants; everyone lives on the water; hard bodies strut in skimpy bikinis to Caribbean beats; speed boats coast over warm shark infested oceans, and flamingos take flight as alligators splash along the waterfront.

Like any idealization, there is a little truth and a little untruth. My friend actually found a place to stay on Miami Beach in a neighborhood inhabited almost exclusively by Hispanics and Jews. Grocery stores where the clerks don't speak English abut temples and synagogues. The apartment is a metaphorical stone's throw from the beach, and a literal stones throw from a canal.

While my friend was at work, much of my day was spent sitting on the apartment's balcony overlooking the canal and watching (1) pelicans fly by, (2) local rowing teams practicing skulling, (3) stingrays and flying fish, (4) the sun shimmering on the water. This was done of course with the help of dry martinis drunk out of chilled glasses.

We visited Flamingo, FL, which is obviously nothing on Google maps, but was marked with a "city" marker on our car-based paper road map. We were debating whether it was a little town with just motels or a big town with hotels until we got there and discovered we had driven to the middle of nowhere and there was only a campsite, visitor's center, and marina.

Luckily, the marina was prepared for travelers like us and sold us a tent. The stars in Flamingo are the densest and brightest I have ever seen. Our tent in Flamingo was on the ocean, and the sky glowed green at the ocean's horizon at night--visible from the tent--due a phenomenon I do not know--not aurora, but perhaps airglow?

Following Flamingo, we traveled the Keys, finding places to stay by luck, getting some great snorkeling opportunities, and drinking margaritas in The Original Margaritaville.

On returning to Miami, we got in the middle of student walk-outs regarding the Treyvon shooting (boring!), attended Don Giovanni at the SoundScape outdoor venue in South Beach (cool!), ate ceviche (awesome!) and gelato (delicious!). We tried to see Egyptian mummies and Rembrandt pr0n, too, but those trips got derailed. I had been to WEAM in November--it's expensive but interesting and not very titillating at all.

update 3/27: almost forgot, I worked out once at CrossFitA1A while in Miami and twice at the more moderately priced Crystal Beach Gym. CrossFitA1A is new, and my bootcamp trainer was Jessica. Very good workout, although it incorporated lunges, which I never do and which left me with massive breakdown/strain in my upper legs--enough that I'm still limping a little. Don't get older...

Mongolian food: airag

Across central Asia, dairy products of various kinds are made from the milk of divers animals. Sometimes fermented dairy products are made. If the fermentation is started with a grain base, the resulting drink is called kefir. But if the fermentation is started without a grain base, the result is a drink called kumis. Kumis is usually made from mare's milk, that is, horse's milk. In Mongolia, this kumis drink is called airag.

Here's a short intro to airag from DiscoverMongolia, written in a style reminiscent of Mongolians' rhythms:
Airag is Mongolian traditional drink. Rural people making summer time in it. 1000-3000 times bit it in cow' skin bag. (leader bag) Mongolian people used to airag in Naadam festival, wedding, New year and others. Some people can drink 2-3 letre one sit. Airag has included 7-8% of alcohol. So you will drink a lot of airag maybe you hang over. Airag is Mongolian respect and safely drink so you never to spit and drop it outside. During the Naadam and New year festival who win the wrestling competition people present him one big bowl airag... If you visit Mongolian family or wedding people give you one big bowl airag. Maybe you can't drink it just try sip it.

how to spell and say айраг

On this blog, I'm using the spelling "airag," because this is how the word is spelled other places on the web. In Mongolian, the word is айраг, and a-i-r-a-g is a literal transliteration from the Cyrillic. However, you may have noticed the word spelled differently in various sources. In Louisa Waugh's Hearing Birds Fly, she writes айраг as "arikh" if I remember correctly.

From hearing Mongolians speak, I would say "arikh" is probably a Latin spelling that's going to get the English speaker closer to the Mongolian pronunciation than "airag".

We have a tendency to want to pronounce "airag" like "EYE-rag". But the й in Mongolian is often very short, almost imperceptible. Technically, I guess it forms a diphthong, but it's a mild one: the Cyrillic a is pronounced more like Latin a in father than in cat; ай is maybe half-way between father and cat rather a heavy diphthong like "eye".

