June 29, 2006

Musings on interracial preferences

Background on potential effects of interracial mating, from GNXP archives: here, here, and here.

I got my hair cut yesterday and something crystallized in my brain: I am not only not attracted to Northeast Asian girls, but being touched by them in a sensual way actually makes me somewhat uneasy. Normally the girl who shampoos my hair will be a curvaceous Latina, who I don't mind massaging my scalp at all, but yesterday it was an Asian girl -- an attractive one, if you'd asked any other red-blooded male. When I receive the shampooing, rinsing, conditioning, second rinsing, and towel drying from one of the curvier, duskier girls, it feels like my hair is a scoop of espresso ice cream being licked lazily by ten tongues. (Have I mentioned that my dream girlfriend would be a hair stylist?) But yesterday felt like being confined to a dentist's chair while she poked and probed. Again, this wasn't due to technique, but rather just knowing that it was an Asian girl. Strange, I know: some males would drive across town for a haircut if they knew they'd get to have their skin caressed by an attractive Asian girl.

But, as I have mentioned before, my grandmother is Japanese, and I tend to be more non-conformist (or novelty-seeking, or whatever) in my preferences and behavior. Now, I only saw my grandmother once, maybe twice a year when I was growing up, so it's not that I'm going against what I was exposed to during development, or deciding "Well, I've been around those females for long enough now; time to see what else is out there." And though I tend to seek out the exotic, this rarely results in latching on to someone of a different continental race -- mostly within the broadly defined Caucasian group, but the ethnic groups more visibly distinct from my Caucasian background (French, Irish, Welsh). Ground zero for hotness would be Persia, decreasing somewhat in intensity as you move just outside (though still w/in the Caucasian group) -- Semitic groups, the assorted swarthy southern European groups (and their white or mestiza descendants in Latin America), and to a lesser extent South Asians.

What's strange is how reciprocal this is. My only real girlfriend in high school was half-Persian by descent, though phenotypically she could've passed for 100%. (My first encounter w/ the discrete, rather than blending, nature of inheritance was when I met her younger sister, who had uber-pale skin, invisibly blonde hair, and blue eyes.) The other "relationship" I had in high school was really more of a mutual crush that never took off, but she was South Asian (from Kerala, though so light-skinned that I first thought she was Greek). Before that, in middle school, my first girlfriend (who actually asked me out) was Salvadorean, and another mutual crush was Italian. (My biggest regret so far in life is not asking her out, despite her friend confessing that this girl had a huge crush on me).

College was a gauntlet of rejection -- hence the reminiscing just now about better times -- but the one enjoyable date I had was w/ an Equadorean international student (which is to say, ethnically Spanish). Of all the girls I'd describe as good-looking who've ever shown interest in me -- not that I'd need to grow another hand to tally them up -- all have been from the geographical area whose inhabitants I'm most attracted to, w/ Persians being overrepresented here as before. I've shown no interest in Northern or Eastern Euros or NE Asians, and neither have they shown interest in me. Ditto for other continental races (not that I've met that many New Guineans...).

I promise there's a point to my navel-gazing and thinking out loud. The question is: why this reciprocity? Do I and girls from the region I described unconsciously recognize that we'd make babies that would enjoy hybrid vigor, and so we both seek each other out? I could imagine a visual and/or olfactory mechanism whereby we ascertained that the other was exotic but not too exotic: inspecting facial geometry, skin / hair color & tecture, etc., as well as inhaling info about their HLA profile. Perhaps we both have an ideal set of physical features in mind, and I happen to met their checklist and they mine -- yet Asian girls actually fit quite a few of my criteria (skin color, hair color / texture, eye color, amount of body fat, etc.), but I still don't feel the same spark, not even a glimmer.

Now, I don't believe that only one factor accounts for the whole story, but of the three above, I'd say just hybrid vigor holds water. But there's also a positive assortative mating angle to it as well (that is, the opposite of hybridization), namely for whatever personality traits that dispose one to seek out partners who are exotic but not too exotic. Though many such genes are doubtless involved, one that's received lots of attention is the dopamine receptor gene DRD4 (updated here), which has 3 alleles of interest: 4R, the ancestral one which is most common around the world; 7R, a derived one which is associated most w/ ADHD and to a lesser extent the trait of "novelty-seeking," which varies greatly in frequency across populations, from roughly 0% among East Asians and African hunter-gatherers to near fixation in the Amazon, and at in-between levels in Europe and Africa; and 2R, another derived one which is associated w/ trait values between those of the mellow 4R and wild-child 7R, and is found mostly in East Asia (though still at low levels).

