I Can Quit Any Time I Want

Studies that quantify the discomfort or annoyance people feel at performing unpleasant tasks suggest that at some point people have just had it … their “willpower” is “depleted”. Or maybe they just want to do something else.

I’m always trying to find useful things that I can really want to do. If I had that, then loss of willpower would just mean that I’m exploring more and grinding less.

Initial acts of control lead to shifts in motivation away from “have-to” or “ought-to” goals and toward “want-to” goals. “Have-to” tasks are carried out through a sense of duty or contractual obligation, while “want-to” tasks are carried out because they are personally enjoyable and meaningful; as such, “want-to” tasks feel easy to perform and to maintain in focal attention. The distinction between “have-to” and “want-to,” however, is not always clear cut, with some “want-to” goals (e.g., wanting to lose weight) being more introjected and feeling more like “have-to” goals because they are adopted out of a sense of duty, societal conformity, or guilt instead of anticipated pleasure.

According to decades of research on self-determination theory, the quality of motivation that people apply to a situation ranges from extrinsic motivation, whereby behavior is performed because of external demand or reward, to intrinsic motivation, whereby behavior is performed because it is inherently enjoyable and rewarding. Thus, when we suggest that depletion leads to a shift from “have-to” to “want-to” goals, we are suggesting that prior acts of cognitive effort lead people to prefer activities that they deem enjoyable or gratifying over activities that they feel they ought to do because it corresponds to some external pressure or introjected goal. For example, after initial cognitive exertion, restrained eaters prefer to indulge their sweet tooth rather than adhere to their strict views of what is appropriate to eat. Crucially, this shift from “have-to” to “want-to” can be offset when people become (internally or externally) motivated to perform a “have-to” task. Thus, it is not that people cannot control themselves on some externally mandated task (e.g., name colors, do not read words); it is that they do not feel like controlling themselves, preferring to indulge instead in more inherently enjoyable and easier pursuits (e.g., read words). Like fatigue, the effect is driven by reluctance and not incapability.

Research is consistent with this motivational viewpoint. Although working hard at Time 1 tends to lead to less control on “have-to” tasks at Time 2, this effect is attenuated when participants are motivated to perform the Time 2 task, personally invested in the Time 2 task, or when they enjoy the Time 1 task. Similarly, although performance tends to falter after continuously performing a task for a long period, it returns to baseline when participants are rewarded for their efforts; and remains stable for participants who have some control over and are thus engaged with the task. Motivation, in short, moderates depletion. We suggest that changes in task motivation also mediate depletion.

Depletion, however, is not simply less motivation overall. Rather, it is produced by lower motivation to engage in “have-to” tasks, yet higher motivation to engage in “want-to” tasks. Depletion stokes desire. Thus, working hard at Time 1 increases approach motivation, as indexed by self-reported states, impulsive responding, and sensitivity to inherently-rewarding, appetitive stimuli. This shift in motivational priorities from “have-to” to “want-to” means that depletion can increase the reward value of inherently-rewarding stimuli. For example, when depleted dieters see food cues, they show more activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain area associated with coding reward value, compared to non-depleted dieters.

via Kaj Sotala

Better Muslim Than Hindu Governance in India

Weak evidence that Indian close-election-winner being Muslim rather than Hindu is better for everyone (in India). Weird. My first rejection (hidden common cause, e.g. demographics, of electing Muslim and better outcomes) is mostly overcome by selecting only very close elections (would appreciate a more precise model than “close election outcomes are almost random”, though).

… we use quasi-random variation in legislator identity
generated by close elections between Muslim and non-Muslim candidates. We find that increasing
the political representation of Muslims improves health and education outcomes in the district from
which the legislator is elected. We find no evidence of religious favoritism: Muslim children do not
benefit more from Muslim political representation than children from other religious groups.

Working Paper PDF

via Slate Star Codex

I don’t know anything about India, but supposing it were true that Hindu candidates have an easier time getting elected, then I’d expect any non-Hindu winner to be of exceptional caliber.

