December 30, 2006

Overdoing "titles with gerunds"

Enough already!

On a related note, what Madison Avenue ad company came up with the idea for that computerized direction system for your car... Doug Doug? Sue Sue? Tell you the truth, I can't remember, since these commercials repeat the joke names many times and the real name just once.

December 25, 2006

Review of Mean Girls: are teenagers corrupted Noble Savages?

Last weekend when I was writing up a should-be-unnecessary post showing that sci-fi geeks are disproportionately male, I had trouble staying on task because the trend is so clear that I felt it a waste of time to demonstrate the obvious at length. So I turned on the TV just when the movie Mean Girls had begun -- I'd heard it was OK from the high schoolers I tutor, and one of the main characters is Cajun super-hottie Lacey Chabert, so I figured it would provide adequate diversion while I typed. The script was written by former SNL head writer Tina Fey, who also plays a math teacher in the movie.

In brief, the movie details how civilization is incapable of restraining the primeval instincts of adolescent females to gossip, spread lies and rumors, and occasionally sabotage their closest friends in order to rise in status. The protagonist Cady (Lindsay Lohan) has recently moved to suburban Chicago from somewhere in sub-Saharn Africa, where she was raised and where her professor parents had been conducting fieldwork. Much of the plot focuses on her navigating the unfamiliar waters of post-pubertal life in a modern society -- there are evidently no cliques or coalitions in Africa, which might seem puzzling to anyone who's picked up a newspaper or seen the news even once in the past 30 years. She is thus surprised to learn from her Good Samaritan guides Janis and Damian that her fellow high school juniors are fractionated into exclusive groups such as the Varsity Jocks, Girls Who Don't Eat Anything, and the Plastics, the last of which are what I used to call the "pretty, popular girls." As an attractive girl, Cady is invited to join the Plastics, which her social outcast friends Janis and Damian encourage her to do so that she may serve as a Trojan Horse. The rest of the movie follows the conflict she faces in her dual roles as infiltrator and comrade within the Plastics.

If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, you're not having an early senior moment, since there has already been a movie wherein a pretty, popular girl teams up with an outcast to destroy a Plasticky clique from inside. The earlier incarnation, however, was dark, cynical, and though more absurdist in its plot, proved more realistic in its appraisal of human nature. I'm referring of course to the movie that featured such lines as: "Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count." Mean Girls, by contrast, presents a stupefying naive view of the causes of adolescent misery. At one point, the internecine backstabbing amongst the female juniors erupts into a full-scale riot, prompting an intervention by the administration. That I could believe, and I could even believe that the intervention would be some woollyheaded nonsense prepackaged in a Graduate School of Education somewhere. Surely enough, the entire junior class of females comes to understand that they have all hurt and been hurt by each other, after which they apologize for their past sins and fall from a raised platform into a sea of supporting arms. What an achingly girly solution: just increase communication and understanding of common suffering, and they won't harm each other ever again! Veronica Sawyer knew better -- nothing short of killing the bitches off one-by-one would put an end to the popular girls' tyrrany.

Although neither Heathers nor Mean Girls dwells on the reasons why this is so, it's easy enough to understand by comparing movies about the problems of teenage girls to those about the trials of male adolescence. The latter feature average teenage guys, whose only real problem is losing their virginity. That's certainly not because males are less predisposed toward destroying each other -- quite the opposite -- but because male competitive instincts are to pummel another guy's face in, and in civilized societies the State has a monopoly on the allowed use of force. On a smaller scale, security guards and other adult authority figures patrol the hallways of a high school, not to mention the crowd of people who can be immediately summoned should a fist fight break out. This serves as a deterrent against physical attacks, so it's very rare (although not impossible) for a typical teenage male to have to fend for himself, form a coalition for mutual protection, and so on.

Females, though, cannot rely on the inventions of civilization, such as neutral third parties who are charged with watching everyone, to protect them from the verbal attacks that are more likely to befall them. No iron fist will come down on their heads if they spread a rumor, nor will authority figures rush to break up a gaggle of girls gossiping. Even if there were such deterrents in place, a crackdown would be difficult to execute in practice, since females typically meet in secret when they want to concoct a rumor. More, once the rumor spreads, it takes on a life of its own -- much like the one in Mean Girls, according to which Janis is a lesbian (she is not), which has followed her from 8th grade to 11th -- so that eliminating the rumor would require changing the beliefs and suspicions of a large number of individuals. Rumors are typically the kind of thing one can't disprove (e.g., X is a lesbian, X confessed she has a crush on Y, etc.), and which the believers are likely to suspect are true even more strongly if there were a massive effort to wipe out the rumor. Thus, unlike the broken nose a male may have to deal with for several weeks after a rare fight, the entire collection of rumors about oneself persist indefinitely -- right up through one's 25th high school reunion, I would guess.

As a source of accurate data, then, Mean Girls does an excellent job at portraying the depressingly commonplace savagery that teenage girls must suffer, for want of a deterrent. There is a good scene in which the "Queen Bee" of the Plastics, Regina, calls Cady and stages an ambush by passive-aggressively goading her into maligning another member of the clique, who happens to be listening in silently, just to test her loyalty. And Janis' rage over the lesbian rumor that won't die poignantly portrays the struggle an "innocent" individual must mount to clear her reputation in the face of an overly credulous mob bamboozled by an expert social manipulator. True, even the inventions of civilization that combat mob suspicion, such as a trial with rules of evidence and defense by advocates, don't always prevent an unthinking horde from going with its gut; but the lack of such bulwarks allows natural-born pettifoggers like Regina to run roughshod over the accused.

However, as far as explanations go, the script reads like a mishmash of half-baked ideas from an introductory Women's Studies textbook. To reiterate, a major theme of the movie is the culture shock Cady experiences after leaving existence as a Noble Savage for the corrupted modern world. At times this nicely highlights the beastly nature of adolescence, such as when Cady is watching the goings-on at the local mall and daydreams that the teenagers are hopping around like chimpanzees chasing after each other at a lek. But the notion that she could be so innocent of the tendency to form in-group vs. out-group distinctions, after being raised in one of the most tumultuous areas of the globe, is utter balderdash. And in our days as hunter-gatherers we were even more murderous; those who believe in the Noble Savage would do well to read War before Civilization. So, short of genetic engineering, the best we can do in the meantime is to apply some tough-nosed thinking to the problem of creating deterrents against adolescent female barbarity.

This is another area where script-writer Tina Fey let her emotions get the better of her by slipping into the Moralistic Fallacy -- that is, "It would be so great if X were true; therefore, X is true!" In our case, it would be so great if this problem could be solved by increasing communication about and understanding of common suffering (a la the movie's finale); therefore, this solution would work! Think again. The underlying causes would remain: the instinct to form exclusive groups, the motivation to increase one's status (for girls, access to higher quality boyfriends), the lack of neutral third parties that might protect them, and so on. Even assuming we weren't ingenious enough to think up feasible solutions to the rumor / clique problem, I still wouldn't advocate using one of these "let's understand each other's pain" interventions. It just underscores how vicious one is toward others and vice versa. Once the girls figured out that the one-day love-in hadn't changed anything, the end result would just be a greater appreciation of how awful it hurts to be mired indefinitely in depravity. If I ever had to live in hell, without escape, you can bet I'd want to be as unaware of the pain as possible.

Finally, no review of this movie would be complete without a few words about Cady's talent at mathematics. In short, although she's able to get straight A's in math class, she feigns confusion so that hunky, popular boys won't be intimidated by her brains, and may even feel compelled to assist the damsel in distress. And despite joining the Mathletes club, she hides this from the hunky, popular boy whom she's enamored of. This is all apropos of the recent hulabaloo about hot girls who are also geeks, for several reasons. First, the fact that Lindsay Lohan is playing a math geek -- someone not merely adept at math, but who joins the Mathletes -- shows how difficult it is to find a female who is both incredibly attractive and math-geeky to play the part. Really, what's next -- Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist?

There are several young actresses whose smarts and looks aren't in question -- Natalie Portman and Eden Riegel attended Harvard -- but their dispositions and interests don't incline them toward life as math / science geeks. Still, I felt such an actress would have been a better choice since the message is supposed to be, "Look how hard life is for smart, pretty girls," and with Lohan assuming the role, we are only forced to consider how hard life is for pretty girls. As an aside, Winona Ryder's character in Heathers is also high-IQ and attractive, but she uses her brains to write rather than derive formulas, again making this movie more believable. As a second aside, this is why Dick Wolf hasn't had trouble finding fashion models and Bond girls to convincingly play Manhattanite Assistant District Attorneys on Law & Order.

Here Tina Fey, who attended the elite state school the University of Virginia, is using Mean Girls more to complain about her own idiosyncratic high school experience rather than portray high school life as it really is. Fey is certainly attractive and intelligent, as well as a proud nerd, and yet she majored in drama in college and became a performing artist, rather than study math and work as an engineer. If we are to take seriously the movie's innuendo that smart females aren't becoming mathematicians because they feel discouraged or care more about impressing boys -- rather than the finding in personnel psychology that girls are more likely to prefer the subject matter of drama and politics than that of math and engineering -- then Fey herself must be seen as a let-down, a sell-out, in the stern eyes of the sisterhood of radical feminist scientists.

Moreover, in real life she married a popular musician, not a computer programmer; and in the movie her character confesses to trying to steer her husband into a career in law, not physics. We can't honestly entertain the notion that Fey chose a career in show business over the sciences because the latter domain is more sexist, and the same would be true if she took a position at a Manhattan law office. Showbiz bigshots and law partners are of course more likely to be testosterone-crazed, macho pricks when compared to the grown-up geeks who head science departments. This all makes the "hot math geek" sub-plot rather difficult to swallow, and because it repeatedly interrupts the main storyline, it leaves you feeling like a hapless dinner guest whose deranged host won't stop trying to shove moldy asparagus down your gullet.

