Monday, March 31, 2008

98; More Theories

So I was thinking about butts, breasts and eyes. I understand butts and breasts, but I don't understand eyes.

That is, when a guy looks at a woman's chest or rear there is a rational explanation.

According to my theory of Unified Gandering (UG), there is a biological explanation for men staring at women's breasts and butts. I will also divulge my corollary about men being interested in younger women.

It must be recollected that the theoretical starting point is that sexual intercourse is undertaken with procreation in mind. And we must remember that the purpose of procreation is to ensure that your genes get passed on to the next generation.

Now primates, in general, are nasty things. Especially when they are young. Primates have one of the longest periods of development of any animal. They take a long time to mature to adulthood. As such the parental involvement of primates is far more intense and lengthy than that of, say, a toad.

"Have you laid all the eggs?"

"Yes, Mort. Aren't they darling?"

"Nope. Want to go back to the pad and abandon the little swimmers to their fate?"


And they hop away into the sunset, leaving their young to metamorphose on their own. Primates can't do that. Young are a necessary burden if you want the species to survive. This explains breasts. Breasts are an indicator of milk production. Historically the better off one is, the larger the breast size. Undernourished females will have smaller breasts than well-nourished females. So if you are sizing up a mate you want to make sure she can feed your child, and won't abandon it to fend for herself.

Okay, so it makes sense that butts are also gauged in sizing up a mate. There's a pretty consistent correlation between round butts and big hips. Big hips, mating-wise, are a good thing. It means they will be more likely to have a successful childbirth. You want your sexual partner to have big child-birthin' hips, and big mammaries to nourish your progeny.

(Again I am increasingly perplexed by the baby boomers. Twiggy? Seriously? What is wrong with our parent's generation?)

I should also take a moment to address the other cardinal sin of male actions under the UG theory, namely that men tend to gander younger women. But this should come at no surprise. A younger female is less likely to have mated with other males, and therefore more likely to be a good candidate to raise your young. If she's older she might have her own young to care for from a genetic rival. That's why the Nature channel always shows herds of animals like elephant seals with harems of females. Ever notice that the story is the same? Old male, Alpha, controls breeding rights with a bunch of younger females. Eventually he gets too old, and the female elephant seals start talking about him behind his back, make unfavorable comparisons to Hugh Hefner, begin noticing his ear hairs, etc. Other male, Beta, decides he is strong enough, smart enough, (he's feeling good, been seeing a therapist once a week) and senses the time is ripe to usurp Alpha. And guess what? He does. Every time. But the point I wish to emphasize is the old male-young female thing. Older stronger males get breeding rights with young females.

So that explains everything: butts, breasts, and younger women. With one exception, and this is the fatal flaw of my theory: eyes.

You can look at two pairs of brown eyes (that's four eyes in all) and say that one pair is pretty and one isn't. That's not to say the other pair are ugly. I think your eyes are just fine. They just aren't for me.

That's the whole crux. Eyes shouldn't matter. But they do. Humans are friggin' aesthetic and it drives biology wild. Should the distance between the eyes or the shape of the jaw matter to us? Maybe. There could be some biological reason for each being pleasing. And given the butt-breast argument I would imagine there is a strong biological reason for proportions being pleasing. But eye color?

There's really no good reason for it. People have prerequisite colors. (Bed-filler wanted. Only blues need apply.) Even within one over-arching color, like blue, we distinguish some eyes as 'pretty', others as not.

Why this is I have no idea. Perhaps it's the first steps of man past the UG stage.

After all, humans are supposed to be smart. Maybe basing mating preferences on something other than biological instincts is a step in the right direction. Or maybe we'll end up killing ourselves off. Either way it's a win-win.

Monday, March 24, 2008

97; The Carpenter's bi-monthly board meeting

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax-- Of cabbages--and kings-- And why the sea is boiling hot--And whether pigs have wings."

"I agree. For far too long the committee has neglected these pressing issues. I suggest we take them in order they come. First we should hear from Dave as to the state of progress his group has reached regarding shoes."

"Thank you Mike. Our committee, as you know, has been investigating the shoe question for a few weeks now. Our team has been dedicated to finding answers, and have really been putting in a lot of hard work and a lot of time to this."

"Any conclusions thus far?"

"None yet, Walrus. But we figure witha slight budgetary increase we'll be able to make some good headway before the end of this Financial quarter."

"Okay. Can you report any preliminary findings?"

"Well sure," Cindy piped up, "We've been able to come up with some findings. I think what Dave meant to say was that we'd not gotten as far as we'd've liked. Not that we hadn't gotten anywhere at all."

"I understand. And?"

"Regarding shoes?"


"You wear them on your feet."


"Very good. Can we move on to the ship agenda?..."

"Before we get to that," Brad interjected, "Janet and I have another meeting at 3:35. Would it be okay if we were to step in and present our findings about flying pigs? Is that alright with you guys?"

"Yeah, yeah. I think that'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. No. You guys go ahead. You've got that meeting to go to."

"Thanks. Well, Janet, you want to start?"