Demoralized by Girlfriend’s Success?

I wonder if there are any men who feel more secure and comfortable when they’re not “the man”. There are certainly plenty who will claim not to feel threatened by their mate’s high value, but how can we identify those who are not? Added to my list of biases to fight when I can be bothered to.

Women’s self-esteem was not affected by their male partners’ successes or failures.

Men automatically interpret a partner’s success [being told she scored in the top 12% vs bottom 12%] as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition.

They said they felt fine but the test of implicit self-esteem revealed otherwise.

[Men also felt worse about themselves and their relationship when they] thought about a time when their female partner thrived in a situation in which they had failed

Women in these experiments reported feeling better about their relationship when they thought about a time their partner succeeded rather than a time when their partner failed but men did not.

Study: Gender Differences in Implicit Self-Esteem Following a Romantic Partner’s Success or Failure

Alcohol Abstinence Apologetics

It’s been known for a few years that people who drink alcohol tend to live longer (and are more physically active) than non-drinkers (except for extremely heavy drinkers). This is obviously surprising, but might just be a good example of the risks in interpreting epidemiological (population trait correlation) data, or as the chestnut goes, “correlation does not imply causation”. (See discussion on skeptics.stackexchange and my previous clashes with this odd association).

A new CU analysis slices non-drinkers-now by past-heavy-drinking vs. not, and finds that the never-heavy-drinking non-drinkers are equally healthy to light-drinkers-now. . This doesn’t exactly seem fair given that they don’t slice light-drinkers-now in the same way (so they don’t really prove absence of benefit from light drinking), but I think that coupled with the lack of a plausible mechanism (hormesis? feeling less stressed or more rewarded by social encounters while buzzed?), you may as well act as though being the least drunk you can get away with, socially, is the healthiest choice.

It’s easy to imagine plausible factors that “explain away” the advantage of light/moderate drinkers over non; it’s nice that these Colorado U. folks found one that could be tested against existing survey data. Some others: sick people tend to stop drinking alcohol (medication interactions, or just wanting to sleep well and avoiding painful hangovers), people who are more social and active tend to drink w/ friends (people who have good encounters with friends are healthier, causality probably in both directions), extremely poor people may avoid alcohol in favor of necessities, etc.

Lying Adults and Lying Experiments

Via Less Wrong discussion

A famous experiment showed that children who believe an adult’s promise to have two marshmallows if they’ll wait a few minutes without eating the marshmallow in front of them are more successful later in life. Finally someone has raised what should be an obvious objection: maybe the less successful adults were children with bad parents and teachers, whose word couldn’t be trusted. That is, a possible common cause of adult failure and childhood marshmallow-scarfing is distrust of authority.

They even performed an unsurprising experiment: the adults running it lie to the kids a few times, and then try the delayed-marshmallow-gratification promise. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to learn from this as it’s completely expected that people, even kids, won’t keep trusting in an environment where they’re repeatedly cheated. What’s needed is to quantify separate influence from ‘trusting adult promises’ vs. ‘having innate willpower’, which neither the original marshmallow setup nor this one can manage.

Study link: Rational snacking

The problem is merely in the over-confident interpretations of very coarse evidence. The VERY SMART SCIENTISTS write a nice hypothesis in their paper and it gets bandied about in the press, but really they need many more nuanced experiments (not just replication) before we should really believe their explanation.

For example, it seems that people in a lab-experiment setting pretend to be nicer than they really are (or have fellow-feeling for their experiment-mates):

[As to how] how much Dictator Game giving is due to people knowing they’re in an experiment, the answer is, “all of it.”

When given a chance to split a $20 gift of poker chips in Vegas with the one person right next to them, if people are told they’re (both) in an experiment, 80% give at least $1 with the median being $5 (they keep $15). Otherwise (out of 60 subjects), they never give anything. (The use of chips is interesting – it adds to the plausibility of the stealth-experiment case, but it’s also pretty well known that using things further from physical cash makes people less loss-averse and perhaps more loose – see Club Med beads and carnival tickets).