In the end, Mean Girls is an entertaining movie with plenty of delicious one-liners and sight gags that pepper a more disturbing reminder of how primitive the existence of modern-day adolescents is, especially for females, and is definitely worth watching. However, the point-of-view regarding the causes of teenage savagery is too naive: well-educated, right-thinking adults may be gullible enough to buy the bull about the power of a few cumbayas to transform human nature, but teenage girls themselves are unlikely to so foolishly let their guard down. The last thing we should do is lie to them about the causes of and feasible solutions to their worst problems, but we can also do better than simply shrugging and saying, "Well, human nature sucks, so things aren't likely to get much better." Hardheaded individuals should be able to think up deterrents against rumor-spreading and social sabotage. But because no one's attempted this project, the problem may well prove intractable, in which case adolescence will have to remain a time whose shittiness one must simply get used to and wait for it to end.

December 19, 2006

Kids these days: Dancing and sex

Half-Sigma comments on a recent NYT article regarding the crackdown some high school principals have initiated to curb "pornographic dancing styles" at school dances. There are two distinct but related reactions from adults in the NYT article and in the comments at HS' post:

1a) A Bayesian shock to the effect that, "I never would've expected to see kids dancing this way!"

1b) A moral argument that kids shouldn't be allowed to dance in such suggestive ways.

The kids have, in turn, responded with:

2a) If you opened your eyes and thought clearly, you wouldn't be so shocked!

2b) No one's being harmed. More, trying to stop us is futile.

I don't want to dwell long on the moral debate, but in brief, I find nothing objectionable about teenagers bumping & grinding. No one will get pregnant, get an STD, or become psychologically scarred from gyrating their body in close contact with that of another while fully clothed. Since most of the force of the moral argument hinges on the assumption that pornographic dancing will lead to sex, even if only probabilistically, the onus is on the proponents of cracking down on "freak dancing" to demonstrate that such dancing increases the risk of having sex among teenagers. Predictably, no evidence is presented to this effect, and there is good a priori reason to believe that suggestive dancing doesn't increase the risk of having sex -- which is that sexually suggestive dancing, combined with loud music, gabbing excitedly with one's friends, and perhaps some french kissing, may be enough to satiate teenagers' desire for some degree of debauchery, such that the thrill of having sex wouldn't add much more to the overall thrill value (diminishing returns). Teenagers may not be perfect rational agents, but they're smart enough to figure out that choosing a potentially high-cost activity that's expected to add little value is a dumb decision. To be more accurate, it's only the girls who need to think this way / be satiated by dancing, music, gabbing, and kissing, since their desires are the limiting factor on how much sex will take place. As many a club-hopping guy has lamented: would that risque dancing led even probabilistically toward intercourse! I'll get to whether teens actually are having more sex or not in a moment.

Playing devil's advocate for a second, though, let's say there was convincing evidence that freak dancing increased the risk for having sex. Does it follow that cracking down on such dancing would decrease the rate of sex among teens? Nope: it would remain to be shown that school dance raciness wouldn't just be displaced to some other location / activity that would lead to sex. For example, they might just meet up at the house of a kid whose parents were out of town that weekend, or behind the bleachers at school, or in the woods next to their house, or in the bathroom at Chipotle, or wherever else. Similarly, if someone weaned themselves from smoking daily by taking up a daily drink instead, the effect on their health of quitting cigarettes could well be a wash. Indeed, only adults who don't have children of their own, or who haven't reared someone else's children (e.g., by being a teacher), would honestly believe that hotheaded teenagers wouldn't find a way around a proscription against X; typically they opt for Y, a substitute for X that isn't forbidden. A plan that targeted all likely outlets of teenage sexual exploration might achieve good results, though implementing it in practice might prove difficult, and it would need to be shown that all the time, money, and effort expended in this chore wouldn't be used better in some other way. Don't think that teenagers are stupid on this matter, by the way:

“If you tell a kid to do something, they do what they want to anyway and probably do it 10 times more,” said Emily Bragdon, 16, a junior who was at the dance.

This observation could've come from the mouth of any headstrong adolescent (though the "10 times more" is surely an exaggeration).

Moving on to the empirical issue of whether or not teenagers are behaving more wantonly regarding sex, which is the basis for the Bayesian shock, a huge global survey on sexual behavior was published in The Lancet last month. Among other data, it contains longitudinal data on the prevalence of "early" sexual intercourse (defined as having intercourse before age 15). This seems an apt statistic to look at for our purposes. Here is their Figure 1, which shows what percentage of females (above) and males (below) had had sexual intercourse before age 15, examining those who were born from 1960-64 (lavender bars) vs. those born from 1980-84 (red bars). The 7 developed countries surveyed are at the far right.


Lest there be any confusion, these bars do not represent a mean or median -- we know that a small change in the mean can have pronounced effects at the tails, but these bars are the tails, i.e. those who've had sex before 15. Going backward through the "tail effect" argument, a change in the tails of size X implies a change in the mean of size much less than X (since the probability of tail values falls off proportional to the squared distance from the mean), or no change in the mean but a slight change in variance. No matter how you slice it, whatever purportedly earth-shaking shift has occurred in teenage dancing styles has evidently had little effect on having sex. "Kids these days" are not markedly more lascivious than in days of yore.

However, all this talk about kids from one generation or another during the 20th C is, in the end, a bunch of idle chatter. The most convincing evidence that adolescent homo sapiens have been engaging in sexual exploration for far longer is that adolescence is, by most definitions, the time when a person is prepared and motivated to mate and reproduce. If teenagers behaving sexually were a recent invention -- caused, no doubt, by the rising popularity of MTV -- then how to resolve the damning counterevidence that humans mature sexually at around age 13-15 (or perhaps somewhat earlier when nutrition is better)? It would be as if humans were fully capable of understanding the speech of others and of producing their own meaningful utterances by roughly age 4, but covered their ears anytime someone spoke, and refused to speak themselves, until age 10. The fact that humans are on average able to put their linguistic capacity to good use by age 4 is all the evidence one needs that this is the age at which humans have begun communicating, stretching back into our evolutionary history. Again, this empirical matter should not be confused with the moral one -- just because a bird is fully fledged at age X has no bearing pro or con on whether or not it should or ought to fly / leave the nest / etc. at age X. I only mention the evolutionary angle since some adults are apparently shocked to behold teenagers behaving the way teenagers will behave.

A further cause for debunking this example of a "kids these days" myth is that it is closely related to another such myth, a perennial favorite at 2blowhards (no offense; just an observation), that the youths of today are more exhibitionistic and/or salacious. The usual evidence is the way young people act on MySpace, YouTube, and similar websites. Apropos of the teeange dirty dancing theme, here is a (probably NSFW) video that ranks 7 of 186 in the YouTube search results for "bump grind," showing a pack of 16 year-old girls dancing provocatively (though fully clothed) in front of a mirror. If I were so inclined, I could find hundreds of similar YouTube videos, and thousands of such pictures scattered throughout the MySpace galaxy. I don't find anything about it shocking, not just because I'm 26 rather than 66 -- I will not be shocked by teenage exhibitionism then either. The only thing that has changed is the technology: it is just easier to detect who is and isn't an exhibitionist in the internet age.

I find this development promising, as it means that, although levels of attention-seeking and acting-out are unlikely to change in the near future, at least the outlets into which these impulses are channeled will be more cyber than real. If I had an attention-seeking daughter, I'd rather she dance provocatively for her YouTube clips and get an ego boost that way, as opposed to kissing lots of boys and/or sleeping around at school. Given how large the potential pool of fawners is online -- basically all teenage boys who are connected to the internet, rather than only the boys at her school -- and given how much safer online exhibitionism is (no danger of being groped), she'd have to be silly not to prefer attention-whoring via YouTube or MySpace over the real-world alternative. And obviously, if my daughter didn't have an exhibitionistic disposition, I wouldn't have cause to worry in the first place.

To conclude, I'm sympathetic to the concern that adults have over teenagers behaving sexually; I just require that they state their arguments openly and that they be based on some degree of factual evidence and logical reasoning, the way they were supposed to learn how to write a persuasive essay back in sixth grade. By "stating their arguments openly," I mean come right out and say that they want to check the adolescents' primal urges -- no rationalizations that nature didn't intend it, that they can't appreciate the consequences of bumping & grinding, and so on. I realize that the rhetorical effect is more disarming when the adult assumes the role of a shepherd preventing the ignorant, helpless sheep from straying into harm's way -- the way a parent yanks a toddler away from a busy street -- but the reality is that the adult in this case is like a governor or prison warden who is doing their best to tame the bestial instincts of his self-aware, strong-willed charges.

Similarly, after the rhetoric has been removed, there must lie a solid core of fact and logic. Crucial assumptions must be shown to be at least on the right track. Should there be no convincing evidence that X leads to Y, or that cracking down on X would lead to a decrease in Y, then the proponent must admit that there is "no good reason" for his stance, except that "You'll do as I say." Moreover, if one wants to express shock, the evidence that something exceptional has occurred had better be obvious; or if not, then evidence should be presented. Now if parents view their role as, in certain occasions, reining in beasts and commanding them to obey regardless of "good reasons," that's nobody's business but their own, assuming they're not harming their children. But obfuscation is irritating, and combined with condescension, even more so. And I take it for granted that authority figures who want to prevent their wards from doing as they choose should provide justification, so that any assumptions may be challenged by those who don't agree, not least of all their powerless wards.

