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08 Sep 19:04

Great News! Dog Ownership is Optional!

by Mr. Money Mustache

MMM opens a can of worms, but I thought i'd share since dogs came up at the home invasion discussion the other night and all four of us were surprisingly against dogs.

there be some pissed off people in the comments section...


wolf_brotherIf you were to show up and gaze down on our planet as an outsider, you could easily get the impression that Dogs run the place, and we Humans exist only to serve their needs.

We provide them with shelter, transportation, medical care and even grooming, in most cases going further into personal debt to do so. We devote millions of acres of our farmland to raising other types of animals which we then slaughter and chop up and feed to our dogs. We even follow them around with plastic bags so we can pick up their excrement while they tug impatiently on the harness, urging us to hurry up so they can continue their guided tour of the city.

Now, don’t get me wrong – this is just what some visiting aliens would think. You and I know the real reason we have dogs. It’s because of our deeply shared evolutionary roots.

huntersIn episode 2 of the splendid science miniseries Cosmos, the host Neil Degrasse Tyson starts up a campfire and reenacts the fascinating tale of how dogs first joined our family circle. Living as pack hunters ourselves sometime within the last 40,000 years, we started noticing that some of the less wild members of the wolf packs surrounding us could actually be useful and trainable. And the group-based nature of our two species meant that they had some of the same social instincts as us, meaning they could become warm companions as well.

So was born Man’s Best Friend, and we enjoyed the help of domesticated wolves even as we selectively bred them into the hundreds of occasionally cartoonish variants known as dogs that we see running around today.

All of this has made perfect sense over almost all of these subsequent millennia. Most of human history has been spent in the wild, trying to stay alive and produce children that could do the same thing. More recently we moved onto farms, living a much easier life but still one with plenty of wild outdoor space, sheep that needed herding and henhouses that needed protection from foxes. On a worldwide basis, roughly half of us still live out in the country (in the US this figure is down to 19 percent). So there is still no shortage of good homes for dogs.

But at the risk of making myself the target of serious anger and hundreds of rational-sounding justifications, I wanted to point out something that seems to have been forgotten by people in my generation and younger. It’s just the plain, perfectly happy and non-judgmental fact that

Dog Ownership is Optional.

My experience might be partly influenced by living in one of the Mountain states, but it seems dog ownership is absolutely contagious around here. Young single adults will adopt a dog shortly after graduation. One dog often leads to another. Young couples will move in together and blend their dog families into one household, Brady Bunch style. Child-raising families have dogs. Older people have smaller, yappier dogs.  When I go out for a walks, I’m often the only one not walking a dog or three.

And this is before we get into the fact that as a society we have gone batshit crazy. When I first published this article I got hundreds of slightly-to-very upset comments from dog people accusing the article of being very anti-dog (it is not – I am saying they are optional, unlike car clown behavior which is never allowed). And then I got about a dozen private emails in support of the idea of a slight reconsideration of our attitude toward dogs. These people were actually afraid to put these comments out in public, because the dog people are so sensitive! As one reader wrote to me privately:

I feel as though the whole ecology of the US has changed in the last 10 – 15 years due to the extreme increase in ownership of dogs and cats, but also the extreme anthropomorphism of those same dogs & cats.

The dog examples in our area include debt over chemo treatments for dogs (and crowdfunding for this too), portraits of dogs (oil and watercolor of course), bronzed dog busts, dogs in strollers, dog spas & hotels, dog bakeries, dog clothing & costumes, toe nail painting for dogs, lavish pet cemeteries, and now people being upset if they don’t receive dog sympathy cards for their death.

All of this is overwhelming for people like me who actually like animals and see their
 amazing abilities to help the disabled or do great work on a farm, but feel that there should be limitations as well. And as you have found out the vitriol that these pet owners have toward any “voice of reason” is quite loud.

I’m not denying the benefits of dogs. We all know that they bring companionship, hardship, activity and even healthy germs and microbes into our homes. But I think the benefits are generally understood, while the downsides and costs are vastly underestimated.

When you’re a young and otherwise unencumbered adult and you adopt a dog, a huge chunk of your freedom is gone. Instantly, just like that. Suddenly you have a very short leash pulling you back to your house. Your new friend needs to be fed and walked. Did you meet somebody special and want to spend a few days with them? Need to fly somewhere to visit family or take a vacation? Sorry, you’re already out past your curfew and the dog is lonely at home.

For people who tend towards loneliness or introversion and who prefer to be at home most of the time anyway, this could be perfect. But for those with other time-consuming aspirations, it is worth considering what you are giving up to get this nice dog time. After all, every activity is a tradeoff that forces you to give up some other option. You enjoy caring for the dog. But is there something that brings even more happiness through personal growth that you would enjoy if only you had more time?

dogtown2When you are shopping for an apartment or a house or a car, the dog completely changes your decisions. Most landlords don’t accept dogs, because (as I can attest) they shred wood floors, carpets, decks, and gardens. You’ll pay more for rent, tend to buy a house further from work, and are also more likely to choose a larger car or even a truck. How will you take your dog across town on a bike? It can be done by trailer, but not many people advance themselves to that level.

Dogs often create a burden on everybody else. One barking dog can ruin a day of work or a night of sleep for 50 households around you. Even well-picked-up dogshit leaves a smear in the public park grass that gets on the picnic baskets of others or the bare feet of children, and then there’s that certain percentage of people who don’t even think it needs to be picked up at all. Dog piss kills plants and grass in front yards as dog walkers cheerfully stroll past by the dozen.

All of this comes at a financial cost that is usually underestimated. People tend to think of a big, cheap bag of dog food and assume that’s how much it costs to raise a dog – just like they quite wrongly use the cost of gas as an approximation of the cost of driving a car. In reality dogs come along with housing, transportation, kennel space, medical care and sometimes even grooming and entertainment costs. The millions of square feet occupied by pet stores is proof of the billions of dollars we spend on these friends.

Sure, it may well be worth the cost to you. But it is definitely worth reminding yourself of all the costs. Because it translates to a cost of your own freedom, which is really a way of subtracting years for your life. Let’s consider the average case:

The median US household has an income of around $51,000 and a savings rate of 5% ($2550). They are also very likely to have a dog, which averages about $2,000 per year if you amortize in the various medical emergencies and one-time costs. But the cost is much higher if the dog also influenced their housing choices or their decision to drive an Outback or a Tacoma or a Tahoe or worse.

Some friends of mine like to travel for two months out of every winter, leaving the pets at home. Without pets, they could easily rent out their beautiful house downtown and bring in $5000 to fully fund those two months in the tropics. Instead, they now struggle to find a house/pet-sitter willing to stay in the house for free. In this case, that $5,000 per year should be added to the total annual cost of the pets.

Despite the manageable-sounding numbers, this is a big deal. A savings rate of only 5% translates to a working career of 66 years, while saving just that extra $2000 brings you to 9%, which means you are financially independent in a slightly less ridiculous 54 years. The average dog family extends their mandatory working career by at least 12 years. Adopt two big dogs and use them to justify a big truck, and you’re instantly up to twenty years extra, workin’ for the man, three weeks annual vacation, conference calls from the cubicle, carpal tunnel syndrome, hope they don’t cancel that pension plan.

At this point in the discussion, we usually arrive at “But I love my furry friend! I wouldn’t give him up for any price!” … 

… and that is exactly the point. Because statements like that mean that all logic has gone out the window. Emotion has taken over the driver’s seat in your life while you are hog-tied with duct tape in the back seat. And emotion is a terrible driver, as you can see from the life path of the American middle class consumer. So think before you drink: Just like children, it’s hard to give up dogs once they are part of your family.

It is very easy, however, to postpone the formation of that family until you are truly ready for it. Financially independent with a nice roomy shabby chic house out in the country, with half an acre of your own organic produce, a nice craft brewery in the garage, and paths and forests where the dog can run free. Even ten years into financial independence myself, I still marvel at the life of dog owners and remain eternally thankful that the adoption of these creatures is completely optional.

And Now For a Completely Different Perspective

Over the summer, I had a discussion like this with my two older sisters, who are both dog people. While they do live in the country, the differences run deeper than just geographical suitability. One of them took the time to write me a counterpoint to explain what it feels to be a proper dog person. So as an offset to Mr. Money Mustache’s typically insensitive and one-sided rant, here are her own words:

Good News on Dogs
by Sister MM

Good news: You don’t need a dog. Or much of anything, really, but nobody wants to live in a white featureless box eating fortified pablum, so we add things. For some people, the benefits of dog ownership are more than worth the expense. It very much depends on the person and the situation.
In some situations a dog is worth the price.

Therapy for the socially odd:
People are large wild animals. For some of us more than others, dealing with other people is complicated and stressful. It can be rewarding, but it takes work. Dogs give us some of the same benefits, with orders of magnitude less stress and effort.
I felt I made some breakthroughs in dealing with other humans when I started living with dogs. My closest friend was my sister when growing up, and my parents were not overly sociable . I get along with other people very easily, but don’t tend to connect with them. Dogs were quite helpful to me. In addition to the relationship with the dogs themselves, dogs provided opportunities to connect with other (often, lovely socially odd) people over a common interest.

Confidence boost:
When dealing with a dog, you are always on top of the power ladder. It’s not inconceivable that this could change your biochemistry, to make you more confident in your dealings with others. When your brain, for some reason, wants you to fit into the bottom of the pecking order with other humans, isn’t it a relief to go home and have a creature around who needs you to be the strong one?