To say Cyrillic p roll your r's like in Spanish.

(If you can't roll your r's, say Cyrillic p like Japanese r/l sound. First, say "ra-ra-ra-ra-raaa," then "la-la-la-la-laaaa." Notice that when you say ra, your tongue doesn't touch anything, but when you say la, it touches the back of your teeth. Now say "la-la-la-la-laaa" again, but put your tongue at the edge of the soft part of the roof of your mouth, a little bit behind the "d" sound. Now try "ra-ra-ra-ra-raaaa" again, but instead of open-mouthed, put your tongue on that place in your mouth.)

Often in Mongolian, the last vowel between two consonants is very short, so the second Cyrillic a is like "rig" instead of "raaaaahg". Lastely, г is a hard g, but guttural so it almost sounds like k rather than "gaaah".

Finally, don't put strong emphasis on either syllable.

Put it all together: ah-r/l-k. I probably just made it a lot harder, didn't I?

making and drinking airag

There are several good websites about airag. MongolianFood.Info is probably the best:
The milk is filtered through a cloth, and poured into a large open leather sack (Khukhuur), which is usually suspended next to the entrance of the yurt. Alternatively, a vat from larch wood (Gan), or in modern times plastic, can be used. Within this container, the milk gets stirred with a wooden masher (buluur). The stirring needs to be repeated regularly over one or two days.

Traditionally, anyone entering or leaving the yurt would do a few strokes. The fermentation process is caused by a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeast, similar to Kefir. The stirring makes sure that all parts of the milk are fermented equally.

See Radio86 for more on rural production of airag. On drinking airag, see Mongolian Expeditions, which tells us to accept the bowl with both hands and not to drain it completely at the risk of insulting the host. More interesting photos by Jessica at EnglishCafe.

why Genghis Khan didn't have the runs

If you read about horse's milk, you'll notice that it has a very high lactose content. So you might be wondering, in the context of the "lack" of lactase persistence in inner Asia (see also), why Mongolians would drink horse's milk. After all, when you're riding across the steppe to conquer the world, you don't want to have to stop frequently for poopies.

Well, it turns out that fermenting mare's milk into airag changes the composition enough to keep it from having a laxative effect.

arikh and arkhi

When I was reading Hearing Birds Fly, I kept getting confused between arikh and arkhi. Arkhi is a liquor made by distilling airag. You might hear it referred to as "Mongolian vodka" (as opposed to "Russian vodka"), "milk vodka", "horses' vodka". None of these are real vodka, which is made from grain or potatoes. Louisa Waugh has a good description of a woman home-distilling airag to make arkhi. I won't go into it here, but you should read her book if you're interested in it.

what does it taste like?

When I was at the Tsagaan Sar celebration recently, several Mongolians were talking about airag and decided that the best way to describe it to a foreigner is "like a combination of buttermilk and champagne." Are you thinking "gross!?" I was at first, but I really like champagne, so I was intrigued.

According to the links available on the web, the closest thing you can probably buy in the store is kefir, although this will be non-alcoholic, and kefir has a grain base for fermentation. Also, the kefir I've had, being made from goat's milk, has a slightly gamey quality, and horse's milk is supposed to be sweet and mild.

Writing in the 13th century, Friar William described kumis thus: "It is pungent on the tongue like rapé wine when drunk, and when a man has finished drinking, it leaves a taste of milk of almonds on the tongue, and it makes the inner man most joyful and also intoxicates weak heads, and greatly provokes urine."

I can't find anything about rapé wine on the first 10 pages or so of Google hits, except that the dictionary says it is "a poor, thin wine made from the last dregs of pressed grapes." So it is thin? Hmmmmm. Keep that in mind while reading my description below of homemade fake airag.

Don't trust Wikipedia editors or Friar William? How about Julia Roberts? When she visits nomadic herders in their yurt in Nature's Horses, they greet her traditionally and offer her some airag to refresh her from her journey. Here's her reaction:

"Straightaway, I get my first clue as to the importance of the horse--this is horses' milk--it's fermented to make a drink called airag. I'm shocked by the first taste. It's like fizzy, warm... yogurt." Here's her first taste caught on video:

making fake airag in your home

Since the Mongolians I met at Tsagaan Sar told me airag tastes like a cross between buttermilk and champagne, I definitely wanted to try making this concoction at home.