Anyway, as Kurzban points out, the Dictator Game was originally only used as a control for the effect of being in an experiment, for the more interesting Ultimatum game, where the person choosing the split can have it vetoed by an offended recipient of a too-low offer (in which case neither get anything). It’s certainly a valid control – this is just a reminder not to get too optimistic about how altruistic people are to genuine strangers (rather than their fellow lab-rats).

Arsenic and Rice

Toward the end of a hilarious takedown of the world’s most annoying people (“commerically produced food is toxic because it contains CHEMICALS!”), I learned that rice has significant (0.1 ppm) but FDA-approved, levels of arsenic (brown rice has even more), due to a process which is also a concern for various concentrated herbal supplements and teas: plants’ taking up and concentrating soil minerals – and unfortunately you rarely know what soil your processed plant product came from (I’m sure we bear a similar risk in our food animals’ fat’s plants’ soil’s minerals). 100 pp.billion is not much, but chicken farmers changed their anti-parasite medication just to reduce chickens’ arsenic content from 2 ppb to 1ppb! So it seems industrial U.S. chicken farmers are really looking out for our health:

A compound called roxarsone [containing arsenic] is added to chicken feed to keep down Coccidia parasites in the gut. It is not just added for some cosmetic reason, as the silly wording above would have you believe.

In 2011, a study found that chicken meat with detectable levels of roxarsone had 2.3 parts per billion (note the “b”) of inorganic arsenic, which is the kind that is truly toxic. Chicken meat with no detectable roxarsone had 0.8 ppb inorganic arsenic, threefold less, and the correlation seems to be real. (Half of the factory-raised chickens sampled had detectable roxarsone, by the way). This led to the compound being (voluntarily) withdrawn from the market, under the assumption that this is an avoidable exposure to arsenic that could be eliminated.

And so it is. There are other (non-arsenic) compounds that can be given to keep parasite infestations down in poultry, although they’re not as effective, and they’ll probably show up on the next edition of lists like this one. But let’s get things on scale: it’s worth comparing these arsenic levels to those found in other foods. White rice, for example comes in at about 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic (and brown rice at 170 ppb). These, by the way, are all-natural arsenic levels, produced by the plant’s own uptake from the soil. But even those amounts are not expected to pose a human health risk (says both the FDA and Canadian authorities), so the fifty-fold lower concentrations in chicken would, one thinks, be even less to worry about. If you’re having chicken and rice and you want to worry about arsenic, worry about the rice.

Rice is pretty well tolerated by people who have problems w/ grains (as is, maybe, oatmeal) and won’t in itself make you fat or diabetic. I like rice. Wish I could get it from relatively safer soil, or industrial post-processed to remove arsenic/lead/etc. So that my mercury-laden farmed-fish sushi can rest easy on its bed of rice.

The Unstoppable Momentum of Social Activism

A do-good social cause just needs a spark of preliminary social-psych lab support to inspire unkillable cargo-cult group action. The desire to be one of the good guys who (know how to) save the world, coupled with confirmation bias and social proof, means unstoppable growth for even scientifically mistaken altruistic programs (failing to enact their values, or even causing regression).

Some examples of what we should probably (evidence suggests) NOT be doing: reducing violent entertainment or porn, telling everyone there’s a rape culture in the U.S. which promotes rape, raising awareness that most people think black people are [insert negative racial stereotype here] and need to stop it IMMEDIATELY, telling workers that things they already do in fact constitute HARRASSMENT and are creating a HOSTILE WORKPLACE, making people identify with a group which is WRONG in any way (especially if obnoxious high-paid fly-by consultants are doing the telling). These are all, surprisingly, wrong.

Media coverage of clever new effects (priming!) begins as soon as the first small study wildly misinterprets N=10 lab experiments that may only last for 10 minutes, or, if the experimental script is varied slightly, might show an opposite effect. Please, let’s not restructure everything in society without at least waiting for the replication studies.

