Video of the day

Why yes, this is a video of a grown woman opening and playing with a Barbie set where Barbie picks up her dog’s poop.

Now, prepare to have your mind blown…

Videos like this are the top-earning videos on all of Youtube.  Yes, more than Taylor Swift:

An unidentified individual or group responsible for uploading videos that simply show a woman opening Disney toys made an estimated $4.9 million last year, more than any other channel for 2014, according to OpenSlate, a video analytics platform that analyzes ad-supported content on YouTube.

Disney Collector is part of a new, highly lucrative genre of online videos called “unboxing.” Unboxers with seemingly no active sponsorship will decide on a set of consumer items, from electronics to makeup, and didactically discuss a given product’s parts and features. But it’s toys that seem to have taken off — at least two other unboxers, DisneyCarToys and the aforementioned BluCollection ToyCollector currently sit on OpenSlate’s most-viewed list and could crack its top-earner list for 2015.

“A lot more of these toy channels have started showing up in our platform,” Ritchie said. “They’re doing a good job [with] engagement, showing consistent influence, which takes into consideration things like social media and sharing.

Disney Collector’s particular success seems to be owed to her having hit the toy spot earlier than her peers, cementing her status as a superstar among children. Maria Moser, a mother of three who blogs at, said she stumbled upon the videos about a year ago when she and her youngest son, then two, were searching for Thomas the Tank Engine videos.

She said her son just “really likes seeing the different toys opened and played with.”

Why do I know about this particular video?  My four-year old daughter was entranced by the whole thing (I gotta admit, I couldn’t resist watching Taffy pooping) and watches these all the time.  I think she is write now actually while I’m typing this post (mind you, I queued this for later posting).  She’s helping these people earn millions.  Who would have ever guessed little kids couldn’t get enough of watching other people open and play with toys.  Bizarre.

Photo of the day

Love this from Cory Richards’ Instagram feed:

Guns may not kill people, but they sure make it a hell of a lot easier

Of course the whole “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” business is just pure sophistry, but it’s great to see  Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes with a terrific article in Slate summarizing the recent research on guns and deaths.  I’m not 100% persuaded by all their evidence (the piece is pure advocacy and does not address any of the shortcomings of the research), but the balance of the evidence they cite makes it pretty damn clear that more guns –> more people dying.

Tragically, a record number of Americans subscribe to some version of this mythology, with 63 percent (67 percent of men polled and 58 percent of women) believing that guns truly do make them safer. The public’s confidence in firearms, however, is woefully misguided: The evidence overwhelmingly shows that guns leave everybody less safe, including their owners.

A study from October 2013 analyzed data from 27 developed nations to examine the impact of firearm prevalence on the mortality rate. It found an extremely strong direct relationship between the number of firearms and firearm deaths. The paper concludes: “The current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer.” This finding is bolstered by several previous studies that have revealed a significant link between gun ownership and firearm-related deaths…

If we examine data from within the United States, the odds aren’t any better for gun owners. The most recent study examining the relationship between firearms and homicide rates on a state level, published last April, found a significant positive relationship between gun ownership and overall homicide levels. Using data from 1981–2010 and the best firearm ownership proxy to date, the study found that for every 1 percent increase in gun ownership, there was a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a 0.7 percent increase in the total homicide rate. This was after controlling for factors such as poverty, unemployment, income inequality, alcohol consumption, and nonhomicide violent crime. Further, the firearm ownership rate had no statistically significant impact on nonfirearm homicides, meaning there was no detectable substitution effect. That is, in the absence of guns, would-be criminals are not switching to knives or some other weapons to carry out homicide. [emphases mine] These results are supported by a host of previous studies that illustrate that guns increase the rate of homicides.

The evidence against firearm ownership becomes even stronger when suicides and accidents are included in the analysis—guns make both much more likely and more fatal. There can be nothing closer to a consensus in the gun debate than this point. Indeed, every single case-control study ever conducted in the United States has found that gun ownership is a strong risk factor for suicide, even after adjusting for aggregate-level measures of suicidality such as mental illness, alcoholism, poverty, and so on.

And, there’s plenty more.  They also link to a recent Politico piece of theirs in which they thoroughly dismantle the claims that there are literally hundreds of thousands of defensive gun uses in the US every year.  The claim is made by extrapolation from a survey with a host of unacknowledged problems, here’s a great example of where the extrapolation leads:

These sorts of biases, which are inherent in reporting self-defense incidents, can lead to nonsensical results. In several crime categories, for example, gun owners would have to protect themselves more than 100 percent of the time for Kleck and Getz’s estimates to make sense. For example, guns were allegedly used in self-defense in 845,000 burglaries, according to Kleck and Getz. However, from reliable victimization surveys, we know that there were fewer than 1.3 million burglaries where someone was in the home at the time of the crime, and only 33 percent of these had occupants who weren’t sleeping. From surveys on firearm ownership, we also know that 42 percent of U.S. households owned firearms at the time of the survey. Even if burglars only rob houses of gun owners, and those gun owners use their weapons in self-defense every single time they are awake, the 845,000 statistic cited in Kleck and Gertz’s paper is simply mathematically impossible.

The bad news is that in the current political climate, chances of making real progress are pretty close to zero.  And longer term, given America’s political culture, I fear it’s not all that much higher.  Americans just love their guns.  The fact that we could do nothing after Newtown is pretty telling.  I’m thus pessimistic on the public policy front, but damn if I’m going to just sit idly buy while other pretend there’s not a massive cost in human life to America’s permissive gun laws.

Rethinking addiction

Really interesting piece by Johann Hari in HuffPo from his new book about the War on Drugs.  He essentially argues that pretty much everything you think you know about addition is wrong.  And he makes a strong case.  There’s a lot of really good stuff here, so it’s hard to choose, but here goes:

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself…

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

Rat Park!!  I first wrote about this as a neophyte blogger more than eight years ago.  Hari goes on to give a nice human example.  Of all those US soldiers addicted to heroin in Vietnam only a tiny fraction remained addicted upon returning to the much mentally healthier situation of regular life in the US.  And if addiction is all about the chemicals, how come less than 20% of cigarette smokers are able to quit with nicotine substitutes.

Hmmm.  So, what is addiction, then?

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me — you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table…

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

This is really, really interesting and absolutely has policy implications (which Hari gets into).  I do think it is reductionist to totally discount the role of chemicals.  For example, it seems pretty clear that smoking nicotine is massively different than smoking marijuana when it comes to addiction.  And I know there are plenty of very happy, well-adjusted people who simply cannot kick their nicotine addiction.  Nonetheless, it does seem pretty clear that focusing on a model of addiction that is only, or maybe even just predominantly, about chemicals does a disservice to how we deal with drug abuse and addiction.  It’s well past time for a change.


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