Human substitute:
When you have a companion animal, you can build a detailed mental representation of the mind of a another creature, as we do with humans.
You have somebody to talk to. (They don’t understand or answer. We don’t seem to care). You can communicate a fair bit just with body language. They are a source of physical affection and touch. Some people need a lot of this, some people just need a bit. You can spend decades finding a mate. You can get a dog now.

Child substitute:
Taking care of somebody or something else is, for many people, very rewarding. It is one of our strongest instincts.
We laugh at dog owners treating their pets like children, but could happiness be defined, in a way, as the opportunity to express our instinctive behaviors? We don’t have 12 kids the way our great-grandparents did.

Animal husbandry:
A lot of us come from long lines of farming folks. Having animals around feels instinctively right. As vestigial, and yet as true as the beauty of flowers or birdsong.

Adventure excuse:
Most dogs are always up for an adventure. People with a high drive for adventure can’t always find other people who are up for it at any time any day. Their obvious enjoyment of high adventure makes us step out the door more often.

Interesting subject for study
Dogs can be studied. They enjoy it. You can look at them, think about them, devise training ideas for them, experiment, and they enjoy every minute of it. They are fascinating creatures.

Own a piece of physical perfection.
Training performance in a super athletic dog is fun. For a little bit of money can buy a dog with the canine equivalent to an Olympian’s body. You can watch the muscles grow and see the exquisite grace in motion. We ourselves don’t have the genetic potential for such perfection. It’s easy to buy a dog that has it.

Some people can’t motivate themselves to exercise. They can motivate themselves to exercise their dog. Oddly, for many people it is easier to get out the door when somebody else’s health or happiness depends on it.
Super athletic dogs are an extreme case. I know quite a few people who have vastly improved their own physical fitness, in order to be a more useful part of a skijoring team. The transformations are startling. Imagine that you find yourself competing in a two-man team sport with an Olympian as your team mate. Your team mate loves to compete as much as life itself, and doesn’t care how slow you are. Would you not start to feel a little embarrassed at your lack of fitness? Would you not soon start devising a training programme for yourself? It happens all the time.

Now that I have a family, my dogs are not as important to me as they were. I could say that I don’t need dogs now. They are a luxury that we can afford. They make our lives more complicated and more unusual, which is sometimes a good thing.


— Sister MM competes in skijor races and once trained a dog to retrieve beers from her fridge on command. She is also a maple syrup producer, engineer, musician and mother who lives in the woods with her family.

Epilogue: Lots of emphatic comments on this subject as expected, but one point is coming up often enough that it’s worth putting right here: people saying “Kids are optional too! At least Dogs are cheaper and easier than those troublemakers!”, or some variation on that theme.

You are definitely right – kids are worth considering even more carefully than pets. Here’s an article on exactly that, and in fact the title of this article is a play on the title of this older one:

Great News: You’re allowed to have only one Kid!

01 Sep 17:42

The Thrill of the Situation-Room Comedy

by Francine Prose

@Lev- required watching for your foreign policy guys' night discussion?

Francine Prose

Offhandedly mocking our inadequate, improvisatory foreign policy in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, The Brink, the little-known HBO series that aired this summer and has been renewed for a second season, is so funny, so inventive—and so fearless in what it has to say about geopolitics—that watching it would be pure pleasure were the events it depicts not so uncomfortably close to the perilous reality of the world in which we live.

29 Aug 14:26

Guy annoys girlfriend with puns at Ikea


As someone who as spent a few hours at ikea this month (home office built-in cabinet and desk project), I lol'd a few times.

We moved in together recently so had to make the unavoidable trip to IKEA; I figured out how to get through there as quickly as possible. Yeah, yeah I know, ...
13 Jul 01:51

Make a map poster of anywhere

by Nathan Yau

@Lev- cuz i know you luv a good map

Mapfil printed map of Buffalo

Map posters are easy to come by for major cities. But if you want one for a less densely populated area of the world, you might be out of luck. Mapiful can help. Select anywhere in the world, and get a streamlined black and white poster, based on OpenStreetMap data.

After you have your location, pan and zoom to get the exact area you want, and then customize the labeling and choose between four simple themes.


Posters not your thing? Maybe you want map clothing.

Tags: poster

05 Jul 17:55

Tyrone says the Chinese stock market is not a bubble

by Tyler Cowen

so he's kidding? i'm confused.

James Surowiecki writes:

Of seventeen hundred stocks on the Shenzhen Exchange, only four have fallen this year, and more than a hundred have seen their shares rise more than five hundred per cent. The Shenzhen Index as a whole has doubled since January, and is up more than two hundred per cent in the past year. The action on China’s other major stock exchanges—in Shanghai and Hong Kong—hasn’t been quite as torrid, but they’ve had their share of extraordinary winners. The Shanghai Composite Index has risen a hundred and forty per cent since this time last year. In Hong Kong, Jicheng Umbrella Holdings (which makes, yes, umbrellas) went public in February: its shares are up almost seventeen hundred per cent.

Tyrone, Tyler’s evil twin, says buy, buy buy!  Borrow to buy, and then borrow to borrow!  Tyrone has read so many people in the last week calling the Chinese stock market a bubble, so the contrarian in him thinks you simply need to take the plunge as soon as possible.

Direct foreign investment has been allowed only as of late 2014:

The Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect program will allow all investors to buy shares on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, while also permitting wealthy investors in mainland China to buy stocks listed in Hong Kong. The move allows investors access to companies with an overall market value of roughly $2 trillion.

“We think it is very significant. We plan to participate,” said Gary Greenberg, head of emerging markets at Hermes Investment Management in London, which managed $46.9 billion in assets as of June 30.

That’s a lot of foreign capital to push up the value of Ma and Pa Tofu, and indeed that flood of capital will validate your early investment.  And who amongst us is not tempted to diversify just a wee bit into the world’s second largest economy, indeed the very largest by PPP measures?  Surely the coming tidal wave of foreign liquidity will push aside all present minor worries.

On the domestic front, Chinese savings are currently real-estate intensive, and over time those funds be shifting into equities, especially as Chinese graduate students carry the lessons of Mehra and Prescott back home.  As prices fluctuate, the market is assessing how significant these effects will be, just as it once did with subprime.

Besides, the market went up 4.6% on Monday alone, and that is at a time when Chinese manufacturing seems to be slowing.  The Chinese government itself proclaimed the stock market to be “healthy,” and indeed many different parts of the government, including the media, have seconded this verdict.  Why bet against all of them?

Did you not know that the Chinese debt-equity ratio is too high?  Well, higher equity prices will help lower that ratio, as the government intends; new stock issues are being used to buy back corporate debt, some of it dollar-denominated.

If nothing else, return back to some patriotic context.  Was it not a good idea to buy American stocks when our country had a per capita gdp of 6-7k, and headed up?  With a 20-30 year time horizon, was it not a good idea to buy American stocks even in 1929?

To be sure, the forthcoming liquidity-based, foreign investor-driven price movements imply a non-horizontal demand curve for those stocks, and thus violate the stricter forms of EMH.  But who said a demand curve should be perfectly flat anyway?  Weren’t the Marxists referring to perfectly flat demand curves when they said competitive capitalism is the absolute loss of freedom?  And hasn’t China been moving away from Marxism?  Q.E.D.  So Tyrone says it is time to borrow to buy.  Someone out there — maybe even you — won’t regret it.

03 Jul 02:29

A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society

by Thomas Piketty

to read

Thomas Piketty

Inequality: What Can Be Done?
by Anthony B. Atkinson

Anthony Atkinson occupies a unique place among economists. During the past half-century, in defiance of prevailing trends, he managed to place the question of inequality at the center of his work while demonstrating that economics is first and foremost a social and moral science. In his new book, Inequality: What Can Be Done?—more personal than his previous ones and wholly focused on a plan of action—he provides us with the broad outlines of a new radical reformism.

26 Jun 03:33

Why Non-Jews Are Choosing Jewish Circumcision Ceremonies

by Jessica Alpert

When Allison Finch, a 36-year-old mother of five from Houston, had her first son, in 2007, she had him circumcised before taking him home. But the circumcision was cosmetically uneven, a result that left her regretting the choice to have the procedure done in the hospital. “We weren’t overly impressed, but we didn’t know that there was another way,” she says.

So when their second son, Henry, was born in 2011, she and her husband Robert went a different route. Although they identify as practicing Christians, the Finches decided to have their baby circumcised by a mohel, a Jewish person trained to perform a ritual circumcision, or brit milah (Hebrew for “the covenant of circumcision”). In keeping with Jewish tradition, the family asked the mohel to circumcise Henry on the eighth day of his life.

Finch isn’t the only non-Jew who has felt a connection to the religious elements of the procedure. Nationwide, circumcisions have decreased over the last few decades—from 64.5 percent of newborn boys in 1979 to 58.3 percent in 2010, according to Centers for Disease Control data—but among those opting to circumcise their sons, some non-Jews are forgoing the hospital or doctor’s office and requesting Jewish mohels for reasons both practical and religious. (Reliable statistics on religious circumcisions are hard to come by, but several mohels I talked to said they’ve noticed an uptick in their popularity in recent years.) Mohels, who typically perform circumcisions in private homes, can be doctors, but some are simply devout Jews—often, but not always, members of the clergy—who undergo technical training in order to learn how to perform the procedure. All mohels, including health professionals, are also trained in the ritual aspects of circumcision.