To the extent that two wanderlustful [1] wild child types will assortatively mate for such traits, then all else equal, I'd be more likely to be drawn to an individual from a population in which the 7R allele was more frequent than where it was not. Hence, the near aversion to East Asian girls. Don't get me wrong, I don't see this sobreity as an across-the-board defecit -- it's great at the tutoring center where I work, where a mellow mien will place someone on my good side. Indeed, as Harpending & Cochran suggest in the above link, the 7R allele probably never rose to appreciable frequency in East Asia due to elaborate social structures requiring stability and evenness of temperament. And obviously there are other guys who prefer Asian girls precisely b/c of their more composed demeanor (which others incorrectly interpret as a desire for "passive" girls), so it's an advantage in this sense as well.

In any event, my online "learn Farsi" journey awaits!

[1] Chen, C., Burton, M. L., Greenberger, E., & Dmitrieva, J. (1999). Population migration and the variation of dopamine D4 (DRD4) allele frequencies around the globe. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 309-324.

World Cup popular among kids?

So at the tutoring center I work at, we work w/ K-12 students, and quite a few of the middle & high school kids have been talking about the World Cup as if it were something they actually paid attention to, even if they didn't treat it like the Super Bowl. Sure, there are several first-generation immigrants from Mexico and Iran cheering on their home team, but even a fair amount of those who have no dog in the fight -- even ordinary white kids -- have been talking about it. Who knows if it'll catch on or not. I doubt it: even if interesting enough now, no American sports channels feature soccer as prominently as native sports. I remember feeling the same way in 2002 -- since we got so far, we actually took notice and thought soccer was cool for awhile... and then when there was no chance to wach it anymore, we stopped caring.

Who should I cheer on? Allowing good ol'-fashioned ethnic chauvinism to be my guide, I'd have to go w/ France, as I'm 1/4. I'm also 1/4 each of Welsh & Irish, who don't have a team (England doesn't count), and 1/4 Japanese, but they're already out. I mean, all France has to do is make it through Brazil!

As a sidenote, I really don't enjoy soccer that much. I'm much more into Mixed Martial Arts -- they're the only sport I don't find mind-numbingly boring (and they require some degree of brains). Basketball & soccer are fast-paced, but to me it looks like back-and-forth over and over from one end of the field to the other. Football & baseball feature interesting variety -- when there's anything going on at all. They're the athletic version of punctuated equilibrium.

June 23, 2006

What makes a good teacher?

Razib makes a good point in his response to the ScienceBlogs question: "What makes a good teacher?" I think he could make the #1 reason more inclusive by modifying it to say: "A semester's worth of psychometrics, covering individual differences in intelligence and personality." So, even if you have to teach students who aren't bright nor highly conscientious, you know how to relate to them, exploit whatever motivations / interests they have, etc.

The only two popular takes on students who are bettered by awesome teachers are: 1) the elite prep school group Razib mentioned, bright & enthusiastic, for whom the gardener-teacher supplies the necessary extrinsic stimulation to allow the full flowering of their minds (Dead Poets Society); and 2) children of tragedy, whom the alchemist-teacher transforms from would-be dead-enders to knowledgeable captains of their own ship (Dangerous Minds).

In reality, most students are bored to tears by school, since most of it is geared to promising students (i.e., bright & enthusiastic). The average or below-avg students get frustrated b/c the material is over their head -- often ridiculously so w/ Constructivist or Socratic methods that require the student to figure out the pattern themselves & then state it explicitly or apply it elsewhere. Such progressivists are unaware that they've just administered something like the Ravens test, the most highly g-loaded one out there. Four years worth of such pupil-dilatingly frustrating instruction is enough to turn off anyone. Here in Montgomery County, MD, the current public high school geometry textbook is all but devoid of formulas for the students to memorize or refer back to, w/ only question marks where the budding Einstein should have figured out the formula on their own and stored it in memory -- since writing it down over top of the taunting question mark would not only be destruction of school property, but would forever ruin the self-discovery journey for all future owners of the defaced book.