Dahl and DellaVigna (2008), well aware of laboratory experiments that found violent media temporarily made subjects more violent, decided to investigate whether the opening weekends of blockbuster violent movies affected crime rates. Sure enough, they found they did…

…in the opposite of the expected direction. They found violent movies decreased crime 5% or more on their opening weekends, and that each violent movie that comes out probably prevents about 1000 assaults. Further, there’s no displacement effect – the missing crimes don’t pop back the following week, they simply never occur.

They hypothesize that every hour violent criminals are at the kind of movies that appeal to violent criminals is one hour more they’re not getting drunk or taking drugs or committing violent crimes. Although they don’t mention it directly, other analyses have suggested that the movies have a sort of cathartic effect, satisfying their urge for violence without them having to commit it themselves.

An investigation into violent video games found essentially the same pattern: violent video games decrease crime while nonviolent video games have no effect.

In the US every 10% increase in Internet access causes a 7.3% decline in rape.

Sex criminals are less likely to consume pornography than the general population and start watching pornography at a later age.

We know exactly what happens when minorities are told tests are biased against them: they do worse on those tests. This is the essence of the idea of “stereotype threat” – for example, one can improve women’s performance on a math test simply by telling them that the test is not biased against women.

DARE programs has found that they increase drug use, sometimes as much as 30%.

All studies on sensitivity training find that trainees express more awareness of sexual harassment than non-employees, but a study that went further and examined results found that trainees are “less likely to perceive coercive sexual harassment, less willing to report sexual harassment, and more likely to blame the victim”.

Foster & Misra (2013) measured “trivialization” in both groups – that is, they asked them questions about how important faithfulness was to them. Consistent with their theory, the people who were told they were faithful said faithfulness was extremely important, but the people who were told they were unfaithful “trivialized” the behavior – who cares about fidelity anyway, infidelity is maybe a minor mistake but it doesn’t really hurt anyone, people should really stop whining about infidelity all the time. To give you a feeling for the size of this effect, on a scale of one to seven, the faithful group rated the importance of being faithful at 5.4/7, and the unfaithful group rate the importance of being faithful at 2.9/7. In other words, by accusing them of being unfaithful, the experimenters had successfully gotten the participants to “trivialize” faithfulness.

The researchers theorized that this was the process called “cognitive dissonance”. Most people like themselves and want to continue to like themselves. If they are told that they, or their group, has a particular flaw, then instead of ceasing to like themselves it may be easier to just decide that flaw is not a big deal and they can have it while continuing to be the awesome people they secretly know they are.

Now not only do the experimental subjects here stop caring about being faithful, but everyone pushing a pro-fidelity line is a threat to their new identity. And the subjects weren’t even really unfaithful to begin with!

The most important factor in whether someone commits a crime is the likelihood she will be punished. That suggests that if you discover that an abominable crime has (contrary to popular perception) a very low chance of punishment, it would be an excellent time to practice the virtue of silence.

Imagine I told you “People from Comoros are not all homosexual! This is a damn lie, and anyone who says people from Comoros are homosexual is an insensitive jerk. Please join me in fighting the popular perception that everyone from Comoros is a flaming gay.

By reading the essay excerpted above (which I highly recommend in its entirety), I learned that there’s about as much lab/epidemiological evidence (maybe more) for the opposite of what’s usually prescribed by social-psych inspired progressive social engineering (raise awareness of rape culture / stereotype threat / culturally biased IQ/SAT tests, suppress violent entertainment and porn, etc.). It does suggest that the blanket denial of cognitive architecture between sexes might be a good thing as far as smoothing the way for women who want to science+math+engineer – one of the few progressive social projects that’s working, or rather, would work, without all the “we need to do more” talk which is probably as damaging as Barbie’s “math is hard.” Raising awareness of complicated/bad things can either backfire in the accused group, or due to loose recollection, raise awareness for the wrong idea (“Obama is not a muslim” becomes one year later “I heard Obama is a muslim”). And also that Comoros is full of flaming homosexual seagulls.