Non-religious circumcisions are typically done in the hospital around 24 to 48 hours after the baby’s birth, though some parents may choose to circumcise their sons in a doctor’s office after the baby has been taken home. (The exact timing may depend on each pediatrician, but the procedure generally takes place within the first four weeks of a baby’s life.) Techniques used vary from doctor to doctor, but three methods are common in the U.S.: the Gomco clamp, the Mogen clamp, and the Plastibell, a ring attached to the penis underneath the foreskin. The procedure can take anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds with the Mogen clamp to 10 minutes with the Plastibell; most mohels use one of the clamps.

In a hospital setting, the parents may not necessarily be present while the procedure is performed. (After confirming with the family that they wanted their son circumcised, Finch says, members of the hospital staff “just came in and told us that it had been done and how to care for it.”) At a traditional Jewish circumcision, a baby is circumcised in the presence of his family, usually as he lays on a pillow that’s been placed on the lap of a family member. Mohels have varied methods for comforting the baby, including a sugar solution, a drop of wine, or topical or injectable anesthesia. Physicians in the hospital may use topical or injectable anesthesia to make the baby more comfortable.

Philip Sherman, a mohel and a cantor at Congregation Shearith Israel, a synagogue in New York, estimates that he’s done more than 21,000 circumcisions over his 40-year career, and that he now does one or two per month on non-Jews. While Sherman doesn’t perform Jewish blessings at the circumcision of a non-Jewish child, he says that his circumcisions always have a spiritual element, and that many of the parents he’s worked with tell him they pick him over physicians for religious reasons. “Families who are seeking traditional mohels like myself want someone who is not only a super-specialist, but someone who is religiously observant,” he says. “They are seeking the spiritual component and are often seeking to do this in the context of their own religion or spirituality.” In fact, Sherman has an entire website dedicated to “holistic circumcisions,” which he performs instead of a traditional Jewish ceremony for non-Jewish families. These circumcisions involve the same technique as a traditional Jewish ceremony without the blessings. Sherman will often open the ceremony with a humanistic prayer but encourages families to add their own readings, songs, and prayers.

Sherman draws a clear distinction between his work and the medical realm: “I do not perform medical procedures,” he explains. “All brisses and circumcisions that I perform are religious in nature. If it is a bris,” he said, using the Yiddish shorthand for Brit Milah, “it is a religious ceremony. If it is for a non-Jewish family, there may be scriptural readings, psalms, blessings, and prayers that are recited.”

As demand for circumcision by mohels continues outside of the Jewish community, though, some experts caution that mohels like Sherman may be putting themselves at legal risk.

Thus far, legal regulation of mohels has been mostly limited to civil suits. In 2013, for example, a Pennsylvania family sued the mohel who severed their infant son’s penis during a ritual circumcision, citing negligence. Pennsylvania authorities also have the option to prosecute negligent mohels for practicing medicine without a license, a state spokesman told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but with circumcision, “You have to balance religious-freedom protections against public health and safety.”

Similarly, in the 1993 New York State Supreme Court case of Zakhartchenko v. Weinberger, a Jewish man who suffered a botched circumcised as an adult sued the mohel who performed the procedure, which was done in a hospital setting. The court ruled that while the government did have the duty to ensure that mohels met certain “standards of skill and care,” it otherwise had no authority to regulate circumcision as a religious rite:

A religious ritual, such as a circumcision, anciently practiced and reasonably conducted, is not subject to governmental restrictions so long as it is consistent with the peace or safety of this State. Therefore, while a circumcision performed by a physician would be the practice of medicine, a circumcision performed as a religious ritual by a qualified person (a mohel, in this case) does not constitute the practice of the profession of medicine.

Both of these cases involved Jewish plaintiffs—but they have tricky implications for mohels performing non-Jewish circumcisions. The right to perform brit milah is protected under the First Amendment, but when it’s no longer a religious ritual, mohels may run up against laws that forbid the practice of medicine without a license, explains Marci Hamilton, a church-state scholar and professor at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. There is no legal gray area for mohels who are also health professionals—these mohels can perform the procedure on non-Jews as part of their medical practice, even if the primary purpose is religious rather than medical. But others, Hamilton says, may be subject to prosecution when they perform the procedure outside of its religious context.

When it’s a non-Jewish family using a mohel, “The mohel is not acting as a religious participant, and therefore his acts are not protected as free exercise,” she explains. “This is really a medical business transaction, not a religious transaction.”

Along these lines, some Jews fear that mohels like Sherman who work outside the faith may inadvertently serve as fodder for anti-circumcision activists. “I think it is problematic on every single level for mohels who are not doctors to do procedures on non-Jews. I am dreading the day when one of these guys makes a mistake and all of Judaism pays for it,” says Michael Barclay, the chief rabbi at Temple Ner Simcha, a synagogue in Westlake Village, California. (He is not a mohel.) “[Circumcision is] a primary commandment of our faith, and when a mohel who is not a doctor messes up on a non-Jewish kid, that is just going to give a lot of fuel to the fire of making the practice illegal.”  Barclay points to previous efforts in his state in 2011, when a ban on circumcision gained traction in Santa Monica and San Francisco.

The San Francisco effort mobilized local Jewish and Muslim leaders who said their right to perform circumcisions was protected under the First Amendment. The state punted; in July 2011, a Superior Court judge ruled that the ban could not appear on the ballot that November, citing a law preventing municipalities from regulating medical practice. A few months later, in October 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown cemented this idea even further by signing into law a ban on all local circumcision bans, making it illegal for municipalities to outlaw the practice.

But for some, policy debates and legal liability are secondary concerns. Some religious Jewish scholars are unhappy with any mohel—doctor or not—performing circumcisions on non-Jews. Moshe Tendler, a medical ethicist and rabbi at Yeshiva University in New York City, says traditional Jewish law, or halacha, forbids mohels from circumcising non-Jews. Other Jewish scholars argue that this position, like much of Jewish law, is open to interpretation. Tendler stands by his interpretation and worries that the growing number of mohels performing the procedure on non-Jews may cheapen the meaning of the ritual. “Jewish circumcision is not a surgical procedure,” he says. “It’s a religious one.”

Some mohels who work with non-Jews counter critics like Tendler by noting that they aren’t actually performing a Jewish ceremony at all. Sherman notes that mohels have been performing circumcisions on non-Jews—including the British royal family—for generations. When he was in Israel training to become a mohel in 1977, he says, his teacher, then the chief mohel of Jerusalem, received a call from the Italian ambassador to Israel, who asked him to circumcise his newborn son.

Fred Kogen, a Los Angeles-area physician who now works full-time as a mohel, points out that although he does not perform any Jewish blessings when doing a circumcision for a non-Jewish family, he doesn’t prevent families from creating their own religious ceremony around the procedure.  “It’s not for me to say they can’t do this,” he says, adding that his only goal in working with non-Jewish parents is “to provide these families the opportunity to have a safe, humane, respectful circumcision experience.”

Joe and Carrie Dilley, both psychologists who live near Pasadena, California, hired Kogen in 2015 after deciding they wanted a more family-oriented ceremony for their son, as opposed to a hospital circumcision. Carrie, whose family has some Jewish ancestry, says she first learned about mohels after attending the traditional Jewish ceremony of her nephew in 2004 (her sister’s husband is Jewish). The Dilleys found the ceremony meaningful, she says, and appreciated the fact that extended family could attend. Years later, during a birthing class while pregnant, Carrie listened to her birthing instructor explain the different methods of circumcision; when the Dilleys expressed an interest in using a mohel, the instructor recommended Kogen. Eight days after their son was born—timing requested by the Dilleys—Kogen came over to the family’s house, where immediate and extended family members had assembled for a small brunch. As Kogen performed the procedure, Joe read a verse from Psalms and recited a blessing over the baby. “We were really grateful to be able to meld our own faith journey into this ceremony,” he says.

Sherman, the cantor, is convinced that even without the traditional Jewish blessings, a circumcision from a mohel allows all families to mark their child’s circumcision as something more than a surgery. “The goal is simple,” he says, “to let people know that there is an alternative that is better, more compassionate, gentler than what doctors or hospitals will do.”   

Nearly four years after her first experience with a mohel, Allison Finch, the Texas mother of five, recently chose the same option for her youngest child, a son named Peter. She called the same mohel to perform the procedure—and plans to call him again, she says, for any future sons: “I just hope he is training another person to someday take his place.”

This article was originally published at

26 Jun 02:30

More on Axovant's IPO


crazy shenanigans like this make me question 'buying the market' at vanguard- is there any way to stay away from bubble bull-shit (haha) like this?
wait- value tilting?
via lbstopher

Update: the IPO went off at the top of its range, I am sorry to report. More here from FierceBiotech, and I agree with John Carroll's take.

I wrote just recently about Axovant and their plans to go public with an Alzheimer's therapy picked up on the cheap from GSK. Now here's a look from Adam Feuerstein at at the whole situation, and it reeks even more than I'd thought.

20% of the company is being sold to the public, in an offering that's recently been scaled up to $250 million. And it's one of those friendly, welcoming deals, if you run in the right circles:

You with me so far? Hedge fund guy forms a company and subsidiary to buy an old Alzheimer's drug Glaxo didn't seem to want for $5 million. Six months later and without doing any clinical development at all, hedge fund guy sets terms for IPO of shell subsidiary which values the same old Alzheimer's drug at well over $1 billion.

It gets better. Perhaps sensing reluctance from outside investors to buy a minority stake in an old Alzheimer's drug Glaxo seemingly gave away for almost nothing, Ramaswamy gets two more hedge funds -- RA Capital and Visium Asset Management -- to "indicate an interest" in buying shares in the Axovant IPO valued at up to $150 million.

As inducement for their interest in the Axovant IPO, RA Capital and Visium are allowed to sell their shares (if they buy) after 90 days. The customary lock-up period for insiders in an IPO is 180 days.