The same is true of "learning for learning's sake" approaches -- not everyone scores high on Openness to Experience on the "Big Five" personality scale. Pleading -- and then badgering -- Closed students to explore the abstract beauty of math, rather than giving them practical tools they can use (like calculating rate of increase/decrease of prices), is like struggling to bring out the inner Extrovert from an inveterate Introvert in acting classes.

Kids are not all easily tutorable fledgling conquerors of the fields of life, nor are the remainder mere lumps of clay awaiting transformation by the teacher's Abracadabras and waves of the hand. Most students can sense who the idealistic teachers are, and they eat them for fucking breakfast. While not as Oscar-level inspirational as other methods, I prefer to relate to kids on their own level -- occasionally that means playing the gardener-teacher role to a promising student, but more often that means breaking the awful truth to them that life isn't fair, that there are some things you have to learn in order to function as a job-holding adult, and that large parts of formal schooling should just be viewed as their day job that they tolerate until they get to do what they really want. And for most of them, these visions of the future don't include more academics -- quite the opposite.

So, you motivate them by stop lying to them that all of this material will be vitally important further on. Still, regardless of where they end up, better grades and completion of high school will demonstrate one's work ethic. And a larger vocabulary will always be worth more than a miniscule one -- whether to impress whoever's interviewing you, to deal a delicious diss to someone who's annoying you, or to stand out from the crowd when trying to talk to girls (although brains don't necessarily make a girl more desirable). The same is true of other subjects, especially foreign languages. No student will take a teacher seriously who suggests that there's an inherent beauty and intrinsic merit to studying foreign languages -- perhaps for the teacher, but not for the typical student. Again, a more realistic approach is called for: knowing even rudimentary Chinese will help in a future where China will be a big global economic player; or for the blue collar, learning Spanish if immigration trends continue. More, your average high school boy would rather clip out his own tongue w/ rusty gardening shears than master a second tongue, but once Spring Break in Rio approaches, he's suddenly engrossed in a Teach Yourself Brazilian Portuguese book. The two greatest motivators: survival and reproduction.

In sum, whatever other commendable qualities a good teacher may have, foremost must surely be an honest, hard-headed approach to one's noble calling. Steve recently voiced a similar opinion on how to best utilize male-typical & female-typical talents for good government. The fundamental error of those striving to be good teachers -- and god knows I was one of them! -- is the two-part belief that: 1) all students are inherently the same in intelligence and motivation, so all apparent variation is due to environmental variation; and 2) moreover, all students are like the teacher in intelligence & personality, so what appeals to and would motivate the teacher would transfer easily to the case of the students, if only after some minor adjustments for age differences, etc. Alas, both of these hypotheses have zero empirical support -- and after all, that's what really counts in judging a good teacher: who effectively leads the kids toward the brightest future that each is capable of attaining and in the least painful way possible? Quasi-religious beliefs that serve more to make teachers feel good and pure about themselves, rather than serve the needs of the students, are the very antithesis of good teaching. In light of a century of psychometric research on personality & intelligence, honest reflection on the part of good teachers requires that we abandon the fallacy that all students are equally above-average blank slates.

June 14, 2006

Utopian public transit

I live in the Maryland suburbs of DC (though "outside the Beltway," as they say), and the public Metro system is just plain retarded. Unlike pretty much any other metro system I've experienced, the DC metro has a "spokes of a wheel" design -- the logic is that most folks live out in the 'burbs and pour into DC to work for the Fed or whatever. It's as if the Fed were a whirlpool-beast that takes a great huff every morning, sucking the suburbanites in from all directions, chews them over for 8 hours, and then in a shrieking vomit, sends them back to where they came from. Now, to an extent, this is true, but most people need to go lots of other places, which are also largely located in the suburbs -- so, if you need to get from one 'burb to another, you have to feed into the center of the wheel and get whipped back out through some other spoke to get there, wasting plenty of time. The only 'burb-to-'burb channel is the dreaded Beltway, a loop-way that orbits DC like a Mobius strip of busy misery, a centipede plunging its head into its own asshole. And this is the public transit utopia our tax dollars buy us, this the great leveler of class boundaries? It's true, though: on the Beltway, everyone's a jerkoff.