December 14, 2006

Hot chick geeks

Oh boy, here we go again! Some of the bloggers at the excellent ScienceBlogs site have fired off posts in high dudgeon over a perfectly innocuous post that Razib wrote, noting his surprise that a hot girl was blathering on about science fiction and fantasy books in a wine bar. This event is obviously noteworthy for at least two reasons:

1) You would have to randomly sample, what, millions -- tens of millions? -- of females to find a single member of the intersection of the "hot" and "hardcore sci-fi nerd" sets. Any clearheaded person would take notice due to the sheer statistical rarity of the event.

2) Assuming you uncovered such an individual, you would expect to have gotten that information by large-scale confidential polling, rather than by the individual offering up the information not only in public, but in a public space where people are supposed to act suave and sophisticated (a wine bar). Any clearheaded person would take notice due to the boldness, bravery, or whatever, belonging to the person in question.

There then followed three responses that completely missed the point (one, two, three). At the core, the complaints were about unfair stereotyping of the sexes regarding what interests they tend to have. But as I read Razib's post, his point generalizes to both sexes -- you would be surprised if you caught a hot person of either sex nattering in a wine bar about sci-fi / fantasy books. Let me emphasize that the girl in question was described as "Reese Witherspoon's more attractive brown-haired cousin." So, she looks like this, only more attractive and brunette? Yowza! If a straight girl beheld a male model-ish bartender prattling on about sci-fi / fantasy books in a wine bar, I bet she'd be just as surprised, and no one would upbraid her publicly if she posted a note on her blog saying, "You'll never guess what I just saw!" Remember, we're not talking "merely" pretty girls or handsome guys but blood-stirringly beautiful people.

Moreover, Razib's post is completely agnostic as regards the cause behind the evident pattern of negligible overlap between the "hot" and "hardcore sci-fi nerd" sets. A simple answer is that hot people have a lot going for them and don't want to jeopardize their status by indulging in things that society views as belonging to losers, while the latter, having nothing left to lose, are not put off by the prospect of low status. This sets up a feeback loop, obviously. Thus do we return to our two points above: observing a hot chick (or stud) who was also geeky would arouse our curiosity enough to post about it because 1) it's damn rare, and 2) a person of high status is risking ruin by flouting social conventions, also rare.

I'm sympathetic, though, to those who would object to point 2 by noting that the risk may not be sufficiently high to make us take notice, since hot girls could disrupt a primetime Presidential address by devouring an aborted baby on camera and still get away with a slap on the wrist as far as social shaming went. Still, we would be left with the sense of wonder that Charlie must have felt when he sampled only a handful of chocolate bars and found an extremely rare golden ticket. Even if we were in Veruca Salt's extraordinary position and had sampled n chocolate bars where the probability of finding the golden ticket was 1/n, we might not be shocked to find our treasure, but we might feel warm enough inside, now that the hunt was officially over and we could take a nap with our golden ticket safe in our hands, that we might still shout the good news from the rooftops.

NB: I don't read sci-fi or fantasy, even if some of my favorite movies or TV shows are dystopian science fiction, so don't read anything more into the "golden ticket" reference other than the statistical argument. Now, if this bartending babe had been suggesting which Edward Gorey books to start off with...

UPDATE: SB blogger Zuska hemorrhages vitriol like a hyperalart skunk spraying indiscriminately in all directions after hearing the wind blow.

A novelist over a policy wonk anyday

In the comments to the post below, I explained why I'd gulp if a girl I was interested in told me that her favorite writer was a novelist. I didn't mean to suggest that I would've held a low opinion of her forever -- maybe she'd turn out to be an exception -- but her answer would be a red flag. However, after reading two related posts of Razib's at Gene Expression (one, two), I should like to ammend my original statement: I would breathe a sigh of relief if a girl counted a novelist as her favorite writer, considering the even more deplorable dreck she could be reading, such as bestselling books on public or foreign policy. Hackneyed novels never hurt anyone in the way that cheerleading policy books will contribute to the harm and ruin of others.

Now that State and Church are separate, bestselling policy wonks fill the void left by the defunct office of "spiritual advisor" to the leader: amass as many factoids as possible in support of the belief that the leader is wise and benevolent. The more baroque the constellation of factoids, the better: for it requires real engineering skill to keep all the holes in the argument, where other less convenient facts would appear, from throwing the entire contraption off-balance like a poorly constructed mobile. This sorcery also secures the spiritual advisor's permanent place at the leader's side, since master bullshit artists are not easily replaced.

It's no wonder, then, that people rarely bother to read history and policy books in their free time as opposed to books on science, math, music, art, etc. Sure, there's some bullshit and obfuscation in the science & math section of the bookstore (Stephen Jay Gould's anti-"Darwinian fundamentalist" blather comes to mind). But overall the authors are reliably good at trying to understand and communicate the truth of their subject matter. And regardless of what the critics like, you can flip through the books in the art section and find stuff whose excellence you easily recognize and enjoy. Most of the history / policy section, though, is a graveyard of miscarried attempts at understanding; and what's not hokum isn't easily distinguished without reading everything and comparing. You'd have to have a friend "in the know" to recommend history books if you wanted to navigate your way through all the sewage.*

In the end, it's probably too idealistic to expect a girl to answer John Donne or Richard Dawkins as her preferred author (to hint at how broad of a variety of answers would make me happy). Therefore -- and this is particularly true in the DC metro area -- I actually wouldn't mind it if a girl I liked mentioned that her favorite book was Their Eyes Were Watching God, considering that she could've easily responded with Thomas Friedman's latest disquisition, Volume XVI of the collected Op-Eds of Maureen Dowd, or some self-help tractatus on giving yourself permission.

*I have found the popular works of William McNeill to be a helpful guide in attaining a rough picture of human history.

December 12, 2006

The Craven Iconoclast

To contain the malignance of bygone Boogeymen,
Their relics the Craven Iconoclast curses,
Ignoring abuses of flesh-and-blood villains
Whose slaying requires no conjuring verses.

December 9, 2006

Spanish national character

When Immanuel Kant was 40 years old -- before he developed the hyper-regulated lifestyle for which he is now famous, and before his later philosophy turned to the Platonic divorce of sensory pleasure from our conception of beauty -- he wrote a work on aesthetics that was brief, lively, and little libidinous. That is, not the Kant you read in Philosophy 101. Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime contains in it his perception of the aesthetic preferences and national characters of various ethnic groups, unified by the idea that Galenic personality types would tend to prefer certain types of art over others. In particular, those who were Introverted and Emotionally Stable are thought not to have preferences one way or another; Emotionally Stable Extraverts prefer the Beautiful; Emotionally Unstable Extraverts prefer the Noble Sublime; while Emotionally Unstable Introverts prefer the Terrifying Sublime. Personality traits have unfortunate names: though "extraversion" and "emotionally stable" are easily understood, "introversion" doesn't imply shyness but a preference to keep to oneself, and "emotionally unstable" or "neurotic" doesn't imply being bipolar but simply having a short fuse or being easily disturbed or upset.

(As an aside, a recent study to test this idea among Spanish and English university students somewhat supported the hypotheses that preferences were related to Sensation Seeking and Openness to Experience, but this area appears to be little researched. Another article from Poland.)

In my post on global variation in personality, there's a succint graphic summarizing the findings of Lynn & Martin (1995), which shows that on average the Spanish are noticeably more Introverted than other Mediterranean populations, although all of the Mediterranean averages are on the Emotionally Unstable side of the spectrum:


Hindsight is 20/20: I initially felt the Spanish were pretty Extraverted, but I made the classic error of actor-observer bias by basing this belief on my observations of Spaniards interacting with their friends & family members, the kind of thing you typically see walking about or sitting in restaurants. However, you expect any type of person to be sociable and cheery among friends and family! A better test of Introversion vs Extraversion would thus be how gregarious a person is with strangers, and that's not something you can easily discern when observing others. Even if you tried to study this by interacting with them, they may simply present a more Extraverted persona to you as a rule of social ettiquette, much like a Japanese person must appear very agreeable in person even if their inclination is to be uncooperative. Private questionnaires are the most reliable method. One other personal observation that many female friends & acquaintances of mine mentioned was that Spanish men were unlikely to accost and pursue female strangers relentlessly, in contrast to Italian men. For anyone who's visited these countries, this is a pretty stark contrast and reflects in part the higher Extraversion of Italians.

Based on their mean personality, then, Kant predicted that Spaniards would enjoy the Terrifying Sublime (which is just what it sounds like). He cited as evidence the practice of the auto da fe -- he was grasping at straws, perhaps, but he wrote this in 1764, when Goya was still busy applying to art school. Clearly, average personality can change quickly over time, due to population genetic factors such as selection and migration that alter allele frequencies that are relevant to personality traits, as well as changes in relevant aspects of the environment (for example, the presence of pathogens, changes in social institutions, and so on). Therefore, we shouldn't project current Spanish mean personality too far back into the past.

But if we look at the roughly 250 years that have passed since Kant published Observations, Spanish high art has tended to focus more on the Terrifying Sublime than on the Noble Sublime or the Beautiful, beginning with the obsessions with the grotesque and macabre from the deaf madman himself (e.g., the Black Paintings) and continuing into the work of Dali, and most of Picasso as well. Before Goya, Velazquez did not focus on the Terrifying Sublime, and though El Greco did, he was an ethnic Greek. As for architecture, I don't know how to classify Gaudi's work since it's both unsettling yet playful, like Lewis Carroll's writing. If forced to choose, I'd put it in the Terrifying Sublime direction but with very low magnitude. Spanish filmmakers also nearly exclusively specialize in horror, the grotesque, the bizarre, kitsch, and dark comedy (e.g., Buñuel, Amenabar, Almodovar). Of course, these trends were prevalent elsewhere in Europe, but among populations that are close to the center of the graphic above, the output was more varied -- France produced both the Symbolists and the Impressionists, for instance. But if it's well known and comes from Spain, it is likely of the Terrifying Sublime type.

