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 24, 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.

October 19, 2006

Universe believes Americans ugly, Puerto Ricans hot

As part of one of my several tangentially related projects, I'm crunching some numbers on the Miss Universe pageant, particularly the winners. I'll have more interesting things to say after awhile, but here are a few interesting numbers to consider. First, I came up with a crude index of a country's hotness, such that H = 10,000 times (number of Miss Universe wins) divided by (number of MU pageants entered, times current population in millions). The initial 10,000 is to make the numbers more readable, and the population in the denominator doesn't punish tiny countries or reward large ones based on sheer size. It ignores placing runner-up, and could give slightly inaccurate numbers if the country underwent a recent population explosion (giving a lower score) or population bottleneck (giving a higher score). But it's good enough for government work, though I'll make more precise adjustments later. Unless someone wants to pay me -- then I'll treat it as if it were my doctoral thesis topic.

The US has won 7 of 55 contests it's entered, and has a current pop of 300 million, yielding an H = 4. Puerto Rico has won 5 of the 52 contests it's entered, and has a current pop of 3.9 million, yielding an H = 247 -- hot indeed! Trinidad and Tobago score H = 427 -- but they've only entered 36 contests, so we'll have to wait and see how they do once they pass the 50 contests mark. Venezuela scores H = 28, and they've entered 53 times. So it's definitely no fluke to report that Puerto Ricans and Venezuelans are hotter than Americans. For Nordic-lovers, Sweden scores H = 61, but 1 of their 3 wins were in the early days (1955) when the exotic babe nations weren't pummeling the paler nations (kind of like white baseball before Jackie Robinson). Starting with their win in 1966, their H would only move down to 54, though -- on the same order of magnitude as Venezuela, but still hotter.

Also on the Jackie Robinson note, 4 of the US' 7 wins came in the first 16 years of the pagenat ('54, '56, '60, '67) -- so most of the US' wins reflect an early impressive showing and subsequent fading away (also winning in '80, '95, and '97). Puerto Rico's 5 wins are pretty evenly spaced over the 4 most recent decades ('70, '85, '93, '01, '06), so there's no way to construe their H as reflecting glory days gone by. Anyway, lots more to say, but something to think about.

October 18, 2006

Portentous Catalan weather

View from our terrace in Barna, October 18, 2004. I photoshopped the purple color in, but otherwise it really was this ominous. You could see the Palau Nacional of Montjuic and Calatrava's overhyped Telecommunications Tower from our apartment 20 or 30 blocks away in Eixample Esquerra. That's one of the great things about a city with no skyscrapers and high-rises.

I paid 350 Euros per month in rent, plus less than 50 Euros per month more for internet and utilitities, though of course I lived with roommates. If I wanted to pay $400 or even $500 a month here in the DC area (or in any large US city), I might be lucky to live in a garage in the ghetto, though I might be able to live in a safer and more enjoyable place by renting out someone's closet in Georgetown. A 10-trip metro ticket cost about 5 Euros, and each trip took you as far as you wanted to go. Here $5 on the metro would take me from where I am to the center of DC and back, not to mention the $4 parking fee. (The DC metro is also uglier, services fewer stops, runs less frequently, and lacks sufficient interconnection among the lines.) And the tomatoes! I figured the pricey stuff at Whole Foods or Trader Joes would be similar, but they don't compare to what you can pick up from the Spanish equivalent of Safeway (or Kroger, etc.). Attractive girls who aren't stuck up because they don't realize how attractive they are, since they're comparing themselves to a better-looking local group. And Saturday nights -- they deserve a separate posting entirely!