I had no recipe, of course, so I decided to mix buttermilk and champagne in three different ratios. I started out filling three glasses with a little, half, and a lot of buttermilk.

Then I added champagne to fill each glass to the same volume.

As you would expect, the one with a little buttermilk and a lot of champagne was a sort of milky-clear substance, while the one with a lot of buttermilk and a little champagne basically just looked like buttermilk. There wasn't any curdling, which I thought there might be. ( Whenever I've put regular milk in booze, I get a little. Maybe there's something different about buttermilk?)

Anyhow, I know you're dying to know--how did they taste?

Well, there's a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is "drinkable and interesting, but not something I would mix up for friends at a cocktail party."

The long answer starts with the fact that I've never liked buttermilk. But another, who loves buttermilk, tried Kate's and declared it bad. I, who like champagne, can safely declare the Cooks bad. So overall, I'm not sure the end product is a fair representation of anything since the ingredients weren't good. That said, you can see my preferences in the after photo above--adding a little buttermilk to champagne made really crappy champagne, while adding a little champagne to buttermilk made a surprisingly refreshing dairy drink.

The little champagne bubbles made a fine texture while the grape-y alcohol just took the edge off the sourness of the buttermilk and added a hint of sweet and some non-dairy fruitiness. It was a little more complex than fizzy warm yogurt.

My guess is that real airag is a little more like the half-half (above, middle) drink, based on the fact that it is supposed to have an alcohol content like beer. That half-half mix was drinkable, but not as refreshing as the high buttermilk:champagne ratio mix. (It could just be the cheap champagne, though. As you can see, I did little more than taste the Cooks before pouring it down the drain.)

Razib's presentation on secularism and conservatism

To be honest, while I'm very interested to hear what Razib has to say about politics, I was disappointed in this presentation, to the extent that the following PowerPoint really represents what Razib had to say. I don't see much actual rationale for conservatism here other than "I like civilization" and "like Hume, I'm deeply skeptical". This is pretty weak for a political platform. To refer to the talk, if you agree with Xunzi against Mozi on art, where does that leave you on socialist realism, MOMA shows, public works, NEH funding, etc? I suppose the answer is that Razib is not really that interested in the nitty gritty of politics. I suppose that's fine, but then why proclaim yourself through blogs and presentations? At least The Derb's pessimism is political coherent via his own personal history and psychological development. Oh well.

Is this real life? BMJ confessions of med student prostitute

This arrived in my e-mail Inbox this morning from the British Medical Journal:

Dear Chris,

How far would you go to fund your degree–take out another loan? Sell your car? Mr D is a male medical student who started off as an escort to fund his degree. As time goes on, he enjoys his luxurious lifestyle, and starts engaging in nights of “unlimited fun.”

Read the full story here
It is strange and surreal. Not the idea of a medical student as a sex worker, but the fact that the article is appearing in Student BMJ without a byline; also, that the writing is stylistically titillating rather than analytic or journalistic. (Or maybe it's that the Brits can't distinguish anymore between journalism and tabloids...) It reminds me of publications like A Study of Male Oral Sexuality from the 1970s that were pr0n posing as "scientific studies":

D has been able to expand his client base, and currently sees about 13 wealthy women. After he saw some women more regularly, a few started to have strong feelings for him, and believed that they were in some sort of relationship. He has since promised at least four of these women that he has given up his sex work, although they are unaware that he continues to have other clients. Although some clients have openly stated that they would rather start afresh with him, D thinks this is unlikely because he only dates them for the money; he strings the women along and tells them what he thinks they want to hear.

D currently lives in a rent free flat, has his own car, and is comfortable financially—as a direct result of the funds provided by these women. By now, his initial reason for entering the escort trade—to fund his medical degree—must have been met.

Student BMJ must be in a real need of readership, prompting me to ask "Is this real life?"

It's okay, bud, it's just from the medicine...