Aside from what they themselves have produced, Spaniards more than most other European groups tend to prefer the sort of cultural products that you'd expect an Emotionally Unstable Introvert to enjoy: droll, bizarre humor of the Monty Python variety; Woody Allen films, whose premises always spring from their director's status as the arch-Neurotic Introvert; music by groups like The Cure, who are easily one of the most popular among young people; and the adorable grotesque that Tim Burton has become famous for -- Edward Scissorhands is particularly popular. When I was in Rome, I noticed zero sex shops; if there were any, they were vanilla enough not to stand out. Barcelona and Madrid, however, are pretty well known for their non-trivial sub-cultures of bondage & discipline and the like, with window dressings of some stores featuring PVC bodysuits even in neighborhoods that aren't seedy. One of Almodovar's hit movies is titled Atame! (lit. "tie me up!"), and indeed there is even a restaurant or bar or somesuch in an upscale neighborhood in Barcelona called "Atame!"

Perhaps part of the reason is that Introverts, not preferring to mingle with large groups of real people, are more likely to turn to inner fantasy lands instead. In any event, note also that the preferences detailed in the previous paragraph (both the normal and out-there) are also quite prevalent among the Japanese, whose mean also lies in the Emotionally Unstable Introvert quadrant. So does that of Russia, but I don't know enough about Russian culture to comment on their cultural output and preferences. My guess from what little I've sampled is that they would group with the Spanish and Japanese, but I don't know.

For all of these reasons, I think people who happen upon Spanish culture from a distance (during their university days, browsing through books in their public library, etc.), or who happen to visit the country for more than a day or two, end up surprised -- they were expecting something like Latin America or Italy, and though that may be true for the climate, with respect to everything else, it's more like what they'd expect France to be like. Much of this shock must be due to basing one's a priori expectations on groups that are more Extraverted than the Spanish, as well as basing it on the Spaniards' well deserved reputation as the most hardcore partiers of Europe and most of the world. But basing expectations on rare events like Saturday night parties or national holidays can easily lead you astray: people are supposed to engage in debauchery on such occasions. Japanese businessmen have a reputation for getting piss drunk and going wild, though such behavior is belied by their day-to-day carryings-on. Moreover, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, so it has the opposite effect of stimulants. That is, alcohol puts you in a good mood, loosens your inhibitions, compels you to mingle and become chatty -- in short, alcohol turns Introverts into temporary Extraverts. (Stimulants like Ritalin do the reverse by turning uber-Extraverts into temporary bookish Introverts.) So, don't judge whether someone is gregarious or not when they're drunk.

After these people discover the unexpected, one of two things happens: either 1) they admire the spirit of revelry that Spaniards show on Saturday night, but find the rest of the culture and the population a bit boring; or 2) they drift closer, pleasantly intrigued that such beautiful people who inhabit such an enviable climate could nevertheless produce so many curmudgeons, bookworms, and weirdos who prefer The Cure and Edward Scissorhands. Returning to a recurrent theme here at this blog, Spain is the one place (maybe along with Paris) where I felt my proclivities would not prevent me from attaining an attractive girlfriend or wife. It's the only place where genuinely hot girls have hit on me, a subject I touched on here. And I don't mean "attractive" as in, "Yeah, she's attractive." I mean as in, "I want to slowly savor the flesh of her ambrosial lips while her eyes drizzle their nectarous gaze into my parched pupils."

Sure, personality, intelligence, interests not mutually exclusive to my own -- these are all essential qualities to look for in a mate, and though I could easily find someone who fit the bill on these traits in the US, I would have to sacrifice good looks. (Note: not because good looks don't overlap with the other traits, but because such a person would have more stringent requirements of her suitors, given her greater rarity here as compared to in Spain.) If possible, I'd prefer if I didn't have to make the trade-off. Also, given that it would be easier to find someone in Spain who met my preferences for the non-superficial criteria -- for example, finding someone who has a favorite writer, even if it were, gulp, a novelist -- I feel much more in good spirits around Spanish girls. You generally feel that way around the conspecifics that you have respect for, after all; and it's hard to hold a high opinion of females who by and large have chosen to join men instead of beating them, by turning courtship into an interview process to hire their trophy husband. It wouldn't be difficult either to find a cultured, attractive wife in Italy or the well-to-do areas of Lebanon, but trying to find one who also preferred a little nuttiness in her husband might be a bit more difficult in the Mediterranean. The exception being the land that produced Penelope Cruz: "Spain," its tourism industry used to boast, "is different!"

December 7, 2006

All the cool curmudgeons are doing it!

Dennis Mangan and Steve have recently spotlighted a blog called The Joy of Curmudgeonry, in which the author posts his own aphorisms in the style of Lichtenberg. Evidently there's a demand for such things, so allow me to try my hand at this curmudgeon thing (I'm only 26 -- I may have to wait awhile before getting the full hang of it) ...

Entering into wedlock with a woman who is committed to "serial monogamy" is like investing in a business that promises "serial loyalty" to the stockholder.

The power feminists have succeeded in gaining equal status for women in at least one respect: now they, too, show off their trophy husbands to stoke the jealousy of their same-sex acquaintances.

Unlike Procrustes, the champions of the axiom of indistinguishability prefer to simply sunder the limbs of the more abled at the wrists and ankles, so that all may hobble and fumble equally. This also quite elegantly solves the problem of biting the hand that feeds.

Minors should at all times be shielded from the lurid world of adults: let them learn of filing tax returns and filling prescriptions when they must -- until then, allow them to enjoy their days of beatings from bullies and bareback blowjobs behind the bleachers.

Civilization has managed to tame the instinct of male barbarians to pummel. Yet think how many more lives might still be saved if only it could do likewise for the other sex's oxygen-depleting instinct to gossip. Also consider how many more delightful days females would enjoy during adolescence were they, too, prevented from practicing their savage rites of passage such as this.

An unrequited lover is safest when orbiting his unstirred planet at a great distance: for should he circle too closely, he may well end up a Saturnine ring.

December 6, 2006

More brown girls breakin' it down

A month ago Razib from Gene Expression took a few lighthearted swipes at white rappers, using Snow as an example, to which I responded by posting a link to a video of an Indo-Iranian remake of "Informer," called "Chori Chori" by Aneela (feat. Arash). I just found two more of her videos on YouTube, one of which ("Jande") doesn't have the greatest video quality, though you can still appreciate the contrast of the jewel toned costume against the dancers' tawny flesh. The other is a live performance of "Chori Chori," which unlike the music video showcases her South Asian suppleness of sacrum:



True, many can hoola-hoop their hips like that -- but those eyes! I've seen a few girls like that in real life: within a moment's glance, she's already transfixed you with her eye-skewers, and after the instant's over and her attention returns to its previous course, you're still caught, being dragged along by the eyeballs as though by an indifferent fisherman. Imagine having to go through your daily routine towing behind you the tonnage of the trail of bodies you'd accidentally hooked!

November 26, 2006

Interracial beauty is due to greater symmetry?

I haven't read it yet, but at Amazon I've browsed Alon Ziv's book Breeding Between the Lines, whose thesis is that interracial individuals are more healthy and attractive, as evidenced by greater symmetry, which in turn is supposed to reflect their lower developmental instability. That is, interracials are presumed to have genomes that are better at dampening the effect of noise in their developmental system, so that the actual phenotype more closely matches the target phenotype.

But at the foundation of any chain of syllogisms must lie solid, or at least promising, empirical justification. Right now I'm working through Developmental Instability: Causes and Consequences, which covers the single phenomenon of Developmental Instability (DI) from a variety of perspectives -- quantitative genetics, evolutionary genetics, measurement of Fluctuating Asymmetry (FA), and so on. I'll be writing up a longer post on this for GNXP, but suffice it to say for now that the deceptively intuitive notion that "Lower FA = Lower Instability" turns out to be much muddier. This research program really took off in the early '90s, and by the time this 2003 volume was published, the initial enthusiasm became quite tempered. In brief, the research is pretty equivocal as regards whether or not DI reflects FA, particularly with respect to "good genes" models of sexual selection whereby choosers are purported to use a potential mate's FA as an honest signal of its DI. The latter includes the subset of studies that find an effect of symmetry on attractiveness in human faces. Later meta-analyses (including one published for the first time in this volume) show that symmetrical faces really are more attractive, but the effect size is not as large as was supposed.

An admittedly rough rule-of-thumb to follow when judging the merit of studies on the FA-DI relationship is that the earlier studies (before, say, 1998) tend to be less reliable, largely because of smaller sample sizes and lack of repeated, independent measurements of the subjects' FA -- the latter is especially important since the magnitude of variation in FA is well within measurement errors (i.e., most individuals are not pronouncedly asymmetrical). Lots more to say at a later point, but for now it's safe to say that, if interracials really are more attractive, it would only be due in small part to their greater symmetry -- assuming the latter hypothesis is true (there is currently no evidence for or against it).