However, that's not my main gripe -- we're just saddled w/ the way the damned thing was designed, and nothing short of complete rerouting will improve things. But what about the easy changes that no one bothers to make? For example, when the city center is doing most of its sucking and vomiting, the Metro runs trains very frequently, often one train two minutes after the other. This sounds nice, but what typically happens is that one backs the other up, so you creep along and stop dead quite a bit. But in between rush-hours, while the Fed & co. are languidly digesting their feed, the trains are only run once every 13 minutes (on a good day). So, if you miss the Metro by even 15 seconds, you're hanging out for a good while until the next one arrives. This wouldn't be so bad if no one rode it during the daytime, but of course lots of folks work atypical hours, not to mention tourists visiting our nation's capital. Some genius at the Metro authority finally figured out what any 2nd grade drop-out already knew: just run the trains every 5 minutes throughout the day, aside from late at night. Unfortunately, the news told us, this modified schedule won't be put into effect until next year... your brain will hurt less if you don't try to imagine why it would take that long.

So, here's my vision of a public transit utopia, to be installed when I become Emperor. Sure, a train arriving every 5 minutes is nice, but still, if you miss it, you'll have to wait around (even if not for another quarter of a fucking hour). Wouldn't it be great if the trains ran continually, no starting and no stopping? I propose we turn the Metro system into one of those Lazy River rides they have at water parks, at least during the summer when it's so ungodly humid in the DC area. Think about it: you just show up and presto, you're on your way! One side of the river would be for boarding, the other for departing. I'm no engineer, but I'm sure there'd be some way to speed up the current in between stations, while slowing it down in the immediate vicinity of the stations to facilitate maneuverability. If you wanted to get to your destination more quickly, we could designate one lane the swimming lane -- cheap transit and daily exercise! You'd wear bathing attire of your choice -- a baggy t-shirt if you're overweight and want to hide it, or a skimpy bikini if you're a nubile intern, as the case may be. Your day-uniforms would be stored at work -- where they belong -- and you'd simply change in & out of them there.

True, it would cost money to keep the water sufficiently clean, and to provide a strong enough current to the still water. But think of the savings in labor costs from the ultimate automation of running trains -- no trains at all. Actually, we could just reassign the workers to administer the cleaning agents, unchoke any clogs during downtime, and so on, so they wouldn't lose their jobs. And think of how less stressful their new tasks would be compared to always keeping a vigilant eye on the guy who's trying to dart into the Metro while the doors are closing! We'd also enjoy savings from: no crashes, no repairs or maintenance of trains, nor of the tracks & rails, no cleaning ladies to clear up trash, etc etc etc. Hell, even if we had to raise taxes, who wouldn't choose this option?

The only trouble we might face would be getting everyone on board, abandoning travel by gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing automobiles. So here's what we do: we reach out to a historically underprivileged and at-risk population -- say, pulchritudinous 20-something females -- and hire them as lifeguards. This demographic group is particularly at risk of poverty due to squandering their money on expensive fashions for the career-minded gal. To deal w/ this problem, we simply supply their entire work wardrobe for free: they could choose their uniform from among a full-length burlap sack, a woolen three-piece suit, or, you know, a white cotton monokini. Then just watch the public transit patrons roll in.

I realize that most of this model is mere daydreaming, but a first approximation could realistically be reached by selecting the hottest of the environmental NGO interns to pose in Metro trains dressed in white linen and bra-liberated. Or if few such girls were staffing such NGOs, then they could farm the work out. Hey, would you rather live on a feminist planet that had no viable ecological future, or on a planet whose environmental sustainability was secured by sexualizing female bodies? If Al Gore's new movie is any guide, the time may soon be upon us when we may have to make that difficult decision. And so, I'll end on that hopeful note.

[Though I shouldn't have to say it, if I've offended anyone (is that possible anymore?), then simply remove the pole from your butt. That ought to help matters.]