The biotech bull market is a wonderful thing. . .

Indeed it is, if you're on the nice side of it. But if this IPO goes off well this week, I'm going to have to take it as a sign of undeniable craziness in the market. There really seems to be no reason for Axovant to be going public at this time and under these terms, other than the fact that there's a horde of people outside its door, jumping up and down and waving fistfuls of money. If that's your idea of a sustainable market, or if it just sounds like a fun time, then go ahead, I guess. Caveat bug-eyed, clueless emptor and all that.

26 Jun 02:24

The Martian | Official Trailer


despite knowing the story, i still want to see this one. hoping they show a lot of the survival stuff, unlike that let down of a survival movie- castaway.

THE MARTIAN | Official Trailer: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by ...
26 Jun 02:22

The Hillary in Our Future

by Michael Tomasky

the waters get muddy...

And in case you're wondering as you begin reading, yes, it is a smear book (supported by Murdoch companies), and...:
"Schweizer doesn’t engage in journalism. He does a decent—and, clearly, convincing, at least to a number of observers, including some journalists—imitation of journalism. But it isn’t really journalism."

Still, they are not squeaky clean (is anyone?), but it has me wondering- WWHS? (what would hitchens say?)

Michael Tomasky

Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich
by Peter Schweizer

As Hillary Rodham Clinton pursues the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, we face a situation that is wholly without precedent in modern American electoral history.

26 Jun 02:19

The Danger of Picking a Major Based on Where the Jobs Are

by Bourree Lam

@Lev- thought this was interesting.
that last response tho- "to a lot of people, what's really important is not really whether they're going to do well or poorly—it's "Am I doing what it looks like I'm supposed to be doing? Am I doing something that my friends and family will believe is a success?" And that's perfectly fine."
it is?

The question of what to major in during college will often get another question in response: “Well, what job do you want?” On the surface, it seems that what a person studies in college should relate to his or her planned career path, but it turns out that it’s very hard to predict how those two things will interact with each other.

Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, studies hiring and the American workplace. His latest book, Will College Pay Off?, looks at the complexities of the job market for college graduates as well as the fallacy of treating higher education as job training.

These days, college is still sold as a ticket to the good life, yet many American graduates simply can’t afford to pay back their loans. In his book, Cappelli tackles a fundamental question: Is college a good financial decision?

I recently spoke with Cappelli about how he thinks about college in relation to the job market. The transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.

Bourree Lam: How did you decide to write this book?

Peter Cappelli: What began to worry me, particularly in the context of education, is the arguments suggesting that it was an unqualified obvious thing that everybody ought to go to college, or that it paid off enormously, and that you were crazy not to go—which just seemed a little odd to me because the evidence about the payoff from college was not completely straightforward.

For example, things you think we would know—like why it is that college grads make more money than high-school grads—we actually don’t have a very clear answer for. Is it because they are better off before they go to college? We know that that’s generally true: Kids who go to college have resources, they’re smarter, they would have done better even if they didn’t go to college. We know that the ability to graduate from college signals something that simply getting into college doesn’t signal. Then there’s the idea that you might actually learn some things useful to employers.

But if you look at what employers say, at least about bachelor’s degree folks, they’re not particularly interested in the academic material that you learn in college anyway. So, answering the basic question of why [college grads] make more money is not completely obvious to me. Yet, you would think, listening to the rhetoric, that it was absolutely a slam dunk that you’d make more money because of all the things you're learning in college and that it’s obvious you should go.

In particular, the reason that I was worried about this is that you get lots of people who are going to college who are really struggling to go. And the reason they’re going is because they have been persuaded that it’s going to pay off financially. There’s a big concern that a lot of people are getting into big financial trouble on this promise that these college degrees are really going to pay off.

Lam: Has this always been the way people talked about college? Is it a recent phenomenon to look at college as a financial decision or an investment?

Cappelli: A lot of these ideas are driven by, not academic research per se, but academic frameworks. And the human-capital framework in economics is that education is an investment and there’s a payoff from it. That got picked up by people in policy who were arguing about how we’re going to pay for college. The implication or extension of that argument was, “Well, individuals should pay for it because they’re benefiting from it.”

That argument, which we didn’t hear so much 30 or 40 years ago, is pervasive now—that you should pay for the things you benefit from. As in, cut back on the government investment in these things because it pays off for the individual who paid for it. So once you head down that line, and then policy adjusts to it, there have been pretty dramatic cutbacks at the state level in funding for the universities, which is where 80 percent of U.S. kids go to college. Income has gone nowhere for parents, and college costs have gone up. The cost has gone way up; the ability to pay is flat. You as an individual now are being told you should go because it’ll pay off.  It’s a changing way of thinking, but it’s also a necessity for a lot of people because if it doesn’t pay off and they borrow the money to go, they’re in big trouble.

Lam: One of the pieces of this that I found so interesting is when you talk in your book about the futility of students trying to predict the job market and pick the “right” major. Should students be thinking about job prospects this way when they’re picking majors in college?

Cappelli: I think the short answer is no, but they absolutely do. It’s almost presented to you like you’re nuts if you don’t. The problem is we really don’t know, and even to the extent to which we know, one of the things we’re pretty sure of is that our ability to make long-term predictions is terrible. So if you’re a 17-year-old, and you’re picking a college and you’re picking it based on the field you want to go into—for the average kids it’s about five years before you graduate—but if you’re picking your major then, it’s six years later that you’re in the job market. The odds that you’re going to be right are close to zero.

Lam: Why is that?

Cappelli: Well, one reason is that the economy bounces all over the place in terms of jobs, particularly for these jobs that we hear are “hot” all the time, like tech jobs. The reason that they’re hot is precisely because you can’t predict them. And it’s not like all tech jobs are hot—that’s a myth. It’s not like all engineering jobs are hot—they’re not. The ones that are hot vary every few years, and the reason they’re hot is because something happens to increase demand like a new technology. Take petroleum engineering, for example, which is a hot job because of fracking. Nobody saw fracking coming 10 years ago.

Lam: Or the iPhone.

Cappelli: Yeah, there weren’t that many petroleum engineers, or the mobile-app [industry], which is the hot thing in IT, people didn’t see that coming and so suddenly they need a lot of it. They don’t have very many people who can do it, so the job pays like crazy. But you wouldn’t have known that going into it, and so the next thing that happens is that the kids on college campuses all start pouring into those programs and even if the jobs are still there when that huge cohort starts to graduate they dampen down the demand. So then it’s no longer hot anymore.

One of the concerns I raise in this book is this proliferation of these very vocational majors, like casino construction or these sorts of things, because you’re really taking a huge risk for error. If casinos aren’t hiring the year you graduate with a casino construction degree—what are you going to do? You'd be better off with a liberal arts degree, partly because you would have learned more. The other thing about these majors is that they’re not costless to pursue, these very vocational majors, because there’s a bunch of things that you could have been learning that you’re not.

Lam: Is this what you mean when you say that the labor-supply chain is dysfunctional?

Cappelli: Yeah. A few generations ago the employers used to look for smart or adaptable kids on college campuses with general skills. They would convert them to what they wanted inside the company and they would retrain them and they’d get different skills. They’re not doing that now. They're just expecting that the kids will show up with the skills that the employer needs when the employer needs them. That’s a pretty difficult thing to expect, because of these kinds of problems. So the employers now are always complaining that they can’t get the people they need, but it’s pretty obvious why that’s not happening.

Lam: You made a point in the book that where a person graduates—the geographical region where your college is—matters more than people expect. What makes you think that’s true?

Cappelli: My colleagues who study this say it's true. And you can kind of see it if you talk to different employers and see where they recruit. It's surprising that many companies target certain schools and not others. It's not that it's impossible to get a job from a college that's not on their list, but it's a whole lot harder. How would you know they're hiring, if they don't come to your school and haven't talked to anyone from your career office and said they're looking for people? ... A lot of employers only recruit regionally, so if you're not in that region you're not going to get that job.

Lam: Tell me about what you call the “Home Depot approach” and why it's problematic.

Cappelli: This is about the skill gap. The Home Depot view is that people think employees are kind of like widgets, and jobs have these really clear definitions, which are kind of like the size of a bolt. Say you need a petroleum engineer, and it's completely defined exactly what that is. If you don't have exactly those skills you won't be able to do a job, like only a ¾-inch bolt nut will fit on a ¾-inch bolt. When you get into the workforce it's absolutely not true. If you look at most of the people who are in computer programming, for example, they have no IT degree—they just learned how to program. Maybe they had a couple of courses in it, maybe they were self-taught. In Silicon Valley, the industry was built with only 10 percent of the workforce having IT degrees. You can do most of these jobs with a variety of different skills. I think what's happening now is that people have come to think that you need these degrees in order to do the jobs, which is not really true. Maybe what these degrees do for you is they shorten the job training by a bit, but that's about it. And you lose a bunch of other things along the way.

Lam: So what are employers actually concerned about when it comes to fresh grads?

Cappelli: What they say in the surveys about graduates or young people is that the kids aren't mature enough. That's not exactly new. A lot of this goofy generation stuff is really just that, it's older people looking at younger people saying, "Kids today!"

Lam: What is maturity defined as in this context?

Cappelli: Conscientiousness mainly: Show up on time, work hard, care about what you're doing, be a self-starter—it's motivation basically.

Lam: I just feel like it's so natural to worry about these things. Even as I was going through college, I was worried about getting a job and how to present myself to employers. What advice do you have for those graduating or just starting school in terms of how to think about this in a way that's more based on the reality of how these markets work together?