PS -- the most convincing evidence that something extraordinary occurs with interracials is if their mean is above or below the means of both parental populations. However, this isn't necessary: the definition of antagonistic or synergistic epistasis (in other terms, "depression" and "vigor," respectively) only requires that the mixed mean be above or below (respectively) the value expected from additive genetic effects. So, if group A with mean IQ of 100 mated randomly and in equal proportions with group B whose mean is 70, then the mixed group's mean should be 85 if only additive (linear) genetic effects were at play. Suppose it turned out that the mixed group actually averaged 95 -- that would still be "hybrid vigor," since it's +0.67 SD above expectation (where IQ distributions have an SD = 15). Conversely, if they averaged 75, that would still be "hybrid depression," since it's lower than expectation. How this affects fitness is pretty difficult to guess -- many traits affect fitness, and in general the various races have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Northeast Asians score about 1.33 SD above African-Americans on intelligence and the myriad traits that are largely influenced by intelligence (such as SES), but they are probably 1 to 1.33 SD below African-Americans on height, and probably something similar for levels of gregariousness and self-confidence. And dancing ability, fuhgeddaboudit.

Fitness is always defined for a particular environment, so making general statements about how fitness is impacted by interracial status is unlikely to bear much fruit. However, testing hypotheses about in which situations interracial mating would increase, decrease, or have no bearing on fitness seems a safe bet for getting robust results.

November 24, 2006

Kelly Kapowski is Greco-Anatolian?

Anyone who was born between roughly 1975-1985 probably remembers the characters from Saved by the Bell, especially the All-American sweet sixteen Kelly Kapowski, played by Tiffani-Amber Thiessen. These northwestern Slavic and Germanic surnames belie her meridional appearance, however -- in fact, only her father's side is German, while her mother's is Greek, Turkish, and Welsh. America's wholesome girl-next-door is actually a smoldering Mediterranean siren! Her apple pie co-star Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack Morris, is a mongrel himself (Dutch and Indonesian). And did you know that the two overachievers on the show -- Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) and Screech Powers (Dustin Diamond) -- are both Jewish? With African-American Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) and non-white Hispanic A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) rounding out the cast, there's nary a noticeable Northerner to be found in Everytown, USA, save the principal Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins).

Quoth the latter: "Hey hey hey hey, what is going on here?!"

November 22, 2006

Video game "wars"

To interrupt the Catalan blogging, let's have a look at the recent video game console "wars" -- Dennis Mangan's take here, and two thoughts by Udolpho here and here. Since the Wii by Nintendo just came out, the competition has officially begun to see which corporation can narcotize the greatest number of minds of alleged adult homo sapiens. The new Nintendo system for sure will lose on this count because it's marketed to everyone, not just those who with their gaming buddies will test the limits of human endurance under sleep deprivation. Also, the Wii is just $250 including a sports game, while the desirable versions of the Xbox 360 and PS3 are $400 and $600, respectively -- at $600 for just the console, the PS3 had better convincingly simulate making passionate love to Adriana Lima. Otherwise, count me out.

I didn't realize it until I started thinking about buying the Wii (jury is still out), but I haven't played a new video game system for about 10 years -- eons in gaming time -- and the recent consoles haven't persuaded me to change that. Growing up I owned the original Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, N64, and I've downloaded the emulator for the Gameboy Advance. Having played many games for all of these but the N64 and GBA, I notice several features about the more recent games that have made playing video games less appealing:

1) The core of the problem is that playing video games has gone from having a reliable source of occasional enjoyment to becoming enthralled to an alternate-universe-generating machine. Again, I'd gladly throw away large chunks of my leisure time to virtual reality if it involved entangling my body with those of a group of Brazilian supermodels, but I and many others are not stricken with the same irresistible itch to join the World of Warcraft. This devotion to the video game is quite a change from the situation in, say, 1989 where you sat down and played Tetris or worked on your Zelda game for an hour, saved it, and went on to something else, not feeling as if switching off the machine were like forcing yourself out of bed after a blissful dream.

2) Somewhat related to the above shift in dedication, there is a parallel shift in what the video games are testing their players on: the popular early games were more tests of ability -- visuo-spatial rotation, timing / coordination, etc. -- while the newer games are more tests of sheer endurance. When you bought a new Nintendo or Super Nintendo game, it was likely for the average player that you were not ever going to beat it (without cheating). The point was to do the best you could, try to improve, and see how far that would take you. If you didn't beat it, one of your more skilled friends would, and that was something to be proud of at eight years old! Now, though, when you pop in a newer game, it's more or less settled that you'll beat it -- the only open question is whether it will take 20 or 60 or 120 hours to complete. Where's the suspense?

In earlier games, you were aware of the high likelihood of dying soon -- one hit and it's back to start! -- and the poorly timed jump that cost you an hour's worth of playing was a constant source of frustration. Now that video games have largely become vehicles for semi-permanent adult escapism -- like coffin-beds for vampires -- this element has been diluted, since no escapist wants to fail or suffer bad luck in virtual reality too. Perhaps the clearest example of this contrast can be seen in one of the two games originally bundled with the Nintendo: in Duck Hunt, if you didn't manage to shoot down the targets, your turncoat hunting dog would point at you and snicker contemptuously (see here for a demonstration). PS3 worshippers would rise in rebellion if one of their fantasies were repeatedly interrupted by a character exclaiming, "Your ineptness amuses me!"

Not that I've played many of the newer games, but from what I've read in gaming forums, even hardcore video game players lament this drop in difficulty. Now when you beat a game, no one congratulates you with "Wow, you must be pretty good at that!" -- instead they mock you with "Wow, you sure had lots of time to kill!" Again, this ease obviates the need for improvement, and thus one key ingredient of flow never appears: operating at an ability level that's difficult enough to push you, neither boringly easy nor maddeningly impossible.

3) From the above two points, we'd expect one genre in particular to evaporate during the new gaming era: puzzle-based games. As a dyed-in-the-wool nerd, I count these among my favorites. Though I haven't played all listed in the Wikipedia link, I can say that Tetris, the Adventures of Lolo (or Eggerland) games, and the Lost Vikings games are some of the best ever developed. What they lack in bedazzling graphics they more than make up for in enjoyable challenges of reasoning. Tetris everyone knows; this is a raw visuo-spatial rotation test with reaction-time coming into play when the speed increases. Columns for the Sega Genesis is similar. The Adventures of Lolo and Lost Vikings series are more like a Ravens Matrices problem -- they don't require any knowledge of vocabulary or even adult literacy, nor of mathematics. They test the mental juggling involved in managing multiple sub-goals that all work toward the main goal in a logical way. OK, so the games aren't as dry as taking a practice IQ test -- there's trial & error and some exploration necessary before you figure out what to do sometimes. Another game that's tailored for engineers is Krusty's Super Funhouse, in which you must, using various tools, channel a meandering group of mice through a series of obstacles toward a target location, whereupon they're gruesomely dispatched by a lovable Simpsons character.

Needless to say, close to 0% of the games listed in the Wikipedia link were developed for the newer consoles. The only ones that are recent were developed for Nintendo's handheld GBA and DS, which are marketed toward young children and casual gamers, not escapist adults.

Any of the above three reasons would be sufficient to steer clear of the new video game systems, with the exception of Wii, which signals Nintendo's public washing of its hands of the derelict male that craves his next fix of Grand Theft Auto, and its courting of, well, pretty much everyone else. One the one hand, maybe it's for the greater good that such males remain sedated and shackled to metal boxes, their muscles atrophying, so they can't harm anyone else -- but then I don't really know what the nerd : potential criminal ratio is among Grand Theft Auto players, so it could be that harmless loners who would do well to take up exercise -- or at least go out, get drunk, and dance -- are the game's primary reservoir of hosts.

To reiterate, I still don't know whether I'll wind up buying the Wii, but if, after the initial buzz dies down, it does seem that it has rescued video games from the Dark Ages in which they've been slumbering for the past ten years, then count me in. Until then, I'm content to stick with the classics on my emulators.

November 15, 2006

Ja he tornat

I'm back now... expect some Catalan blogging for awhile. For starters, here's one thing most people surely take notice of but few reflect on when they visit Mediterranean countries -- people make out in public a lot. Not just wimpy PDA like holding hands and giving each other Eskimo kisses: I mean like a guy smacking and grabbing his girlfriend's ass, locking lips for minutes at a time at the entrance to a crowded crosswalk, and (in Rome but not Barcelona, as far as I can tell) using public benches like teenagers here use the floors of their parents' closests during parties. Nothing you'd see in the Puritanical northern European countries and their offshoots.

Again, few people reflect on anything, but those who do opine on such matters when they visit foreign lands usually overly romanticize the place -- thus, Mediterraneans make out in public more than we do simply because they're more passionate, more driven by the carpe diem credo than we sterile, rain-cheque-promising Northerners. But like many other attempts to escape one's ambient boredom by latching on to an exotic culture, this belief is completley misguided. Is there a kernel of truth to it? Sure. But why would being a passionate, day-siezing individual compel one to do so publicly and seemingly indefinitely? As with most other public displays, this is one way of signaling important information to one's conspecifics: in this case, "Back off fuckers, she's mine." Of course, more of this proprietary behavior comes from males (who demand their mates wear signs of being taken -- rings, hair-coverings, etc. -- more often than vice versa), since for a random male, it's not as if there's a horde of females waiting to poach him from his current partner.

That leaves us with two not mutually exclusive possible explanations. First, it may be that Mediterranean males are more willing to poach a taken female, such that the current boyfriend or husband feels a greater threat and so takes more drastic measures to frighten them off (lip-locking rather than putting his arm around her). And second, it could be that Mediterranean females are more willing to run around on their partners, so the boyfriend or husband must take more drastic measures to ensure she doesn't act on this impulse. Presumably, there is little variation in male impulse to cheat if they felt they wouldn't get caught, so we don't see as much female variation in proprietary behavior toward their mates. I'll have to dig it up, but the only journal article on personality and promiscuity that I've read suggested that Extraversion and Neuroticism had no predictive value on infidelity, but that (low) Agreeableness and (low) Conscientiousness did; or in Eysenckian terms, high Psychoticism would have predictive value. (Steve once speculated that Extraversion was behind "the jealousy belt.") Italy and Greece are both high-ish in Psychoticism, but Spain is low, so the correlation clearly isn't perfect. Also, better data on actual rates of infidelity would be better than using personality traits as a proxy.