If All Goes Well

Why are so many people not working? How are they entertaining themselves?

If robots and computer programs and solar panels and industrial farming can keep billions fed for thousands of years (fingers crossed – it really depends on discoveries yet to be made, and the only guarantee is to actually make those discoveries, which may nto be possible), then most of us may as well just spend all day enjoying pleasant conversation, dance, sport, music, cuisine, sex. Or more realistically, video games and cheetos and internet faux-activism outrage porn, with a side of actual porn.

For the past fifteen years, we have seen both capital-labor substitution and factor-price equalization. Both of these require a reallocation of labor. This is not taking place very quickly. What are the reasons? Some possibilities:

1. Weak incentives for the unemployed to take jobs that require a loss of status or an adverse relocation. Older unemployed people can collect disability. Younger unemployed people can live with their parents.

2. Unusually few fast-growing firms. Perhaps entrepreneurs are not finding ideas that pan out. Perhaps when things pan out they are finding ways to grow quickly without adding thousands of workers (think of Internet businesses).

3. Perhaps the labor-leisure choice is being driven by attitudes about health insurance. If you really care a lot about health insurance, you take a job, even if you think that the take-home pay is barely worth it. The same deal gets turned down by someone who does not value health insurance. With the health insurance component of compensation so high these days, this can be important.

But if you have no economically valuable work, where do you get off asking for high-speed internet and big screen TVs when there are people who could use an artificial lung?

There’s an opportunity for economically cheap (and economically plentiful/worthless) art – billions of authors only reading their own output won’t work, but maybe a million of the greatest can find some meaningful purpose in a materially trivial life. Or maybe art as a merely less-analytical N on N+lurkers conversation. Lightweight fluff. Photoshop tennis. Art from ordinary, useless people.

Ambien Locks in Emotional Trauma

Study suggests that Ambien (Zolpidem) and benzos help consolidate memories of negative emotions, so the benefit of better sleep should be weighed against the risk to those suffering from depression or PTSD. Also, sleeping pills and Ambien specifically are hugely correlated with death (though it’s not at all obvious that they cause it, beyond the rare succesful pill-suicide).

Mednick and UC San Diego psychologists Erik J. Kaestner and John T. Wixted determined that a sleep feature known as sleep spindles — bursts of brain activity that last for a second or less during a specific stage of sleep — are important for emotional memory.

Research Mednick published earlier this year demonstrated the critical role that sleep spindles play in consolidating information from short-term to long-term memory in the hippocampus, located in the cerebral cortex of the brain. Zolpidem enhanced the process, a discovery that could lead to new sleep therapies to improve memory for aging adults and those with dementia, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. It was the first study to show that sleep can be manipulated with pharmacology to improve memory.

“We know that sleep spindles are involved in declarative memory — explicit information we recall about the world, such as places, people and events, ” she explained.

But until now, researchers had not considered sleep spindles as playing a role in emotional memory , focusing instead on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Using two commonly prescribed sleep aids — zolpidem and sodium oxybate (Xyrem) — Mednick, Kaestner and Wixted were able to tease apart the effects of sleep spindles and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep on the recall of emotional memories. They determined that sleep spindles, not REM, affect emotional memory.

The researchers gave zolpidem, sodium oxybate (Xyrem) and a placebo to 28 men and women between the ages of 18 and 39 who were normal sleepers, allowing several days between doses to allow the pharmaceuticals to leave their bodies.

The participants viewed standardized images known to elicit positive and negative responses for one second before and after taking supervised naps. They recalled more images that had negative or highly arousing content after taking zolpidem, a finding that also suggests that the brain may favor consolidation of negative memories, she said.

“I was surprised by the specificity of the results, that the emotional memory improvement was specifically for the negative and high-arousal memories, and the ramifications of these results for people with anxiety disorders and PTSD,” Mednick said. “These are people who already have heightened memory for negative and high-arousal memories. Sleep drugs might be improving their memories for things they don’t want to remember.”