Cappelli: Well, I guess I would say that first of all you can't completely control these things. There's an awful lot of randomness and luck. The diminishing returns set in really quickly when it comes to how much planning is going to pay off, and how many job-hunting skills are really going to be useful. I think we worry far more about this than is useful—there's just not a lot you can do about all these things. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The first job is not the end, which I think is difficult for people to hear.

Lam: It is hard to hear, because we read reports saying that, for example, for the generation that graduated around the Great Recession, not getting a great first job is going to dampen your lifetime earnings.

Cappelli: Well it's true, on average. I think that's something important to remember: These reports are always on average, and not many people are average.

That doesn't mean there are things that can be done. What happens to you later is probably much more important to the outcomes than what happens 20 years before. For example, kids who didn't get the best job out of college, or didn't go to the best schools, there's a million ways, particularly in the U.S., to distinguish yourself and get the best jobs later on. The importance of what you did the year you graduate starts to diminish year by year. It might still matter a bit, but what you've done recently matters way more.

We probably worry far more about that than what we're actually learning and experiences that might be useful to us. Certainly if you look at what employers are saying, they really like what people have done more than I think the academics do. They really seem to value work experience, internships, volunteer work, extracurricular activities. If you look at the data, they care more about those things than your classroom experience.

There's one piece of bad news on this though. As the comedian Steve Martin said, "Just be better than everybody else." That's probably right, although the problem is that not everybody can be better than everybody else.

Lam: When I bring this research to a personal level, I keep on thinking about supply and demand and how everybody's trying to play this game where you try to aim for a field of work that has less competition for jobs so you can stand out.

Cappelli: What you put your finger on is that to a lot of people, what's really important is not really whether they're going to do well or poorly—it's "Am I doing what it looks like I'm supposed to be doing? Am I doing something that my friends and family will believe is a success?" And that's perfectly fine. I'm much more worried about the folks who have to get a good job because they have to pay off their loans. People who feel they have to chase these degrees that seem to offer a hot job, there's no evidence that it's going to, and they're chasing that because they have to.

This article was originally published at

24 Jun 17:28

Markets in everything 3-D printing arbitrage to curb rhino poaching

by Tyler Cowen

A San Francisco biotech startup has managed to 3D print fake rhino horns that carry the same genetic fingerprint as the actual horn. It plans to flood Chinese market with these cheap horns to curb poaching.

And this:

The company plans to release a beer brewed with the synthetic horn later this year in the Chinese market.


The full story is here, via Max Roser.
24 Jun 17:14

When Gut Bacteria Changes Brain Function

by David Kohn


By now, the idea that gut bacteria affects a person’s health is not revolutionary. Many people know that these microbes influence digestion, allergies, and metabolism. The trend has become almost commonplace: New books appear regularly detailing precisely which diet will lead to optimum bacterial health.

But these microbes’ reach may extend much further, into the human brains. A growing group of researchers around the world are investigating how the microbiome, as this bacterial ecosystem is known, regulates how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage—about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds—could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.

“There’s been an explosion of interest in the connections between the microbiome and the brain,” says Emeran Mayer, a gastroenterologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has been studying the topic for the past five years.

Some of the most intriguing work has been done on autism. For decades, doctors, parents, and researchers have noted that about three-quarters of people with autism also have some gastrointestinal abnormality, like digestive issues, food allergies, or gluten sensitivity. This recognition led scientists to examine potential connections between gut microbes and autism; several recent studies have found that autistic people’s microbiome differs significantly from control groups. The California Institute of Technology microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian has focused on a common species called Bacteroides fragilis, which is seen in smaller quantities in some children with autism. In a paper published two years ago in the journal Cell, Mazmanian and several colleagues fed B. fragilis from humans to mice with symptoms similar to autism. The treatment altered the makeup of the animals’ microbiome, and more importantly, improved their behavior: They became less anxious, communicated more with other mice, and showed less repetitive behavior.

Exactly how the microbes interact with the illness—whether as a trigger or as a shield—remains mostly a mystery. But Mazmanian and his colleagues have identified one possible link: a chemical called 4-ethylphenylsulphate, or 4EPS, which seems to be produced by gut bacteria. They’ve found that mice with symptoms of autism have blood levels of 4EPS more than 40 times higher than other mice. The link between 4EPS levels and the brain isn’t clear, but when the animals were injected with the compound, they developed autism-like symptoms.

Mazmanian, who in 2012 was awarded a MacArthur grant for his microbiome work, sees this as a “potential breakthrough” in understanding how microbes contribute to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. He says the results so far suggest that adjusting gut bacteria could be a viable treatment for the disease, at least in some patients. “We may be able to reverse these ailments,” he says. “If you turn off the faucet that produces this compound, then the symptoms disappear. That’s what we see in the mouse model.”

Scientists have also gathered evidence that gut bacteria can influence anxiety and depression. Stephen Collins, a gastroenterology researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, has found that strains of two bacteria, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, reduce anxiety-like behavior in mice (scientists don’t call it “anxiety” because you can’t ask a mouse how it’s feeling). Humans also carry strains of these bacteria in their guts. In one study, he and his colleague collected gut bacteria from a strain of mice prone to anxious behavior, and then transplanted these microbes into another strain inclined to be calm. The result: The tranquil animals appeared to become anxious.

Overall, both of these microbes seem to be major players in the gut-brain axis. John Cryan, a neuroscientist at the University College of Cork in Ireland, has examined the effects of both of them on depression in animals. In a 2010 paper published in Neuroscience, he gave mice either bifidobacterium or the antidepressant Lexapro; he then subjected them to a series of stressful situations, including a test which measured how long they continued to swim in a tank of water with no way out. (They were pulled out after a short period of time, before they drowned.) The microbe and the drug were both effective at increasing the animals’ perseverance, and reducing levels of hormones linked to stress. Another experiment, this time using lactobacillus, had similar results. Cryan is launching a study with humans (using measurements other than the forced swim test to gauge subjects’ response).

So far, most microbiome-based brain research has been in mice. But there have already been a few studies involving humans. Last year, for example, Collins transferred gut bacteria from anxious humans into “germ-free” mice—animals that had been raised (very carefully) so their guts contained no bacteria at all. After the transplant, these animals also behaved more anxiously.

Other research has examined entire humans, not just their bugs. A paper published in the May 2015 issue of Psychopharmacology by the Oxford University neurobiologist Phil Burnet looked at whether a prebiotic—a group of carbohydrates that provide sustenance for gut bacteria—affected stress levels among a group of 45 healthy volunteers. Some subjects were fed 5.5 grams of a powdered carbohydrate known as galactooligosaccharide, or GOS, while others were given a placebo. Previous studies in mice by the same scientists had shown that this carb fostered growth of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria; the mice with more of these microbes also had increased levels of several neurotransmitters that affect anxiety, including one called brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

In this experiment, subjects who ingested GOS showed lower levels of a key stress hormone, cortisol, and in a test involving a series of words flashed quickly on a screen, the GOS group also focused more on positive information and less on negative. This test is often used to measure levels of anxiety and depression, since in these conditions anxious and depressed patients often focus inordinately on the threatening or negative stimuli. Burnet and his colleagues note that the results are similar to those seen when subjects take anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.

Perhaps the most well-known human study was done by Mayer, the UCLA researcher. He recruited 25 subjects, all healthy women; for four weeks, 12 of them ate a cup of commercially available yogurt twice a day, while the rest didn’t. Yogurt is a probiotic, meaning it contains live bacteria, in this case strains of four species, bifidobacterium, streptococcus, lactococcus, and lactobacillus. Before and after the study, subjects were given brain scans to gauge their response to a series of images of facial expressions—happiness, sadness, anger, and so on.

To Mayer’s surprise, the results, which were published in 2013 in the journal Gastroenterology, showed significant differences between the two groups; the yogurt eaters reacted more calmly to the images than the control group. “The contrast was clear,” says Mayer. “This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.” He thinks the bacteria in the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, and that this led to the production of compounds that modified brain chemistry.

It’s not yet clear how the microbiome alters the brain. Most researchers agree that microbes probably influence the brain via multiple mechanisms. Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA, all of which play a key role in mood (many antidepressants increase levels of these same compounds). Certain organisms also affect how people metabolize these compounds, effectively regulating the amount that circulates in the blood and brain. Gut bacteria may also generate other neuroactive chemicals, including one called butyrate, that have been linked to reduced anxiety and depression. Cryan and others have also shown that some microbes can activate the vagus nerve, the main line of communication between the gut and the brain. In addition, the microbiome is intertwined with the immune system, which itself influences mood and behavior.

This interconnection of bugs and brain seems credible, too, from an evolutionary perspective. After all, bacteria have lived inside humans for millions of years. Cryan suggests that over time, at least a few microbes have developed ways to shape their hosts’ behavior for their own ends. Modifying mood is a plausible microbial survival strategy, he argues that “happy people tend to be more social. And the more social we are, the more chances the microbes have to exchange and spread.”

As scientists learn more about how the gut-brain microbial network operates, Cryan thinks it could be hacked to treat psychiatric disorders. “These bacteria could eventually be used the way we now use Prozac or Valium,” he says. And because these microbes have eons of experience modifying our brains, they are likely to be more precise and subtle than current pharmacological approaches, which could mean fewer side effects. “I think these microbes will have a real effect on how we treat these disorders,” Cryan says. “This is a whole new way to modulate brain function.”

This article was originally published at

16 Jun 18:42

Science, Technology, and Health: A Guide to Pitching for Freelancers

by Adrienne LaFrance

calling freelance writers...

also could be seen as a companion to the latest study hacks...