June 12, 2006

Self-serving biases, Rant 1

I'm a student of the human mind, so I can't help but read things like the personals ads to get a better idea of how it works -- but I swear, if I read once more something along the lines of "I'm a 5'9 female, so my target guy is at least 5'11," I'll just puke. If she wants a tallish guy, that's perfectly fine, of course, and is no one's biz but her own. What grinds my gears is the self-serving bullshit qualifier that precedes the statement of the preference. No matter what height the girl is, she typically wants a tallish guy -- but what girl wants to think of herself as just another drone in the hive of superficial females? Enter some slapdash disclaimer to save her self-image! It's not that "I'm a slave to my bestial instincts like every other female" -- it's just that "I'm a tallish girl, so I deserve a tallish guy; it's only fair." Or maybe, "I don't deserve such a guy, but I would feel awkward and manly around a shorter guy."

All right, seems reasonable, until you consider that they're comparing apples and oranges. Being a tall girl doesn't earn you squat in the mating game -- guys may care about your waist-to-hip ratio, the geometry of your face, your skin tone, so on, but one thing we couldn't care less about is your height. But being a tall guy does earn you a lot in the mating game. So, translating: "I've got some trait that provides you w/ no information as to my mate value, but you must be highly desirable." It's like if a guy wrote, "I have full lips and lustruous hair, so you'd better be hot from the neck up too." This is idiotic since girls don't care much about male beauty -- does he have a job, if so what kind, how tall is he, etc. -- that's what inquiring female minds want to know.

And the real male counterpart ads would be worse, given that the female ads bald-facedly provide crisply quantified cut-offs (e.g., "at least 5'11"). They'd read, for example: "I have man-breasts, full C cup, so any respondents must have at least a D cup; the larger, the better." Riiiight. Except guys don't act retarded like this -- we know what qualities girls are interested in, and thus, which ones entitle us to demand good things. Perhaps it's the feminist influence in the US that's rendered many modern females clueless of sex differences in preferences, but this is the sort of stuff they should be teaching in high school health class -- anyone else remember how pointless that class was? Who was doing hard drugs and having sex then? A tiny minority of druggies or super-popular kids, and that was it. If we had a better understanding of sex differences, we'd be better prepared to deal w/ each other once we reached full adulthood. But if we've lived in ignorance all our lives, then the awful reality will only irritate us even more once it rears its head: a girl becomes incensed that guys don't value her height or brains that much, while a guy gets upset when he finds out girls really want a manly man instead of gentle stay-at-home dad.

But to get back to the self-serving biases, what of the short girl who demands a tallish guy -- surely she can't use the same disclaimer, so what's the deal in this case? "Well, I like to wear 4-inch heels / platforms, and I guess just an extra 3 inches taller than me in such shoes would be fine." Employing this flapdoodle, a 5'4 girl gets to demand the same 5'11 guy as the 5'9 girl. It's not that she's obeying her primitive instincts -- she's just a modern gal who loves to wear heels!

Now here's a case where guys act just as retardedly self-serving as girls, namely when they specify what age their ideal partner would be. Let's see, when guys are 15, their ideal girl is some hot college girl -- the greater maturity, the fact that she could teach him things a high school girl couldn't, the appeal of the slightly older girl! Then that same guy is in college, and his ideal partner is -- also a fun-loving college girl, not some 25-y.o. intern or full-time career girl, nor some immature high school girl. Later, when that same guy is in his 30s, whom does he secretly lust after, even if he realizes it's mostly in vain -- Girls Gone Wild! The charming innocence compared to his age-mates, the fact that he could teach her a thing or two, the appeal of the younger girl! In other words, there's a peak that girls hit, and pretty much guys of all walks of life want a girl in that age range, but in order to not appear like drones will make up one excuse or other, contradicting their previous reasons as they age.

Only a really cold sonofabitch would speak honestly: "Well, just before that, they're not ripe enough, and after that, they're like spoiled fruit. Who wants spoiled fruit?" All right, so you shouldn't put it so bluntly, but it's better than lying. Same goes for girls. It's fine if you house some bestial instinct; we all do. If you want to tame it and not have it play a role, that's fine, but if you're going to allow it out of its cage, don't try to disguise it as a fluffy bunny. Others will only get pissed when they try to approach it and get thrashed instead. Although you could argue that only a moron would fall for the disguise in the first place, so they deserve to pay for their stupidity.

Next rant: on rosy retrospection (things were so much better when... , I hiked to school uphill both ways, etc.).