In any event, the real reasons behind Mediterrean Mega-Makeouts likely have little to do with a greater zeal for life, but instead belie a more tense undercurrent of suspicion and jealousy. A good rule of thumb, then, when visiting another country is to translate the sappily romantic spin the guidebook gives you into a more cynical take, and you'll be pretty close to the truth.

November 8, 2006

Barcelona m'espera!

I'm finally going back to visit Barcelona! It'll only be until next Tuesday, but that's long enough. Ah, tomatoes, octupus, hot girls... speaking of which, I'll be hanging out with one of my nonchalant, red-hot rockstar Catalan friends Saturday night! (This one) I miss girls like that so much. Catch y'all later. Barcelona awaits me!

November 1, 2006

Machiavellianism

There's some discussion at GNXP on Machiavellian behavior, in particular as regards its application to getting sex. To expand my comment, recall what the different facets of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness measure. Here is a brief outline. Someone who scores low in Agreeableness will tend to mistrust others and believe they're motivated by self-serving goals, be equivocal or devious in expression rather than frank, have little concern for the welfare of others, respond more antagonistically than compliantly during interpersonal conflict, brag rather than be modest, and be more toughminded rather than sympathetic towards others. Machiavellians probably don't score in the bottom of the Conscientiousness distribution, since they believe in their own self-efficacy (or else plotting is pointless), strive for achievement, practice self-discipline despite distractions, and think things through before acting or speaking. However, personal organization (or Order) and emphasis on fulfilling moral obligations (or Dutifulness) they would score low on. Someone who scored high on Order would have everything in their living space tightly organized, be a neat freak, always be punctual even in informal settings, etc. But to go from one woman to another without setting down roots requires a certain degree of aimlessness and vagabondishness, of course in addition to little concern for the other's feelings. Machiavellians probably wouldn't score as low on A and C as sociopaths would, but this is only due to sociopaths scoring very low on C. Sociopaths are great seducers, too, though, as this item from Steve's blog demonstrates nicely. They are not necessarily serial killers, but they would bilk trusting old ladies out of their life savings (perhaps by seduction) without flinching.

My stance is that Machiavellian plotting is like war (a point that Robert Greene may or may not have already made; I haven't read any of his books). So, it's fine in self-defense and perhaps even in revenge, but unprovoked manipulation I don't support. In most cases, though, it's like learning a martial art just to go out and kick ass on the people you've always wanted to rough up. Similarly, it's one thing to have the low empathy of a misanthrope who wouldn't, say, donote money to charities for poor kids to attend college; but it would be another to actively steal funds from such charities. Of course, I'm not suggesting that seduction is criminal, but simply that it's in the same direction as these activities (pro-actively using others for personal gain rather than reacting to the provocations of others), though certainly not of the same magnitude. I may not care if gold-diggers have their feelings ripped to shreds, but nor am I going to devise a plot to exploit them as they do others. If it were a matter of revenge, then sure; but again, pro-activeness is a different creature in using others. And to be sure, if the others were a social plague, who knows, but I could see myself taking on a Travis Bickle-ish role and flushing some of the garbage down the sewer. The other group would have to be something pretty awful, though -- violent criminals at the least.

Let me put it simply: there are simply too many groups of sub-criminal, vile individuals for me to plot to use them all for my personal gain. I'd rather take the few moments of consciousness I've got to find a pleasant, exciting girl to settle down with, and to find work where I can be left alone by bosses rather than be forced into political maneuvering to advance my status. Again, though I'm pretty low in empathy, I'm not evil; and from all accounts I've read online relating to pickup artists and the like, once you go down that road, your respect for women vanishes. There are plenty of silly things relating to women that I'll never respect: the taboo that surrounds discussion of male-female differences in intelligence (variance) and personality (averages), chick lit and chick flics, their incessant gossiping, and so on. And there are large swaths of Anglo-country women infected with various strains of radical feminism. But there are attractive, agreeable, fun girls out there among whom I'd like to find a mate, and for that to work I have to have my basic respect for women intact -- not viewing them as puppets for my amusement, at the very least. The abyss staring back into you, and all that. Don't get me wrong -- most guys, including me, would love to have anonymous sex with a variety of hot girls if they presented themselves at our door. But in the real world, groupies are not literally banging down your door, so this requires effort, a part of which means you'll view the targets as puppets. I couldn't respect a puppet, obviously, so I would only feel disgusted by their presence, which I could overcome if it were subservient to a goal of revenge, but if I can manage it, I prefer to just avoid loathsome people.

Incidentally, to show how one might use one of Greene's 48 Laws of Power in self-defense, consider this one that I just read in the recent New Yorker profile of him: "Play a sucker to catch a sucker." Last week, some early 20-something guy pounded at my door, and it looked like he was selling something. I hate these fuckwads as much as I do telemarketers, except you can't simply say "Remove me from your calling list." Moreover, you're in a unique spot to cleanse this rot from your entire neighborhood -- not that I feel especially close ties to my neighbors, but I'd want them to perform this sort of basic housecleaning for all if the screwball were on their doorstep. Before I called the police on him, though, I had to make sure he'd never suspect it. I let him talk my ear off about the magazine subscriptions he was selling, purportedly to raise funds for him to attend college and get his life going in the right direction. The more time that passed without the door being slammed in his face, the more confident he became -- so confident that he won't see it coming. I even invited him in to warm up, whereupon he continued with his obvious lies and obsequious complements about how the living room looked.

I still wasn't convinced that I was going to call the cops on him, but something finally set off the alarm -- he claimed that there were other kids selling subscriptions in the area, so if I did end up buying a subscription, he'd give me a tag to put on my door so that the others wouldn't pester me. Only a moron couldn't plan it out so that two kids didn't knock on the same door, and few people who plan things are morons in the sense of having low IQ. That was such a bizarre thing to say, that I agreed to buy a subscription, with the full intention of canceling it once he left. This way, I got his name and company he was working for, not to mention again the effect this had on his confidence and cockiness. So after I signed the receipts, he tore off the thin strip that held the several carbon-copy receipts together and wrote, by hand, "So-and-so's winning, bug off," which I was to affix to my door with scotch tape to let the other sellers to "bug off." Again, only a fly-by-night company would do something so bizarre, rather than have a professionally made "Do Not Disturb"-type hanger that I would leave on my doorknob (again assuming they couldn't just have the kids take non-overlapping areas).

Sure enough, when I Googled the company -- Great Lakes Circulation, Inc. -- I discovered that their door-to-door employees are all liars who spin various heartstring-tugging stories about college tuition assitance, hospital fundraisers, and so on. In reality, they simply sell magazines at roughly 300% the cover price. At least I had the name of the company if I needed to take any action to keep them from revisiting my neighborhood. Even better, though, all that time this doofus spent trying to sell me snake oil allowed me to develop a perfect mental image of what he looked like and what he was wearing, so that I could report his ass in flawless detail to the police. I jumped up and down when I saw the county police cars pulling out of the street I gave them, where I last saw him walking. I knew the police would've told me to buzz off if they were having a busy day, and the fact that they sent two cars to haul off someone who was soliciting without a permit and misrepresenting themselves, just shows how slow a day it was. So I don't want to hear how I prevented them from stopping a murder or anything. Now not only that fucker but his bosses as well know that men with guns will show them the way out if they come around here again. "Play a sucker to catch a sucker" indeed.

October 31, 2006

Germophobic thought of the day

Our aversion to contamination by pathogens is so strong that most evolutionary psychologists believe that's how our sense of disgust evolved: for example, to prevent us from coming into contact with parasite-infested rotten meat, feces, and so on. And clearly any visible sign of infectious disease -- smallpox, leprosy, even a herpes blister -- is enough to make us recoil a bit. These programmed responses make perfect sense: our avoidance of pathogens contained in rotten meat and feces would've been adapative since our species split off on its own, and revulsion in the face of infectious sores, etc., would've been adaptive for the last 10,000 or so years since infectious disease became widespread among humans (before then, population density, sedentism, and exposure to other animals were not sufficiently high to sustain outbreaks of smallpox, influenza, and so on).

But what happens when we face novel threats of infection? I think that, in 100 years or so, researchers will look back and ask, "What the hell were those people thinking, keeping their toothbrush in the same room as the toilet?" Worse, most people never or only rarely clean their toothbrushes -- and they should really just replace them -- despite the fact that most packages suggest that toothbrushes be replaced every two months. And that's not even to speak of those who don't use anti-bacterial mouthwash after brushing! I doubt that if the instrument were an eating utensil, these practices would be tolerated, even though eating utensils spend less time inside your mouth touching every square millimeter therein. The problem, of course, is a gene-environment mismatch -- usage of toothbrushes has been commonplace for, what, four or five generations? -- such that we don't have programmed visceral reactions to scraping the inside of our mouths with a tool that we never or rarely clean and that's been stored in a not-so-clean place, forgoing any antiseptics afterwards.

I wonder how much money we could save from pushing better oral hygiene (even just rinsing with mouthwash), given how much we surely spend on fixing chronic health problems arising from oral infections.