... so you can self publish on your blog, but could you get published on Atlantic?

@Burly: Or as he also puts it- would your [grandma] recognize it as a metric? ;-)

At The Atlantic, we’ve long been interested in questions without easy answers. As we focus on expanding our coverage of health, science, technology, we’re letting that tradition of curiosity and doggedness guide us. We want your stories to be a part of this effort, and so we've made a blueprint of what we’re looking for in pitches from freelance reporters and writers.

We want your riveting, original, weird, and wonderful stories about science, technology, and health.

We don’t want to tell our readers which superfoods to shove in their mouths right now if they want to live. We don’t want to just list the menial tasks there’s now an app for. We want to look below the surface, and into the future. We want to be upfront about what scientists know and what remains to be discovered. We believe there’s an important role for journalists to play in translating and contextualizing scientific research.

When it comes to topics, we’re expansive and inclusive. So “health” means not just nutrition, exercise, and illness, but also relationships, psychology, sex, family, etc.—all the things that make up a human life. Technology, similarly, is not just about gadgets or Silicon Valley startups. It is fundamentally about people: inventors and engineers and researchers who, prompted by their experiences in the world and the thinkers who came before them, stitch together new systems and bring into existence ideas that really do change the way humans interact with one another.

We like stories that are both serious and silly. Basically, if there’s something you’ve always wondered about, or a question you can’t find a good answer to, that’s a good place to start.

Some things we’re particularly interested in right now include: alternative family structures, hacking, and pollution. Take them where you will. (And we’ll update this list as new obsessions pop up, so check back!) Here is an (incomplete) list of the kinds of stories we’re looking for:

Ambitious reporting on important issues affecting real people:

Living Sick and Dying Young in Rich America

The New Heroin Epidemic

Life of a Police Officer: Medically and Psychologically Ruinous

Clear and engaging explanations of areas of scientific research, especially those that explain why things happen or how things (or people!) work:

Joint Pain, From the Gut

The NSA Probably Really, Really Wants a Quantum Computer

Do Women Need Their Own Viagra?

Being Happy With Sugar

Personal essays with a unique angle, underrepresented perspective, or ties to current trends/research:

I Used to Be an Anti-Vaxer

The Misguided Definition of Rape as ‘Force’

‘People Can Be Afraid of Anything’

She’s Still Dying on Facebook

Q&As with, or profiles of, fascinating people:

Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath

Batgirl’s Psychologist

On Being an Abortion Doula

Interesting looks at trends, subcultures, strange phenomena, or topics that are often ignored:

The Private Lives of Public Bathrooms

Blend Up the Internet and Everything Turns Orange

The Dragon Autopsy

Why We Cry on Planes

The Secret Pot-Growing Operations in America's Cornfields

Why Douching Won’t Die


The Internet’s Original Sin

The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious

The Tampon: A History

The Story Behind AOL's Iconic Yellow Running Man

Stories that pique people’s curiosity:

Why We Sleep Together

How the Gluteus Became Maximus

Some logistical notes:

  1. Yes, we will of course pay you for your work. The amount will depend on the story, but we have room to pay more than we’ve been able to in the past. (If you’re a returning writer, hi!)

  2. We’re looking for pitches right now, but also always! This guide is intended to be a resource for you. Please feel free to contact us whenever you have an amazing idea.

  3. We have to be selective in what we can accept, but we promise if we have to say no, we will try to tell you quickly.

  4. We want a diversity of voices. Young white men are always welcome to pitch, but we’re hungry for other perspectives.

  5. Send your pitches to science @ It’s not a black hole. We check it every day. Promise.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

This article was originally published at

16 Jun 18:33

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Extra Sausage


took me a few (minutes) on the mushrooms.

'i didn't know she had the g.i. joe, kungfu grip'

Hovertext: He's actually an adjunct professor of literature.

New comic!
Today's News:
16 Jun 18:19

How video games can be an educational tool

by T. Rees Shapiro

I am skeptical. if for no other reason than screens are already highly utilized in our/their lives.

I suppose if they are substituting for less-engaging forms of in-classroom practice (or busywork) like silent worksheet time, I wouldn't have a problem. But I wonder if group activities, or applied projects would be as/more fun as a screen-based game.

They are in your pants pocket. Your purse, too. They are in your living room, maybe also with you late at night in bed. Wheels up on a transatlantic flight? They are in the seat in front of you. At work? They are at your desk. Read full article >>

11 Jun 17:48

IN 2007 Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a 37-year-old Republican congresswoman from Washington state, became the first woman in over a decade to give birth in office. In 2010 she had a second child, and in 2013 a third. That made her the first, and so far only, woman to give birth more than once while in Congress. Yet although her experience is rare among legislators, new data on births show that she is, in fact, rather typical of one category of American women. While the overall birth rate keeps declining, well-educated women seem to be having more children, not fewer.

A new report from the Pew Research Centre, based on an analysis of census data, looks at women who have reached their mid-40s (when the vast majority of women stop having children) over the past two decades. It finds that the proportion of all women who reach that age without ever having a child has fallen, but the decline is sharpest among the best-educated women. In 1994, 35% of women with a doctoral degree aged 40 to 44 were childless; by last year, this had fallen to 20% (see chart). Their families are bigger, too. In 1994, half of women with a master’s degree had had two more or more children. By last year, the figure was 60%. It still holds true that the better-educated a woman is, the less likely she is to have a child. But Pew’s data show that the gap has narrowed.

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At the same time, data from the Centres for Disease Control, which monitors births, show that the average new mother has become substantially older. Since the start of recession in 2007, America’s general fertility rate has declined to its lowest level in recorded history. But all that drop is accounted for by teenagers and women in their 20s. Birth rates for women in their 30s have increased markedly. Because older, better-educated women are more likely to be married, this has also stabilised the proportion of children born in wedlock. In 2009 41% of newborn babies had unmarried parents; in 2013, 40.6% did.

Why might older, better-educated women be having more children? Partly because access to education has widened—and so women who were always going to have children are spending more time in college. Another reason is that fertility treatment has improved dramatically, and access to that, too, has widened. Older women who, in the past, wanted children but were unable to have them are now able to.

But according to Philip Cohen, a demographer at the University of Maryland, this does not explain the entire leap. Rather, social changes in the nature of marriage seem to be driving the change. Whereas marriage was once near-universal and unequal, in recent decades it has become a deliberate option and more equal. Well-educated women have been able to form strong relationships with similarly brainy men, in which both parents earn and both do some child care. Getting an education and having a career are no longer always a barrier to having children; sometimes, they make it easier.

In 1965, mothers spent seven times as long caring for children as fathers did. By 2012 they were spending “only” twice as much time elbow-deep in formula and Pampers. According to Stephanie Coontz, of Evergreen State College in Washington, how much time fathers spend helping to bring up children is the main determinant of whether mothers will have a second child. And as more career-minded women have had children, they have become powerful enough to demand time off from their employers. Although America has no national system of paid maternity leave, many professional firms now offer it—Ernst & Young, an accountancy firm, offers 39 weeks to its employees, for example.

Poorer women, however, have had little luck of that sort. As the economic prospects of blue-collar men have faded, women find the menfolk are pitching in not more, but less, suggests Ms Coontz: “And if I’m a lower-income woman…do I want to hitch myself to a guy who may become just another mouth to feed?” Their employers, meanwhile, are less likely to give them time off. When recession came in 2007, it was these women who delayed having children. Giving birth is not yet a luxury good—but it may be getting that way.

10 Jun 22:20

An Ivy League psychotherapist’s guide to healthier bromances

by Carlos Lozada

@dudesdiscuss guys: more fodder for our masculinity thread

My friendships are segregated. I have work friends, neighborhood friends, college friends, kids’ school friends and gym friends. I have “Did you see?” friends who talk sports, and “Did you read?” friends who discuss books. And, of course, I have that peculiarly Washington variety, transactional friends, hanging on to each other in the hope of some eventual mutual payoff. (These are the friends who would disappear from my life if I ceased to work at The Washington Post.)Read full article >>

10 Jun 22:14

What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers


written not just for college students, but for their teachers; Louis Menand makes an appearance too.

Computers and robots are already replacing many workers. What can young people learn now that won’t be superseded within their lifetimes by these devices and that will secure them good jobs and solid income over the next 20, 30 or 50 years? In the universities, we are struggling to answer that question.

Most people complete the majority of their formal education by their early 20s and expect to draw on it for the better part of a century. But a computer can learn in seconds most of the factual information that people get in high school and college, and there will be a great many generations of new computers and robots, improving at an exponential rate, before one long human lifetime has passed.

Two strains of thought seem to dominate the effort to deal with this problem. The first is that we teachers should define and provide to our students a certain kind of general, flexible, insight-bearing human learning that, we hope, cannot be replaced by computers. The second is that we need to make education more business-oriented, teaching about the real world and enabling a creative entrepreneurial process that, presumably, computers cannot duplicate. These two ideas are not necessarily in conflict.

Some scholars are trying to discern what kinds of learning have survived technological replacement better than others. Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy in their book “The New Division of Labor” (Princeton, 2004) studied occupations that expanded during the information revolution of the recent past. They included jobs like service manager at an auto dealership, as opposed to jobs that have declined, like telephone operator.

The successful occupations, by this measure, shared certain characteristics: People who practiced them needed complex communication skills and expert knowledge. Such skills included an ability to convey “not just information but a particular interpretation of information.” They said that expert knowledge was broad, deep and practical, allowing the solution of “uncharted problems.”