The study may have even broader implications, the researchers said. Clinical guidelines of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense recommend against the routine use of benzodiazepines to treat PTSD, although their use increased among men and women with PTSD between 2003 and 2010. The effects of benzodiazepines on sleep are similar to those of zolpidem.

The U.S. Air Force uses zolpidem as one of the prescribed “no-go pills” to help flight crews calm down after taking stimulants to stay awake during long missions, the researchers noted in the study.

“In light of the present results, it would be worthwhile to investigate whether the administration of benzodiazepine-like drugs may be increasing the retention of highly arousing and negative memories, which would have a countertherapeutic effect,” they wrote. “Further research on the relationship between hypnotics and emotional mood disorders would seem to be in order.”

If you’re curious about the strength of the evidence that sleeping pills are correlated with dying (I haven’t investigated, since I don’t use them, read this:

[The Dark Side of Sleeping Pills](http://www.darksideofsleepingpills.com/), by Daniel Kripke, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, goes into great detail about risks of sleeping pills that few doctors tell their patients. For example, one study found that “patients who took sleeping pills died 4.6 times as often during follow-ups averaging 2.5 years [than matched patients who did not take sleeping pills]. Patients who took higher doses (averaging over 132 pills per year) died 5.3 times as often.” Insomnia alone was not associated with higher mortality.

Delusional Self-Esteem vs. Social Isolation

People who feel isolated seek out existing allies and increase their criticism of non-allies (hello, Internet!). Apparently these routines (and so probably the feeling of isolation) can be suppressed by imagining yourself invulnerable to physical injury. Previous studies have shown that ibuprofen reduces the pain of social rejection.

Wolverine and Rachel Summers, DragonCon 2009

Simulating physical invulnerability lessened exclusion-triggered negative attitudes toward stigmatized groups, and
simulating physical invulnerability lessened the desire for social connection.

[They fantasized] “It will be an amazing ability, but you must keep it absolutely secret. If you purposely tell anyone or show off your power, you will lose it forever.’”

Compared to people who imagined gaining the ability to fly (secretly), people who imagined (secret) physical invulnerability executed less of the anti-isolation routines like putting down outsiders or socializing positively with allies.

Unconstitutional Pizza Delivery Dragnet / Failed AI Research Project

For this, we’ve had our constitutionally-implied right to privacy ignored for the last decade or so:

Cases were referred to by FBI agents as “pizza cases” because many seemingly suspicious cases turned out to be food takeout orders.

[Suspicious Activity ReportS - SARS, get it?] revealed former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s use of prostitutes, even though he was not suspected of terrorist activities.

We could have waited until an anonymized research protocol proved a benefit before having the FBI needlessly harrass politicians mid-pizza-and/or-sperm-delivery: just use some protocol wherein the hashed signatures of identities are compared after terrorists/whatever become known by other means (definitely easy with trusted a third party like the EFF, and maybe possible without – math is magic!). Once we get that false positive rate below 100,000 innocent people per year, then we can talk. Until then, keep that stuff in the AI research community and they’ll have something that can play Jeopardy with terrorists within the next few decades. As usual, project leaders with influence push adoption of something useless so they can claim it wasn’t all just incremental progress too soon to deploy.

PRISM, on the other hand, may actually provide some benefit now (spying, mostly on those foreigners who don’t know they can use encryption):

The President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year.

When critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

A roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Dropbox, the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as “coming soon.”

(update: Larry Page denies Google participation)

So what if NSA can only lawfully pursue foreign intelligence? You have the FBI who I’m sure are happy to claim a piece of the pie. And rubber stamped warrants have been in plentiful supply of late.

Perhaps Dropbox can add another 250mb free storage each time the government rifles through your My Little Pony porno stash.

An order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISC) directs Verizon to provide “on an ongoing daily basis” all call records for any call “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls” and any call made “between the United States and abroad.”

So, everything they can get their hands on.