Then I come back here to the aforementioned overpriced everything, my neighborhood that's quickly transforming into an illegal immigrant haven (almost all of the stores at the nearby shopping center are completely different from when we moved here 14 years ago, now catering to illegals), my local high school that's just five minutes away which apparently has a gang problem now -- it's becoming more NY-LA-ish, which is to say more like Latin America, where a mostly unemployable underclass supports a huge low-brow industry, while the finer things keep increasing in price as the yuppies struggle to outcompete each other in conspicuous consumption. Most produce in affordable grocery stores is barefly fit for fodder, so anyone who isn't making six figures must sacrifice a hefty chunk of their income to buy palatable -- not exquisite -- stuff from Whole Foods or wherever else. Same is true of living space, transportation, you name it. My area, and from what I can tell many others (especially in southern California), would best be captured by a Crate and Barrel store that housed an illegal immigrant dive bar in the basement.

Someone ought to divert the Potomac River to flush out all the feculence from this stable for the low-brow and yuppie herds that is the new & improved Washington metro area.

October 15, 2006

Callipygian poem

As part of my recent interest in what makes South Asians different on a phenotypic level, I've started perusing Sepia Mutiny every now and then, just in case some popular in-group stereotype comes up that I wouldn't know about, which would give me more data. I liked the challenge of this post, which was to compose a 55-word piece of writing on the topic of callipygia, or having beautifully shaped buttocks. Go there and put in your own 55 words. Here's what I managed to whip up:

In times when Nature, with lubricious verve,
Was endowing the races with bounteous rumps,
Spiteful Nordia, cursing her exclusion,
Wished to sow discord forevermore
Amongst the fleshly Grecians, Phoenicians,
Persics, Nubians, Hebrews,
Arabians, Bantus, and Hindoos,
And thereupon tossed into their fertile lands
A golden apple on which was inscribed:
Callipygiste -- "For the most booty-ful."

October 13, 2006

DC hot spots not safe

Via Steve. The Washington Post reports that the hottest nabes in DC are not safe -- they attract robbers from other neighborhoods in search of quick cash, credit cards, and cell phones, resulting in a per capita robbery rate higher than that of New York or LA! A significant minority are juveniles, and presumably most of the rest are 25 or under. No official word on the percentage of beleaguered father figures compelled to steal to feed their starving families. You can imagine what percentage are buying garish rims for their cars, tacky jewelery, and liquor / drugs. At least the districts where tout le monde goes clubbing are not also the homicide capitals, which are unsurprisingly in the Southeast quadrant. So, I'd like to ammend my description of the Adams Morgan-ish area of DC as "safe, urban, semi-cool" to "not safe, urban, semi-cool." Apparently the rise in robberies there is recent, like within the past few years, which is the last time I used to go there semi-regularly to see movies unavailable in the suburbs. But now downtown Bethesda in suburban Maryland has several art house theaters, and though I don't identify with the local residents, at least they're not the nauseatingly pretentious yuppie type you find in Dupont Circle. But there is a silver lining to be found in the cloud of the news story: at least the robbery rate isn't what it was during the crack wars of the 1980s and early '90s. Yeah, and the Black Death didn't wipe out as many English during the 1665 outbreak as during the 14th century conflagration.

I've previously noted that I don't have much empathy for people who get into a mess they could have easily foreseen but chose to take a risk nonetheless. Maybe this is the new honest signal of one's status -- "Hey look how rich and powerful I am, that I can dwell in and waltz around this mugging capital without getting held up!" Well, maybe, but that only works if you really are sufficiently badass that robbers fear you. Unfortunately, DC attracts those yuppies who failed to make it elsewhere -- the East Coast centers for Big Law, Big Biz, and Big Whatever Else are New York, Boston, maybe Philly in distant third, with DC status-seekers comprising the dregs. Not frightening badasses, in other words. Of course the stupid, aggressive, lazy scum who commit these crimes are to blame, but still, don't cry when you play with fire and get burned.