These attributes may not be as beneficial in the future. But the study certainly suggests that a college education needs to be broad and general, and not defined primarily by the traditional structure of separate departments staffed by professors who want, most of all, to be at the forefront of their own narrow disciplines. But this old departmental structure is still fundamental at universities, and it is hard to change.

Consider the controversy at Harvard College over the Program in General Education, whose antecedents date to 1946. The program requires Harvard undergraduates to take courses devised to prepare them for a broad range of issues in life after college. But critics have said that the program is not succeeding, and that many professors who participate in it teach only their own department’s scholarly material, without attention to wider aims.

Prof. Louis Menand of Harvard, in a May 5 statement, argued that an education focused on narrow academic disciplines was inadequate: “Less than 20 percent of our students go on to get Ph.D.s,” he said. Many students end up in the business world, broadly construed, not in academia.

In a separate May 5 statement, Prof. Sean D. Kelly, chairman of the General Education Review Committee, said a Harvard education should give students “an art of living in the world.”

But how should professors do this? Perhaps we should prepare students for entrepreneurial opportunities suggested by our own disciplines. Even departments entirely divorced from business could do this by suggesting enterprises, nonprofits and activities in which students can later use their specialized knowledge.

Many of these issues have arisen in my own academic life. My teaching has changed over the decades. I try to make it more useful in confronting issues of creativity and morality in the work world.

When I arrived at Yale in 1982, there were no undergraduate courses in finance. I started one in the fall of 1985, and it continues today. Increasingly, I’ve tried to connect mathematical theory to actual applications in finance.

Since its beginnings, the course has gradually become more robotic: It resembles a real, dynamic, teaching experience, but in execution, much of it is prerecorded, and exercises and examinations are computerized. Students can take it without need of my physical presence. Yale made my course available to the broader public on free online sites: AllLearn in 2002, Open Yale in 2008 and 2011, and now on Coursera.

The process of tweaking and improving the course to fit better in a digital framework has given me time to reflect about what I am doing for my students. I could just retire now and let them watch my lectures and use the rest of the digitized material. But I find myself thinking that I should be doing something more for them.

So I continue to update the course, thinking about how I can integrate its lessons into an “art of living in the world.” I have tried to enhance my students’ sense that finance should be the art of financing important human activities, of getting people (and robots someday) working together to accomplish things that we really want done.

Like Harvard and other colleges and universities, Yale has been struggling with the broad issues for a very long time. It once experimented with an undergraduate business program, to prepare students for life beyond college, but shut down that program in 1954. In the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, antipathy to the business establishment increased. According to the former Yale Graduate School dean John Perry Miller, in his book “Creating Academic Settings” (J. Simeon Press, 1991), there was open “hostility” to the idea of business-oriented education at Yale.

Nonetheless, Yale produced many fine businesspeople. But because of this hostility, Yale did not start a business school until 1976, and even then denied that it was just a business school: Instead of offering a Master of Business Administration, it initially conferred only the more idealistic-sounding Master of Public and Private Management. Before 1976, the university had a great economics department, imbued with a lofty sense of pure theory and mathematics, but it was not focused on practical business education.

The developing redefinition of higher education should provide benefits that will continue for decades into the future. We will have to adapt as information technology advances. At the same time, we must continually re-evaluate what is inherently different between human and computer learning, and what is practical and useful to students for the long haul. And we will have to face the reality that the “art of living in the world” requires at least some elements of a business education.

10 Jun 17:57

Laugh Now (while you can)

by Alex Tabarrok

i did chuckle

Here’s a video of robots falling over on the first day of Darpa’s 2015 robot challenge, a challenge set up after Japan’s nuclear disaster at Fukushima in order to encourage development of robots capable of navigating a disaster area.

Keep in mind that the first Darpa Grand Challenge for driverless vehicles was held in 2004 and not a single vehicle came to close to finishing the course and most failed within a few hundred metres. Did I mention that was in 2004?

09 Jun 19:28

'Seveneves' Blows Up The Moon — And That's Just The Beginning

by Jason Sheehan

still can't decide if I will wade in- I saw a really harsh review somewhere, but this guy and the WP reviewer both 'liked' it.... what to do?

Neal Stephenson's new epic starts big and gets bigger. Critic Jason Sheehan says that while the book can bog down in details, if the world really were ending, you'd want Stephenson by your side.

» E-Mail This

05 Jun 01:56

Diamond Nights: Africa’s Oldest Trees Photographed Against Starry Night Skies by Beth Moon

by Christopher Jobson

@Lev- look familiar?


In this new series of striking images, San Francisco-based photographer Beth Moon (previously) captures some of the world’s oldest living trees against shimmering night skies in remote areas of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Titled Diamond Nights, the new photos were inspired in part by Moon’s interest in several new studies suggesting a relationship between starlight and cosmic radation on tree growth. Diamond Nights is a progression of Moon’s 15-year journey photographing ancient trees around the world. Moon shares about her process:

The majority of these photographs were created during moonless nights, shot with a wide angle lens and ISO of 3200 – 6400. The Milky Way, a ribbon of stars that stretches from horizon to horizon burns brightly in some of the images. Exposures up to 30 seconds allowed enough light to enter the lens without noticeable star movement. Each location required a lot of experimenting. and different lighting techniques. Sometimes a short burst of diffused light from a flashlight was sufficient, or bounced light from multiple flashlights was used for a softer more natural glow.

You can see many more shots in this online gallery, and read more about Moon’s work on the series on Feature Shoot.










01 Jun 16:38

Wanted: A Theology of Atheism


super annoying that I can't copy and paste from NYT anymore. who's got a workaround?

By Molly Worthen

Go to article


27 May 06:16

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - New Sensations


Hovertext: This is the inevitable conclusion of Mountain Dew.

New comic!
Today's News:

Just a reminder that BAHFest submissions are now open. We're trying a new theme in Seattle, where people propose fake, stupid, megaproject ideas. 

26 May 17:35

Renewables Are Disruptive to Coal and Gas

by Ramez Naam

Over the last 5 years, the price of new wind power in the US has dropped 58% and the price of new solar power has dropped 78%. That’s the conclusion of investment firm Lazard Capital. The key graph is here (here’s a version with US grid prices marked). Lazard’s full report is here.

Utility-scale solar in the West and Southwest is now at times cheaper than new natural gas plants. Here’s UBS on the most recent record set by solar. (Full UBS solar market flash here.)

We see the latest proposed PPA price for Xcel’s SPS subsidiary by NextEra (NEE) as in NM as setting a new record low for utility-scale solar. [..] The 25-year contracts for the New Mexico projects have levelized costs of $41.55/MWh and $42.08/MWh.

That is 4.155 cents / kwh and 4.21 cents / kwh, respectively. Even after removing the federal solar Investment Tax Credit of 30%, the New Mexico solar deal is priced at 6 cents / kwh. By contrast, new natural gas electricity plants have costs between 6.4 to 9 cents per kwh, according to the EIA.

(Note that the same EIA report from April 2014 expects the lowest price solar power purchases in 2019 to be $91 / MWh, or 9.1 cents / kwh before subsidy. Solar prices are below that today.)

The New Mexico plant is the latest in a string of ever-cheaper solar deals. SEPA’s 2014 solar market snapshot lists other low-cost solar Power Purchase Agreements. (Full report here.)

  • Austin Energy (Texas) signed a PPA for less than $50 per megawatt-hour (MWh) for 150 MW.
  • TVA (Alabama) signed a PPA for $61 per MWh.
  • Salt River Project (Arizona) signed a PPA for roughly $53 per MWh.

Wind prices are also at all-time lows. Here’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the declining price of wind power (full report here):

After topping out at nearly $70/MWh in 2009, the average levelized long-term price from wind power sales agreements signed in 2013 fell to around $25/MWh.

After adding in the wind Production Tax Credit, that is still substantially below the price of new coal or natural gas.

Wind and solar compensate for each other’s variability, with solar providing power during the day, and wind primarily at dusk, dawn, and night.

Energy storage is also reaching disruptive prices at utility scale. The Tesla battery is cheap enough to replace natural gas ‘peaker’ plants. And much cheaper energy storage is on the way.

Renewable prices are not static, and generally head only in one direction: Down. Cost reductions are driven primarily by the learning curve. Solar and wind power prices improve reasonably predictably following a power law. Every doubling of cumulative solar production drives module prices down by 20%. Similar phenomena are observed in numerous manufactured goods and industrial activities,  dating back to the Ford Model T. Subsidies are a clumsy policy (I’d prefer a tax on carbon) but they’ve scaled deployment, which in turn has dropped present and future costs.

By the way, the common refrain that solar prices are so low primarily because of Chinese dumping exaggerates the impact of Chinese manufacturing. Solar modules from the US, Japan, and SE Asia are all similar in price to those from China.

Fossil fuel technologies, by contrast to renewables, have a slower learning curve, and also compete with resource depletion curves as deposits are drawn down and new deposits must be found and accessed.  From a 2007 paper by Farmer and Trancik, at the Santa Fe Institute, Dynamics of Technology Development in the Energy Sector :

Fossil fuel energy costs follow a complicated trajectory because they are influenced both by trends relating to resource scarcity and those relating to technology improvement. Technology improvement drives resource costs down, but the finite nature of deposits ultimately drives them up. […] Extrapolations suggest that if these trends continue as they have in the past, the costs of reaching parity between photovoltaics and current electricity prices are on the order of $200 billion

Renewable electricity prices are likely to continue to drop, particularly for solar, which has a faster learning curve and is earlier in its development than wind. The IEA expects utility scale solar prices to average 4 cents per kwh around the world by mid century, and that solar will be the number 1 source of electricity worldwide. (Full report here.)