It makes sense that people want to use this info, for what they think are very good reasons. Yet I’m not sure “let everyone have access to the Panopticon, then we’ll watch the watchers” is exactly where we want our society defaults to lie, either. There are things I don’t want to know about other people. Perhaps we people should punish those who signed off on this, patriots though they may be. But first, let’s try whining really loudly, which amounts to the same thing as voting (namely, moves politicians to make empty promises).

Aquatic Apes Became Humans?

Maybe humans evolved not from tree-apes, but diving-underwater apes. We have thick skulls not just to protect our huge brains, but as ballast to allow us to dive. Fish oil and iodine are good for a developing brain because it was plentiful in our evolutionary environment.

1. An extensive overview of the literature by Stephen Munro showed that virtually all known archaic Homo [= pre-Homo sapien] sites (including those in ‘savanna’) were associated with permanent water and edible shellfish.

2. Only regular diving can explain archaic Homo’s pachy-osteo-sclerosis (POS), the extreme thickness and density of cranial and postcranial bones of most erectus-like fossils… . POS is only seen in slow littoral divers, e.g. dugong and manatee, walrus, Kolponomos, pakicetids, Odobenocetops, and Thalassocnus spp. Marine biologists agree POS has a hydrostatic function (ballast).

3. The abundant brain-specific nutrients in aquatic foods (e.g. DHA, iodine) facilitated fast brain growth (sapiens’ poorer post-aquatic diet required a longer youth to grow the same brain size).

4. Man is the opposite of a savanna inhabitant. Humans lack sun-reflecting fur, but have thermo-insulative subcutaneous fat layers, which are never seen in savanna mammals. We have a water- and sodium-wasting cooling system of abundant sweat glands, totally unfit for a dry environment. Our maximal urine concentration is much too low for a savanna-dwelling mammal. We need much more water than other primates, and have to drink more often than savanna inhabitants, yet we cannot drink large quantities at a time.

5. Maps of human population densities show that, although we have become fully terrestrial today, we are still a waterside species, and almost half of human dietary calories still come from the water (e.g. rice, aquaculture, fish, shell- and crayfish).

Marc Verhaegen’s original article – obviously this is only speculation.

Gustavo Santaolalla - Brokeback Guitar

Gustavo Santaolalla’s gorgeous song from the Brokeback Mountain score, live:

Michael G. Williams Composes Film Music

Some great music, in several genres. My second dad’s second career. Clasically trained, ex-computer-scientist (and a very good one). Versatile, musical, gifted composer. Killer piano chops, too.

Cherbourg, Rosetta, Tristana, Vitus, Hunt, Scene at the Sea, Another Earth, Rust and Bone, Lily Chou-Chou, Big Fan, Battle Royale, Man Bites Dog, War Witch, Someone in Love

great: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

good: RosettaTristanaVitusThe HuntScene at the SeaAnother EarthRust and BoneAll About Lily Chou-ChouBig FanBattle RoyaleMan Bites DogWar WitchLike Someone In Love

decent: HausuLoreL’EnfantI Killed My MotherPornostar (2000)Love LetterThe Classic (2003)The Killer Inside MeInto the Abyss (2011 death penalty docu)MishimaChristmas in AugustMartyrsCell 211No

so-so: 4 MinutesFat GirlFlightInnocent Blood

bad: Perfect Sense

Explaining Rat Red-wine Superpowers

Resveratrol, found in small amounts in red wine, is well-known to protect mice from aging and obesity. It’s not yet known whether it works in humans (it’s expensive enough that you wouldn’t want to just take a bunch of it on speculation). There are some synthetic resveratrol analogues already developed in research, but again, they’re not cheaply available (nor assuredly free of side effects).

A fantastic series of experiments isolates the mechanism for the (in rats) benefits of the resveratrol-like family, confirming suspicions that it functions by activating a protein involved in energy metabolism, SIRT1*

1. answer an objection (that an artificial fluourescent marker used in test tube studies linking resveratrol turned out to be necessary for the reaction to occur) by locating the third ingredient existing in the rat cells (tryptophan, a common amino acid, turned out to suffice).