June 3, 2006

YouTube: Pixies and pretty pupils

No porn this weekend. Instead, an appreciation of easygoing, feminine silliness, the eventual erosion of which I described below. A breath of fresh air! The first is a student film video of two pretty Israeli college students doing "Hey" by the Pixies; then a "behind the scenes" clip where you can hear their pretty Hebrew accents; followed by a real music video of the Pixies -- "Here Comes Your Man." A commenter to the "Interns" post below noted that it would be difficult for a typical grad student to get a hot sophomore girl compared to the competition of a rush chair at a big frat. True, but then I'm not going for a girl who'd choose the head Frat Dude -- rather, someone like the girls in the "Hey" video. Enjoy!

"Hey" clip
Behind the scenes of "Hey" clip
Pixies, "Here Comes Your Man"

June 2, 2006

Attack of the interns b/w What's so funny 'bout giggles, spunk, and flirtation?

A swarm of ants, a cloud of gnats, a plague of locusts, a -- rash of interns? Call them what you want, they're here!

It's been a few weeks since final exams have ended at the colleges, giving them just enough time to study up on how to be a cool transient urbanite. Self-important clanking of your Steve Madden heels? Check. Petrified pose and stern scowl while waiting on the Metro platform -- to broadcast to all that you don't look around nervously like some out-of-towner? Check. Conspicuously loud disparaging remarks about the damned tourists? Check. Tourists I don't mind: they come here humble, hoping to sample some of what little the DC area has to offer. Transplants, though, I hate: they announce their arrival with arrogance -- I am living in a $1000 / month, vibrantly renovated meth lab in Dupont Circle. I am aiding Councilmember Spittleblarge in her crusade to speak truth to power by adding another descriptor to the name of the U St/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo metro station. And last weekend I was the envy of all the other bar sluts at some club in Adams Morgan whose name is so hip and edgy that you're not allowed to wear it out by pronouncing or writing it -- the YHWH of hip, edgy clubs!

I know boys aren't supposed to pick on girls, but there are no boys to pick on -- sure, the male interns have a stupid smugness to them, but it only pertains to their imagined sense of clout. For the females, though, living in a Big City is about so much more: giving themselves permission to enjoy a sophisticated lifestyle (please, read the link). Yes: now that they've completed their junior or senior year of college, their absorption into the corporate superorganism not far away, it's time for a makeover -- efface that juvenile countenance of easygoing giggliness, don your best Ralph Lauren jogging suit as you mount the career treadmill, and tone those deltoids sharp before entering the battle to out-Crate-and-Barrel the neighbors. Oh, what butterfly would wish a second transformation into a codling moth?!

Well, you don't get much more flowery than that, eh? Ehem. Anyway, I had my first premonition of Lost in Translation things to come when I was a senior in college surrounded by ebullient youngsters at the predominantly freshman/sophomore dining hall -- my friends were living off-campus and grocery shopping, plus the school had just totally revamped this dining hall. And now that three years have passed since graduation, my conviction's grown stronger that it's utterly pointless trying to communicate with females my own age. I realize that part of becoming somewhat less attractive and somewhat less energetic into one's mid-to-late 20s is biological programming -- you're supposed to have started a family by now, after all, so you don't need to be super-hot or engaging anymore just to keep your husband involved in providing for the children. Still, I can't help but think that the careerist attitude of most females my age of roughly my educational level is responsible for amplifying an already existing unpleasant signal.

And not to romanticize Europe, but I didn't notice this trend among girls in Barcelona, Paris or Rome. In fact, if you dared calling anyone under 40 a "woman," you'd get an earful of fiery-blooded Latin indignation! Here, 22-y.o. recent graduates yearn to be thought of as "women." When I first began working at a tutoring center for mostly secondary school students, I realized that girls weren't always like this -- they weren't that way in high school, as the current high school students reminded me. True, some of what these latter say is hopelessly inane, but their overall attitude is a breath of fresh air compared to that of the zombies I ride the metro with to work each day. (And I can't exactly say that yammering about The Da Vinci Code doesn't also qualify as inane.) But I suppose I can wait long enough until I get my ass to graduate school to search for a nice wide-eyed (and hopefully doe-eyed) undergrad sophomore. Everyone is served dessert; they just tardy in bringing it out to some (to paraphrase Leopardi).