October 10, 2006

Non-salacious South Asian video

In my post below on South Asian doublejointedness, there are three clips of brown girls breakin' it down. However, lest the reader confuse this collection with sanctioning the objectification of female gender -- which I would never dream of... -- here is a sweeter clip to temper all the booty-shakin' below. From my admittedly meager understanding of Bollywood music history, this is considered one of the greatest love songs, somewhat like the part in Ghost where "Unchained Melody" plays, I guess. It's from a 1968 movie, so I'd guess it would have the same status as Oldies music among under-40 Whites, or Grown Folks music among under-40 Blacks. The song is by Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh, and is called "Phool tumhe bheja hai." The refrain -- "Phool tumhe bheja hai khat mein, phool nahein, mira dil hai" -- means, if I recall correctly, "The flower that he has sent me is not a flower but my heart." Here goes:

South Asian doublejointedness

To preview a more elaborate and annotated post either here or at GNXP on the topic of global variation in phenotypic hypermobility, I thought I'd include some relevant YouTube finds. Hypermobility is most frequent in South Asia, is also high in Egypt and Iraq (and maybe other Near/Middle Eastern countries; I haven't seen data on the others), slightly less frequent in sub-Saharan Africa, and low frequency in Northern Europe. My idea is that hypermobility was selected for due to its enhancement of dancing skills, which would have given a fitness advantage to people in pathogen-swamped environments in which "good looks" matter much more than elsewhere, and presumably where other, more active, displays of one's robust immune system also count for more in the mating competition. This increased dancing skill may bring unfortunate costs along with it, but if that's outweighed by the benefit from being reknowned as the best, hottest dancer in the village, while most other people are fatigued or bed-ridden from disease, then polymorphisms that confer better dancing abilities through hypermobility would increase in frequency.

But now what you came for. I'm going to limit this to three clips, since I could post a zillion. YouTube can be fritzy when you watch their videos on someone's blog, so if the video cuts out, just click the image anywhere other than the "play" button, and the video will launch in a separate window on YouTube's website. First up is Shilpa Shetty in the "Baras Ja remix" from the movie Fareb (I know some of the readers here like tall, leggy girls -- she's 5'10).

Next is some hot girl (anyone know her name?) in the video for "Ho Gaya Sharabi" by Punjabi MC.

And last, "Sweeta Sweeta" by Indo-Trinidadian (?) songstress Sharlene Boodram.

Again, just three among a zillion clips to search through, so I don't claim they're the most representative of the phenomenon, but they convey the gist. There was some pressure that increased hypermobility in people of South Asian descent, and by looking at these brief clips, it's not hard to imagine what it had to do with.

October 3, 2006

YouTube: Exhibitionism

[Video at bottom. Girls dancing fully clothed, but semi-provocatively, so may not be SFW.]

Something just occurred to me -- the reason that females are so emotionally unstable during adolescence is likely a by-product of selection for increased exhibitionism during the years that they are in their physical prime and are in search of the best mate, long before they must learn to settle. Exhibitionism isn't a basic personality trait, but rather the result of having both high Extraversion and high Neuroticism. The former means how outgoing and socially engaging you are, while the latter means how emotionally balanced vs. volatile you are. A high-N person experiences more anxiety and insecurity than a low-N person, and it doesn't take much to get them worked up over something. A high-E person directs most of their energy outward to the social world, rather than prefer the company of themselves. So, someone who's emotionally unstable and insecure, but who also feels compelled to seek out social stimulation and to direct their energy outward, will be something of an attention-whore. "Hey you all -- validate me!" Also, because they are easily worked up, yet spend lots of time around others, they'll come off as a hothead as they respond to all the little things others do that don't please them.

Assuming girls of a certain age are in competition with one another for the attention of the males who matter, then natural selection favors those individuals who can best upstage the others. To do this in an environment where the alpha-males are primarily interested in looks and promiscuous sex, she needs an exhibitionistic disposition, which requires both higher E and N. These are the main changes in average female personality during adolescence -- girls become more outgoing than boys, and more emotionally unstable as well. The evolutionarily puzzling nature of the second phenomenon makes sense once viewed in interaction with the first -- this combination of traits gives the girl a leg up in the struggle to ensare a guy's desire. Given that guys find pretty much any girl worth mating with, it takes an extra effort to direct his attention her way and keep it there. (In contrast, the average girl isn't simultaneously thinking "I'd mate with him" about a wide variety of guys, so males aren't under the same degree of pressure to show off so nakedly. This might not be true where girls do judge guys heavily on looks, like pathogen-ridden areas.)