Bear in mind that the IEA has also underestimated the growth of solar in every projection made over the last decade.

Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute expects solar in southern and central Europe (similar in sunlight to the bulk of the US) to drop below 4 cents per kwh in the next decade, and to reach 2 cents per kwh by mid century. (Their report is here. If you want to understand the trends in solar costs, read this link in particular.)

Analysts at wealth management firm Alliance Bernstein put this drop in prices into a long term context in their infamous “Welcome to the Terrordome” graph, which shows the cost of solar energy plunging from more than 10 times the cost of coal and natural gas to near parity. The full report outlines their reason for invoking terror. The key quote:

At the point where solar is displacing a material share of incremental oil and gas supply, global energy deflation will become inevitable: technology (with a falling cost structure) would be driving prices in the energy space.

They estimate that solar must grow by an order of magnitude, a point they see as a decade away. For oil, it may in fact be further away. Solar and wind are used to create electricity, and today, do not substantially compete with oil. For coal and natural gas, the point may be sooner.

Unless solar, wind, and energy storage innovations suddenly and unexpectedly falter, the technology-based falling cost structure of renewable electricity will eventually outprice fossil fuel electricity across most of the world. The question appears to be less “if” and more “when”.

20 May 15:01

Science is supposed to be self-correcting. It isn't. It's rife with bias and error. Can scientists be persuaded to stop fooling themselves?


to read.

Science is supposed to be self-correcting. It isn't. It's rife with bias and error. Can scientists be persuaded to stop fooling themselves?
20 May 14:09



Hovertext: I assume he's talking about bald eagle sounds?

At this point, if we're going to keep insisting on portraying dinosaurs as featherless because it's "cooler", it's time to apply that same logic to art involving bald eagles.
20 May 03:47

Do demand curves slope upwards, or…downwards?

by Tyler Cowen

geez- bigger than I would have thought too.

I say downwards:

With bargain gasoline prices putting more money in the pockets of Americans, owners of hybrids and electric vehicles are defecting to sport utility vehicles and other conventional models powered only by gasoline, according to, an auto research firm.

There are limits, it appears, to how far consumers will go to own a car that became a rolling statement of environmental concern. In 2012, with gas prices soaring, an owner could expect a hybrid to pay back its higher upfront costs in as little as five years. Now, that oft-calculated payback period can extend to 10 years or more.

“We’d all like to save the environment, but maybe not when it costs hundreds of dollars per year,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis for

It is a bigger shift than I would have thought:

In all, 55 percent of hybrid and electric vehicle owners are defecting to a gasoline-only model at trade-in time — the lowest level of hybrid loyalty since began tracking such transactions in 2011. More than one in five are switching to a conventional sport utility vehicle, nearly double the rate of three years ago.

That one-and-done syndrome coincides with tumbling sales of electric and hybrid vehicles. Through April, sales of electrified models slid to 2.7 percent of the market, down from 3.4 percent over the same period last year, said. At the same time, sport utility vehicles grabbed 34.4 percent of sales, up from 31.6 percent.

From Lawrence Ulrich, you can read more here.

19 May 23:56

Faith vs. Fact


Looks promising, although dawkuns couldn't resist the dig

Jerry A. Coyne is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. He received a B.S. in Biology from the College of William and Mary and a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Harvard University. After a postdoctoral fellowship at The University of California at Davis, he took his first academic position as assistant professor in the Department of Zoology at The University of Maryland. In 1996 he joined the faculty of The University of Chicago and has been there ever since. Coyne’s work has been largely concerned with the genetics of species differences, aimed at understanding the evolutionary processes that produce new species. He has written 115 scientific papers and more than 130 popular articles, book reviews, and columns, as well as a scholarly book about his research area—Speciation, co-authored with H. Allen Orr—and a trade book about the evidence for evolution—Why Evolution is True, which was a New York Times bestseller. His most recent book is Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. Coyne is a contributor The New York Times, The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Nation, USA Today, and other popular periodicals.


Many people are confused about science—about what it is, how it is practiced, and why it is the most powerful method for understanding ourselves and the universe that our species has ever devised. In Faith vs. Fact, Coyne has written a wonderful primer on what it means to think scientifically, showing that the honest doubts of science are better—and more noble—than the false certainties of religion. This is a profound and lovely book. It should be required reading at every college on earth.
—Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up

The distinguished geneticist Jerry Coyne trains his formidable intellectual firepower on religious faith, and it’s hard to see how any reasonable person can resist the conclusions of his superbly argued book. Though religion will live on in the minds of the unlettered, in educated circles faith is entering its death throes. Symptomatic of its terminal desperation are the ‘apophatic’ pretensions of ‘sophisticated theologians,’ for whose empty obscurantism Coyne reserves his most devastating sallies. Read this book and recommend it to two friends.
—Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion

The truth is not always halfway between two extremes: some propositions are flat wrong. In this timely and important book, Jerry Coyne expertly exposes the incoherence of the increasingly popular belief that you can have it both ways: that God (or something God-ish, God-like, or God-oid) sort-of exists;  that miracles kind-of happen; and that the truthiness of dogma is somewhat-a-little-bit-more-or-less-who’s-to-say-it-isn’t like the truths of science and reason.
—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

19 May 21:05

We tried Tokyo’s “rent a middle-aged Japanese man” service, and it was awesome!

by Scott Wilson

before I read the piece, i had the thought that they would be somber and semi-depressed like all of Murakami's middle-aged main characters (mild bias against middle-aged Japanese men due to too much murakami?). I was surprised.


You can rent pretty much anything in Japan. Even people, it would seem.

With so many people working long hours and not having the time to devote to cultivating real relationships, it’s just easier to hand over some cash and pay someone to act as your boyfriend, girlfriend, or just a friend to hang out with for the day.

But what about when you’re looking for something different? What if you’re in need of life advice that only a middle-aged Japanese man can provide? Well that’s where the ossan (middle-aged/old) rental service comes in!

The idea of hanging out with a 47-year-old Japanese dude and getting sagely wisdom while getting coffee together was so intriguing we had to try it for ourselves.

The first step in renting our ossan was, of course, going to the ossan rental website. There you can rent Takanobu Nishimoto, a 47-year-old fashion producer/stylist. He has worked in Japan and the U.S., in all kinds of places from department store salons to being the executive producer for a major stylist company, and he’s even written a relationship advice column for women at one point.

But now, he just works as a professional ossan – a service that he started all by himself, and is currently the only man available to be rented.

The ordering process was as simple as purchasing anything else online: we added Nishimoto to our cart, selected the time we wanted to meet, and then checked out; that’s all there was to it.

▼ We double-checked to see if there were costumes we could add to our cart for him to dress up in, but unfortunately there was no such option. Yet.


The day of our rental, we met Nishimoto-san at the Ebisu train station in Shinjuku, Tokyo. We’d seen his picture online, but still weren’t sure what to expect in real life.

▼ How would we even find him? Would we have to listen for the guy telling lame dad-jokes?


▼ Or would we have to watch for a teenage girl crossing her arms and going “daaaaaaaad, you’re embarrassing me” every five seconds?


▼ “Excuse me, handsome passerby. Have you seen a rental ossan around here at all?”


▼ “Oh! It’s you. Why, I’d swear you were far more of a niisan than an ossan.”


Since we were budget-conscious, we had only one hour to enjoy with Nishimoto-san, so we went straight to a cafe, sat down for some drinks, and got right down to business. Right off the bat, we asked him why he got into this line of work. “One day I was on the train and some girls nearby me went ‘Ugh, what a gross ossan,'” he said. “So I decided to embrace my ossan-ness and do this.”

▼ Now those same girls are paying him by the hour for relationship advice. Justice?


When we asked how many clients he’d had since starting his ossan rental service in 2012, Nishimoto said that he’s had a total of 1,502 people rent him out to date! Apparently 60 percent of them are repeat customers, who are basically just Nishimoto-san fans at this point and can’t get enough of him.

We were also interested in what he and his clients typically did together during rental sessions. Unsurprisingly, it usually wasn’t too different from what we were doing with him: hanging out at a cafe or bar, chatting, drinking, or getting life advice over lunch.

But, he did say he’d had some pretty unusual requests: being rented out to visit sick people in the hospital he didn’t know, or to announce one woman’s marriage to her family since her father had been looking forward to doing it but had passed away before he could. Of course, he’s had requests for other less innocent things, but he has a strict “no touching” policy that is made clear from the get-go, so don’t get any wrong ideas about what this handsome middle-aged man is prepared to do!

Before we knew it, our hour of ossan rental was up. We couldn’t believe how fast the time went by – Nishimoto-san was just so suave and charming. Before we said goodbye though, he let us know that he’s planning on expanding his ossan rental business and has recently hired two new ossans (out of over 100 applicants!) who will be available for rent soon on his website.

▼ Which is also the place where you can buy his book: Diary of a Rental Ossan. For just the price of one hour with Nishimoto-san, you can get years worth of his experience!


With over 1,500 clients under his belt, and at only 1,000 yen an hour, Nishimoto-san is a bargain hidden away in the typically overpriced Tokyo. Whether you need a tour guide, some social support, a bit of relationship advice, or just someone to suggest a new style for your hair, he’s got you covered.

The next time you’re in Tokyo, make a reservation on his website, and see what hanging out with the most experienced ossan in Tokyo can be like.

Reference: Ossan Rental
Photos © RocketNews24

Origin: We tried Tokyo’s “rent a middle-aged Japanese man” service, and it was awesome!
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