2. generate modified versions of SIRT1 by playing with mouse genes (because synthesizing organic chemicals is tricky; if you just want randomly different versions, you can do this by fuzzing genes of organisms that produce it**). It’s expensive to analyze a complicated molecule, so they just looked at the gene versions (out of 2000 they generated) that had no benefit from resveratrol, and found some minimal change to the structure of regular SIRT1 that disables the effect. This is almost certainly where resveratrol acts on SIRT1.

3. Using one of their 2000 mutant lines that blocked the resveratrol effect, they tried all the resveratrol-analogues, and found that none of them worked. This adds a little confidence that the analogues all work by the same mechanism.

4. finally, they verify the results in (mouse) skin and muscle cells by replacing the normal SIRT1 gene w/ their mutant variant, and showing that this blocked the resveratrol benefit (they should have done a “placebo” version of this where they replace it with the normal version). I wonder why they can’t do this for human cells? We mostly care if this can benefit humans.

I wonder if enhancing SIRT1 will turn out to have harms as well as benefits. If not, then it can only be because producing resveratrol wasn’t conveniently available as a mutation in mammals. We could also ask why we don’t produce more SIRT1, even if we don’t have a multiplier available to enhance its effectiveness. I’d guess that producing SIRT1 is expensive.

*  It’s interesting that resveratrol enhances SIRT1 activity, because it’s harder to find a chemical that speeds up a protein’s good functions than it is to find one that interferes (usually by binding to the useful location to deny it to other parties).

** although you don’t necessarily build a full organism; it looks like they fuzzed the genes but did the reactions in a test tube?

via (Science, so it’s peer reviewed)

An Autumn’s Tale, a Late Quartet, Poppy Hill, Lights

good: An Autumn’s Tale, A Late Quartet

fair: From Up On Poppy HillKeep the Lights On

bad: Smashed

Udaan, Side by Side, Pitch Perfect

decent: Udaan (you really need to discount the ratings of indian films unless you especially love them)

boring: Side by Side (all I learned: R&D for new film cameras is over)

awful: Pitch Perfect (I watched the entire thing with the flu)

Omega-6 (Vegetable Oil) Harmful (N=500, P=.05, Large Effect)

One of the main claims of “paleo” bloggers is that it’s better to have saturated fat than polyunsaturated vegetable oils (except flaxseed oil), that omega-3 is good polyunsaturated and omega-6 is bad past some ratio of 6:3.

Experts endorsed by the US gov, Harvard, and in general the high-status pro diet/medicine institution got this badly wrong, Seth Roberts notes that there’s some strong new evidence (reanalysis of existing randomized/controlled N=500 data):

As these studies go, it was relatively small, only about 500 subjects. The main results:

Compared with the control group, the intervention group had an increased risk of all cause mortality (17.6% v 11.8%[emphasis added]; hazard ratio 1.62 (95% confidence interval 1.00 to 2.64); P=0.051), cardiovascular mortality (17.2% v 11.0%; 1.70 (1.03 to 2.80); P=0.037), and mortality from coronary heart disease (16.3% v 10.1%; 1.74 (1.04 to 2.92); P=0.036).

A 50% increase in death rate! The safflower oil was so damaging that even this small study yielded significant differences.

The authors go on to show that this result (omega-6 is bad for you) is supported by other studies. Walter Willett and countless other experts were quite wrong on the biggest health issue of our time (how to reduce heart disease, the #1 cause of death).

I’m still prepared to accept that, for whatever reason, red meat intake is correlated with (even causes) a large increase in mortality (heart disease and colon cancer if I recall correctly). But is the saturated fat the culprit? And the type of diet fed to beef makes a difference in the lipids we consume (feed them with omega 6 or trans fats and it would be understandably unhealthy to eat). But pros were wrong about cholesterol (lowering it with statins is harmful) and vegetable oil.

Red Lantern, Show Me Love

good: Raise the Red Lantern (too bad about the ending; I would have liked more ass-kicking)

decent: Show Me Love (1998) (cheesy ending, but authentic until then)