If this is correct, it would represent something similar to what Harpending & Cochran (2006) call "adapted genotypes," where the fitness boost comes with a particular genotype (here, it would be alleles favoring high-E and others favoring high-N). They are the first responses to abrupt changes in selection pressures, thus also bringing ugly costs that are nonetheless outweighed by the benefits (sickle-cell anemia in malaria-stricken areas, for example). These are distinct from "adapted genes" where a particular allele provides benefit and little or no cost -- since they're so optimal, it will take longer for selection to find them. If there was a sudden, recent shift in Western societies that selected for exhibitionism, the sloppy first solution might be to increase the frequencies of alleles conferring higher E and N, even if non-exhibitionist-related aspects of high-N otherwise brought costs (like greater likelihood of experiencing depression).

As far as I know, though, this change is pretty recent -- like within the past 100 years or so (Victorian girls were prudish) -- so even the ugly first genetic solution probably couldn't have been hit on that quickly. Rather, the sudden increase in high-N females could be due to facultative strategies that the female pursues to cope with her environment. That is, she figures out that the mating system is a serial monogamy / de facto polygyny, realizes by instinct what this means for which traits a guy will focus on in a girl, and then adjusts her level of N upward accordingly. This would constitute part of the environmental contribution to complex traits like personality. Over time, assuming the pressure remained, selection would favor females who were genetically predisposed to high-N rather than those who'd have to figure it out on-the-fly, but in the short-term this facultative approach might be more common.

And now to the fruit of a little fieldwork on YouTube to document this phenomenon. For the sake of decency (....), I'll only put up one clip. The girl on the right is such a cocky little hothead, and just look at how greatly that enhances her dance moves! (Also note the blatantly competitive nature of their dancing.) The user's name has the words "mexirican," so they must have fiery Latin temperaments. I realize the music is Idiocracy-level trash, but not all music is meant to excite the intellect. I also anticipate the objection that "If they were your daughters, you wouldn't want them behaving like that!" Half-true. I would mind it if it led to promiscuity -- but if they were just teasing, then that would be fine.

October 2, 2006

Human evolutionary genetics on film

I'm finishing up Crosby's Germs, Seeds, and Animals (Guns, Germs, and Steel was checked out, but I figure the original scholarly work is better, especially minus the race-denial in Jared Diamond's book). Over the summer I read Plagues and Peoples by McNeill, and I've still got a few of the later chapters left in Human Evolutionary Genetics. All emphasize the importance of infectious disease, especially when two previously kept-apart populations first encounter each other, since in the interim one of the populations may have undergone an arms race with microorganisms, such that they won't be utterly decimated when an outbreak occurs. Clearly any other population will be bulldozed over, as they've had no time to evolve defenses against the microbes. However obvious it seems in hindsight, this central dynamic of recent human history is left out of most high school material [1], so that only students interested enough to take in-depth courses in history in college might be exposed to it. I certainly heard nothing about it in high school, and I didn't take any history in college.

So I was trying to think of a popular example to get the gist across to other people who either didn't go to college or did but weren't exposed to the idea. Then it hit me -- Alien! Most of the scholarly work I've read so far on infectious disease and first encounters has focused on The Columbian Exchange that brought various Old World diseases to unprepared idigenous peoples of the Americas, wiping out somewhere around 90% of them. But the less stressed, though no less important, example was the lack of full-scale European colonization of sub-Saharan Africa, where the tables were turned on the Europeans who lacked defenses for the even nastier pathogens of the tropical areas, particularly the mosquito-borne ones like malaria. In Alien, much the same occurs to the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial ship sent to some remote area of space to haul back ore to enrich some corporation. They, however, are completely unprepared for the -- not ideological, geological, or technological differences, but the biological differences that meet them: namely, the parasitic Xenomorph. OK, so imagine someone blew up a Plasmodium falciparum protozoan big enough to easily scare the audience. One by one, the crew are either infected or killed by the parasite or its adult form, save for Sigourney Weaver's character Ripley. OK, so she survives by outwitting it rather than by chance possessing a genetically coded defense, but still.