October 27, 2006

Feminist envy of the beautiful

Via Mangan:

This shit never ceases to crack me up. Now, I have nothing against ugly girls, but I cannot stand when people nakedly advance their own selfish ends under the pretense of altruism. First, I grant that there are groups who are so disadvantaged that they cannot stick up for themselves, and so more privileged individuals must provide "a voice for the voiceless" -- slaves who depended to an extent on the agitation of white abolitionists, for example. But note several crucial features of such a relationship:

1) The crusading group is in an objectively more advantageous or desirable situation, while the to-be-protected group is not.

2) The crusading group enjoys some kind of power or influence that the to-be-protected group does not.

3) Because of 1) and 2), the crusading group feels some degree of pity, compassion, and/or solidarity with the to-be-protected group, such that they feel compelled to help them out.

4) The to-be-protected group will benefit from the crusade, while the crusading group does not expect to benefit in the same sense. Indeed, that is the definition of altruism: incurring costs to oneself in order to bestow benefits upon others.

In the present case, clearly the feminazis are not protesting against the objectification of themselves: "Women are not for decoration" -- not the ugly ones anyway. So the assumption is that they're sticking up for their oppressed sisters who work at Hooters. But let's have a look at whether the crucial features of altruistic crusading are met. As for 1), the real situation is the reverse of what's expected: it's the hot girls who enjoy numerous advantages that the plain or ugly feminazis lack. More, hot girls command the attention of not just the average male but also plain females (who then incessantly gossip about and slander them), so their messages are easily noticed -- think of the topless PETA activists (NSFW) -- whereas plain or ugly feminazis are, for some odd reason, more likely to be ignored, again the opposite of what feature 2) predicts. Therefore, rather than feeling compassion or solidarity with hot girls, the feminazis are boiling with envy and resentment, against feature 3), as is plainly visible in the stare of the plain woman in the picture. "Stupid airhead bitch," you can almost hear her say. "Well, if that's what men go for, rather than cold, bitter, semi-smart women like me, then that proves that men are scum." Turning finally to feature 4), it's obvious that de-emphasizing feminine beauty would only serve to cripple hot girls relative to their plain and ugly competitors, a la Tonya Harding's attack by proxy on Nancy Kerrigan.

Of course, if Hooters girls were down-and-out prostitutes, there would be reason to worry about their predicament regardless of how good they looked. But they're just young girls who want to make more money than they would answering phones, manning a cash register in a clothing store, or whatever low-wage jobs are available on their college campus or the local mall. They're not strippers or any other type of sex worker. True, they'll be oogled constantly by their customers -- but hot girls have a way of attracting that type of attention no matter what job they do. The only (former) Hooters girl I know is my cousin -- her father (my blood-uncle) owns a private dentistry practice, she attended a "public Ivy" college, and she's perfectly well-adjusted and outgoing. As I said, it's mostly a side job you take when you're young to make better money than other bullshit jobs, then you graduate and do something serious. Hooters girls are the last people feminazis need to protect, though they have plenty to covet as regards their looks and personalities. (And for those keeping score, she's 1/4 Japanese like me, but she appears half-and-half.)

Quote of the day

From Henry Harpending's review (pdf) of Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About it:

Theme one, about the performance of Black athletes and its history, is a series of narratives and vignettes about great Black athletes. The short version is that there was an early (19th century and early twentieth century) rise of elite Black athletes, then a reversal of the trend in the face of racism, then a second winning push so that many sports today are dominated by people with a lot of African DNA. Exceptions are “country club sports” like golf where there have been steeper economic obstacles.

Unfortunately this reviewer could not keep his attention through all of it and cannot do justice to this central theme. Some of us love sports and some of us are free of the affliction. As I am writing this I can hear a television announcer telling us how many wins a local basketball team has had in the last ten years in game three of five game road trips. Members of my own family are listening intently and nodding. The author’s love of sports and his appreciation of athletic achievement is apparent in these parts of the book. I expect that readers who appreciate sports more than I do, like my unfortunate family members, will enjoy these chapters a lot.

Only sport I find interesting is Mixed Martial Arts, since there's actually a fair amount of intelligence and strategy that go into it.

October 26, 2006

Hot, smart Brown girls gaining ground


Now that Project Runway is over, a new season of Top Chef has started. I don't like it as much as Project Runway since the chefs are typically under much tighter time constraints and thus don't have sufficient time to fully elaborate a creative product. You might think that another downside to Top Chef would be the lack of hot models (like Marilinda from PR) -- but you would be wrong. The host of the show is the first international supermodel to hail from India: Padma Lakshmi. Unlike other models, though, she graduated from college and has written several cookbooks -- all right, so not exactly proving a new theorem in math, but you can tell from her biography and the way she behaves on the show that she's got an IQ of at least 115 or so (+1 SD at least).

To revisit a couple biological and genetic themes, in the comments to my previous post on cross-assortative mating for good looks and intelligence, Jason refers me to a study on fruitflies which shows that sometimes traits which boost the fitness of males would incur fitness costs in a female, and vice versa. Therefore, cross-assortative mating for the most desirable male and female traits might be a complete wash for the children's fitness, or worse. However, human beings are not that sexually dimorphic, probably because paternal investment is high in our species, which requires females to choose good fathers and not simply the largest, sexiest males [1]. Male fruitflies, by contrast, do a mating dance, leave their stuff, and then they're done. The same reasoning explains why male deer have such clunky antlers while does are not so burdened, as well as why peahens are drab compared to peacocks.

For IQ, there is no consistent difference in the means between males and females, though males show greater variance. There are non-trivial differences in the means for personality traits (as I reviewed here), though only two of the Big Five show noticeable differences. Agreeableness shows a 0.57 SD difference in means, such that males are less cooperative and more antagonistic than females; while females score 0.55 SD higher on Neuroticism. As for good looks, Kanazawa recently examined the attractiveness ratings of men vs women using a representative sample and found a difference between male and female means of 0.2 on a 5-point scale (3.6 female vs 3.4 male). He doesn't report the SD for this measure, but let's say it's 1, on the idea that the trait is normally distributed with a mean of 3 and that the 5-point scale is only sensitive to cover +/- 2 SD. (In fact, it looks like there is Lake Woebegone stuff going on, in that there are far many more attractive than unattractive people, but assume this for simplicity.) Then the male-female difference in means would be 0.2 SD, favoring females. So, for most things people care about when choosing a mate -- intelligence, attractiveness, and personality traits -- there is either no dimorphism or real but slight dimorphism, well under 1 SD [2]. This dovetails with the high paternal investment of humans -- because males and females face pretty much the same problems in surviving and reproducing, we don't expect too many traits to be advantageous to one sex but not the other, or if so, the difference should not be extremely pronounced [3].

Therefore, human beings need not worry much about passing one male-typical or female-typical traits that might harm offspring of the opposite sex. While high IQ may not make females more desirable as mates, it certainly doesn't make them less desirable -- all complaints I've ever heard or read about high-IQ or high-status females had to do with their personalities, not the fact that they had larger vocabularies or were better at Tetris than the complaining male. And good looks certainly don't make males less desirable -- in fact, it will ensure that they are not only desirable but begin having sex earlier, not to mention the huge boost in confidence they'll enjoy as a result of being given the up-and-down look by girls throughout adolescence. (See here for a Google image search of "hot bollywood actor" and tell me if you think these guys are at a disadvantage in the dating & mating game.) The differences in Agreeableness, however, are more significant, so you may want to pick a partner to balance you out, as disagreeable females will be perceived as bossy and bitchy (though it would help males assert their authority). I don't see how high Neuroticism would be perceived as undesirable -- this doesn't refer to Woody Allenesque neuroticism, but rather emotional volatility or being on-edge. Since there is no assortative mating for personality traits, apparently being more emotionally labile doesn't harm one's dating prospects.

Which brings us back to the hot, smart Brown girls. As a result of the caste system, which has existed for at least 1000 years (and dates back perhaps to 800 BC, although the Wikipedia entry is not totally clear on this), there is extensive assortative mating for intelligence and status. One crucial effect of assortative mating is that it increases the narrow-sense heritability, making it regression toward the mean less severe. Recall that narrow-sense heritability measures the amount of variance in phenotype that is accounted for by additive genetic factors -- think of additive genetic factors as those that contribute "blindly" or "unconditionally" to the phenotype. For example, if there are 100 loci involved in IQ, and each locus can contribute either 0 or 1 points to the phenotype, additivity means that a "1 allele" at a certain locus will contribute its 1 point no matter what the value of the other allele at that locus is (i.e., dominance plays no role), and also regardless of what the values are at other loci (i.e., epistasis plays no role). If additive factors play a larger role, then less of the phenotype is accounted for by conditional and chancy factors, which may or may not occur. That makes it a safer bet that a child born to IQ 130 parents will have an IQ close to 130. The same is true for assortative mating for good looks -- it will make it a safer bet that the good-looking parents will have a child close to the parents' level. Thus, not only do upper caste South Asians have a high level of attractiveness and intelligence, which is reason enough to choose them as partners, but it's more likely that your children will remain close to the parental value, in comparison to mating with a smart, good-looking person of European or African descent, for example. All this goes to show that one must take care in comparing humans to species that exhibit low paternal investment, whose members have causes for concern that we should not fret over in our own lives.

[1] It's true, though, that human groups vary in the degree of paternal investment.

[2] Of course, even small differences between means, or greater variance assuming equal means, will have marked effects in the tails of the distribution (i.e., more males than females with IQ 160, more female than male bombshells).

[3] Note that this is the opposite of what is acceptable thinking in academia -- there, sex differences, though taboo, are more easily discussed and taken for granted, while discussion of ethnic or racial differences are dynamite. In reality, the most glaring inter-group differences are between populations adapted to different environments, since the males and females of a given environment face roughly the same pressures in human beings. That's why it's not uncommon to compare racial groups for IQ and find a 1 SD difference (or more) between means, while there is no such male-female difference anywhere.