The point remains: they encountered a biological form that they'd had zero exposure to, nor anything similar, and were thus unprepared for the infection by its initial parasitic form, resulting in the deaths of five of the six human characters. Had humans evolved with it in an arms race, and assuming its presence were a strong selection pressure, we might have evolved a grating to protect our mouths from being penetrated by the facehugger's egg-laying tube (and so would have altered our diet to exclude large solid foodstuffs), or perhaps a gag reflex that would function even if we were in a coma (a state induced by the facehugger) in order to keep it from laying eggs in our chests once it attached itself. Or something less exotic, like a change in the biochemistry of our lungs to make for an inhospitable environment for its eggs. In any event, we would be prepared to deal with it, rather than suffer near extinction.

As implied by the name of the crew's ship -- Nostromo -- the plight of the crew should be seen in the context of Europeans exploring the obscure and dangerous realms of foreign lands, a familiar theme from the work of Joseph Conrad. But unlike the moral murkiness of the strange land and the existential shock and horror of the explorers, which are at the core of Konrad's narratives, in the real world it was the biological menace which the wanderers had most to worry about; and their inner struggle against self-destruction was more biological in character, as their unsuspecting immune systems fought a mostly futile battle against the infection.

- - - - -

[1] The only event I remotely recall was a brief mention somewhere of The White Devil purposefully distributing -- or catapaulting, was it? -- a batch of small pox-ridden blankets among the unsuspicious Native Americans, who all but disappeared for want of natural defenses against this Old World disease, in what was the first act of biological warfare. I almost feel glad remembering this, as it means the basic idea of different genetic profiles arising from adaptation to different environments must have gotten through to some textbook writer -- but then I realize that it's only worth mentioning in order to slam Whitey. It's also a complete distortion, as most of the indigenous who perished from Old World diseases were not the target of a plot by malicious Europeans to unleash the plagues upon them (though I'm sure the Europeans might have considered this if they had known microbiology back then). The distortion impairs any future efforts to protect indigenous peoples from diseases they've had no contact with, as it implies that all that we need to keep another near-extinction from happening is to cleanse Whitey of his moral sickness of wanting to enslave or kill off non-whites (which we know all Whites harbor deep down) -- rather than the solution that would actually work, namely cleansing Whitey of his microbial sickness. Those who were most saintly of purpose would still wipe out an uncontacted tribe, such as the Andaman Islanders (see also here and here), if they carried within their body the common cold.

This naked attempt to turn history into a "stick it to Whitey" competition just goes to show that the race warriors don't give a flying fuck about scientific findings or theories unless they can be put to the task of vilifying The Man. Not that the European colonists were kind souls -- indeed, they thought it was a sign of their being chosen by God that they survived outbreaks while the natives dropped like flies. But being nasty sons-of-bitches isn't disgusting enough of a portrait to paint of them, even if it's the most accurate -- they must be as villainized as possible, short of taking an overtly religious tone by calling them The Devil (though some groups do go there). Invoking religion, though, for the White textbook writers would cause them queasiness over appearing too low-rent. As Steve Sailer has mentioned before, anti-racist platitudes from well-to-do Whites are merely barbs aimed at other well-to-do Whites to show moral superiority -- the devil if it means that we might cause another massive die-off of people like the Andamanians just because we thought ourselves ethically cleansed of malice against dark-skinned people. Their safety and welfare aren't the real issues, so who can be bothered to read 20 minutes worth of basic biology to prevent further harm to them?