October 23, 2006

Why I don't care if my wife is smart or not


[Justine Pasek, Miss Universe 2002, was born to a Polish software engineer and a Panamanian homemaker. She plans to become an engineer as well. This could be my daughter someday.]

I was recently directed to an opinion piece on whether smart or high-status guys these days are continuing to look for a trophy wife as they have been doing for the past.... well, the past. If the piece is to be believed, then smart or high-status guys have begun to seek an intellectual / status equal. I'll bet that a significant cause of this trend is that there has finally been reached a threshold value of the proportion of the female population that is both hot and smart. Let's face it: guys care more about looks than brains, or else they would chase 40-something CEOs, senators, and private practice doctors, rather than the best-looking girl they can manage. On Bizarro-World, there may exist a lucrative franchise called "Senators Gone Wild," but here on Planet Earth, it's college coeds and MILFs that guys salivate over.

So why the shift toward marrying an intellectual or status equal? It must be that there is no longer such a difficult trade-off of looks vs brains when choosing a wife: you can have your cake and eat it too. Of course, these traits are pretty much independent of each other, so in order for the looks-brains correlation to increase, there must be a strong degree of cross-assortative mating between hot wives and smart or high-status husbands. This will tend to shuffle alleles predisposing to high intelligence and those predisposing to good looks into the same families: though there will be variance, we expect that the daughter of a trophy wife and nerd or alpha male will be both prettier and smarter than the population average, despite regression toward the mean. If this continues long enough, the looks vs brains dilemma will diminish, and smart or high-status guys can both go with their bestial instinct by choosing a hot babe while also maintaining plausible deniability in the face of censorious feminazis by choosing a smart girl. Not long ago, I wrote a post at GNXP on how this is especially pronounced among upper caste South Asians, which of course drew lots of boos from the blondes-uber-alles contingent.

But even if I don't amount to an alpha-male by the time I marry -- and I doubt I will -- I'll still be smart enough to offer brainy genes to a potential wife, though not genes for the alpha-male personality and physique. So I probably won't be able to get a girl who's both hot and smart -- I'm back to the trade-off -- but that's no worry, since it's the easiest decision in the world. If I married a smart but homely girl, my kids would be pretty smart but not very outgoing or good-looking. The daughters would be cursed, and the sons would only have the longshot that I currently have of attracting a hottish girl based on brains alone, not high status. I want to make sure my kids have it as easy as possible, though, so if I chose a hot but not exceptionally smart wife, my kids would have the best of both worlds. They wouldn't be as smart as me (that sounds arrogant, but you know what I mean), and not as hot as their mom, but being hotter than average and smarter than average will make them more desirable as mates than being nerdy and dull-looking. To be more exact, consider the Breeder's equation:

This tells you how far above average the children will be for some trait, based on the average of the parents. R is the response to selection, or how high above the population average the kids will be. S is the selection differential, and it says how high the parents' average is above the population average. Then h^2 is the narrow-sense heritability, which is a measure of how much variation in a given trait is accounted for by the additive effect of genes. In plain English, it says how much the kids will "snap back" to the population average. And clearly R is just the expected value of the children's phenotype: non-additive effects of genes and chance factors may buffet it this way or that, but when you're planning, you can really only go with what's predictable ahead of time. The h^2 for "physical attractiveness" is about 0.64 -- but like height or IQ must actually be a bit higher (only one study has attempted to quantify it), and h^2 for adult IQ is at least 0.7.

Now, I've never had my IQ properly tested, but from the SAT-to-IQ conversion scales I've seen, and the few unofficial online IQ tests I've taken, I'd say a conservative lower-bound would be 130, or 2 SD above the mean (hardly mind-blowing), while a conservative upper-bound would be 145, or 3 SD above the mean. Though rare in the population, this level is probably average for academics and intellectual blogger types, in the same way that a height range of 6'3 to 6'6 is probably average in pro basketball, though rare overall. Let's say I really trade off looks against IQ and choose a wife whose IQ is a perfectly average 100. Then our mean IQ would be from 115 to 122.5, or 15 to 22.5 points above the population mean of 100. So take this S of 15 to 22.5 and multiply it by the h^2 for IQ of 0.7 and you expect our kids to be 10.5 to 15.75 points above the mean, i.e. have IQs of 110.5 to 115.75. Rough estimates of the IQ needed to complete university-level education clock it in at about 115, so our kids could probably graduate college, even if they couldn't become partners at law firms or win a science Nobel Prize. Also recall that the h^2 used was a lower-bound; it's probably closer to 0.8, in which case our kids would be from 112 to 118, again good enough to go to college.

Turning to physical attractiveness, I'm not chopped liver, but I recognize I'm no handsome devil either. I notice younger girls looking at me as if they liked what they saw (though girls my own age focus more on height and status than looks, so not so many glances from them), and when I uploaded a body pic to craigslist out of curiosity, one girl said I was above-average, another said "I wouldn't kick you out of bed," and a gay guy thought I was hot (then again, guys will tell anyone they're hot if they think it'll increase their chances of getting laid). Seems an extreme thing to have done, but if you want to plan things out, you have to know what you have to offer rather than be self-deluded. So, no salivating, but no rude awakening either -- then I figure I'm at about the 70th percentile, which is about +0.525 SD. Since I sacrificed IQ, let's assume my wife is +2 to +3 SD -- we're not talking a one-in-a-million babe here, but literally a 1-in-43 babe or at most a 1-in-1000 babe. Then our mean is from +1.26 to +1.76 SD, multiplied by the more reasonable h^2 for looks of 0.7 gives an expected value of +0.88 to +1.2 SD, or between the 81st to 89th percentiles.

In conclusion, then, our kids would be expected to reach +1 SD for both IQ and physical attractiveness, meaning they could graduate college and be good-looking enough to attract the opposite sex when they're adolescents, when looks make a hell of a difference in determining one's social status (or as we called it then, one's "popularity"), which will tend to give them a huge confidence boost at a key point in development. Good looks will continue to be valuable to daughters, and though they won't be valuable to sons past their college years, the confidence they receive from being looked at will serve them well even when females stop paying attention to looks and focus more on height and status. And while they probably won't cure cancer or compose a symphony, they'll likely be smart and educated enough to get white-collar jobs and marry others whose IQ and attractiveness level is close to their own.

It all sounds horribly superficial, but hey, we all want the best for our kids, and I might as well be smart enough to know what matters in being a father to smart, good-looking children -- screw all those Baby Einstein toys and $30,000 per year pre-schools, it's genes that matter (plus uncontrollable environmental noise). Obviously this is the case with good looks. I'll cover the brains part of the equation, and she'll cover the good looks part. However, this plan does make a crucial assumption -- that the female in question is focused more on children and a family than on herself. I couldn't take this approach with someone who didn't want kids or wanted to delay child-rearing as long as possible, preferring instead a tall, rich trophy husband whom she could show off to her girlfriends to incite their envy, thus inflating her own self-esteem. I couldn't seal the deal with someone who was concerned more with status and living a glamorous lifestyle, mostly at my expense. I need someone who will say, "OK, so he didn't use his noggin to become a rich doctor or executive, and thus he doesn't earn enough for me to buy whatever furniture I desire, but I want kids now, and I want the best for them -- imagine my looks and his brains!"

That pretty much excludes the educated classes of Western Europe and the Anglo offshoot countries, since these females are more concerned with status and glamor than raising kids. That's fine, their business and all, but not my target audience. Enter the Third World bride! Ha, am I actually going to become one of "those guys"? There was a recent NYT article on foreign brides, and just look at this guy. He's not that smart, rich, young, or good-looking, and he managed to find a Colombian fiancee who's hotter than he could ever dream of here (not to mention that at 40 years old, he definitely couldn't hope to find a 23 year-old that attractive here). You figure if, compared to the average guy using these services, I'm 10-15 years younger (at 26), 15-30 IQ points smarter, better-looking (again, this isn't arrogance if you look who I'm comparing myself to), and though currently low-status, I'll be halfway respectable as an academic or other researcher someday. And once I imbibe a little alcohol, which counteracts my introversion, I can actually cut a little rug.

So you figure it wouldn't be out of the question to become engaged to one of the prettiest girls in a Colombian town, a country known for hot girls. The big concern, of course, is the average IQ of the country. Lynn's estimate of the mean IQ of Colombia is 89 (and 90 for Peru), but as a developing country, the "true" mean is probably a bit higher -- the non-white Hispanic American mean is somewhere in the low 90s -- and would be revealed if they were transplanted to a more hospitable environment like the US. But again, because I'd have quite a leg up on the competition, I could likely find a girl who was above-average in smarts for her country, namely the white American average of 100 I used in the calculations above. Hell, given the awful state Colombia is currently in, there might be some pretty, 110 IQ girl who wants something better for herself and any kids she wants to have. If she were 110, me 145, and h^2 = 0.8, the expected IQ of our kids would be 122 -- good enough to enter an intellectual or smarmy jerk profession or the arts! Also, if she were from Colombia, her looks would probably be at the upper-bound I used above of +3 SD -- and that's not even to speak of potential hybrid vigor effects our children might enjoy. Hey, the kids wouldn't have to look as good as Jessica Alba or Freddie Prinze Jr. -- anything close would work as well!

So am I totally nuts? Note: you can't argue with the numbers, since the equations are not controversial, and I chose realistic values. I mean, as concerns the rationale of targeting groups who want families rather than a sexy zip code, and so on.