"Sure. So as you know our group was investigating whether or not pigs have wings. We actually came to some interesting preliminary conclusions on this. You're all familiar with the phrase 'when pigs fly'. Our report shows that this phrase is not actually consistent with a realistic outlook for our projections both of reality, and more importantly, for our company."

"What course of action do you suggest?"

"Well, our team unanimously agreed that we would be unable to implement any effective solutions without a budgetary increase. Assumed that was given we would be able to further investigate how this view came up in our company, and perhaps locate it's source. Then, of course, we have to address why this view was held unchallenged for so long."

"Perhaps we should not be too hasty in turning this into a witch hunt. Many members of the senior advisory board, the CEO and myself have all been known to use the phrase 'when pigs fly' with regards to this company. I don't think that prosecuting past mistakes is necessarily the right course of action in this case."

The Walrus concurred. "Let's see if we can shift the focus of your project into a more proactive set of guidelines that focus on further prevention, instead of using your resources on trying to track down something whose origins might be anywhere within the company."

Of course the Walrus knew exactly where the phrase had come from. But it was in his interest, and his boss' interest, to keep this investigation from going too far.

Friday, March 21, 2008

96; It's the Time of the Season for... Puppies?

My thoughts on relationships have been rather bitter recently. I think it's sort of fitting that the first column I posted was written at this time last year, and dealt with the same feelings. Of course that column was the flip side of the emotion:

"But, to be honest, Spring Fever is one of the few things we wish was contagious. It's cousin, happiness, is contagious. And we can catch a mild case of happiness from someone who has Spring Fever without getting bowled over by the full works. But the only way to guarantee catching it is through close proximity with someone you care about."

And reading this is when I realized I'd never written out a column on my theory of puppies. And since the theory of puppies is one of my central theories regarding human nature, I suppose it would do well to write it down. Preemptively I should distinguish that the theory is not originally mine, but my friend Dana's. When she described it to me the first time something clicked, and so I have carried it on as my own.

So there are two patterns to weave together here: The first is about this time of year and why it is either great or sucks. The other is the puppy-connection to human nature. I'll take them in that order.

Every November I begin, like many, to feel amorous. And why not? The weather outside is cold. Those months are stuffed with emotion and sentiment and a particular emphasis on not being alone. An empty bed in December can be a sorry sight indeed. And, anthropologically, I have observed on my college's campus an empirically verifiable trend, (significant at that - p<.06) that relationships start in abundance during those two months before winter break. Now you could be a nay-sayer and attribute this to the cycle of the school: In September you're still getting your bearings, in October you are scouting prospects out, and not until November or December are you ready to enter a relationship. That's a fine explanation too. I do not criticize alternative explanations. But I may choose to embrace my own.

Enter Spring. Except it's not Spring. Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox. The first day of Spring. What did it do here? It snowed. That's the problem with this time of year. Not only do you have the cold weather thing affecting you, you also have Spring playing on you. This is the time of year after all. Rabbits, eggs, procreation, birth, May revelry, etc. Only not quite yet. We are in Winter-Spring limbo. If you're with someone then all is cozy and fab. If you are alone I have a rope, lead pipe, and a wrench you can borrow.

So let's talk about puppies. I have a mental image of two adorable puppies curled up in a basket together. I think it was from a greeting card. What is so adorable about these puppies? I mean, they're cute and all, no doubts. But there's something about them being asleep in that basket together that evokes a particular feeling. If the image was two puppies frolicking in a field the emotion wouldn't be the same. They may still be cute, but they wouldn't have the same 'awww' quality.

My wise friend Dana let me in on the secret. The 'awww' doesn't come from a knowledge that those puppies are sexually or romantically into each other. They aren't in the basket together because they are 'into' one another. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite of this understanding which provokes our sentiment. What makes the puppies adorable is that they are fond of each other, but not in 'that way'. Puppies are, after all, supposed to be innocent. It would be unsettling to think of the puppies sleeping together in a sexual, or even a romantic context. They are simply curled up together because they find each other warm and comfortable, and if you find someone warm and comfortable then why wouldn't you curl up and sleep with them?

See where I'm going with this? People can do this too. People should do this too. We are social primates. Pack animals. There is an inherent human craving for closeness. It would be striking, and is striking, to encounter people who don't have this drive.

But, (and I recognize I'm taking a Rousseau-ean line with this) society is totally not cool with that. If you are seen cuddling with someone in public they assume that there is something 'more' to be read into it. Often times Society is right, and will enjoy nothing more than to brag about it a week later when it comes out that you're sleeping together euphemistically. Then you take a stick and chase society down and give it a piece of your mind.

But, folks, it doesn't have to be this way. We can embrace our inner puppy nature, especially at this time of year, and get close to one another. We can start a curling-up-together revolution. We can change our state of mind, for that's all it is friends: a state of mind. Let us embrace our animal natures and do as the animals do. Let us lie in the grass, and cuddle on the couch and embrace on the bed. You can make it happen if you want it.

There is a better way, I have seen it, and it involves sleeping together. Can I get an Amen?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

95; Guys

This one was inspired by two different sources and one condition. The condition is the average Bennington workload, wherein I have had very little time to write. The First source was my rediscovery of a fantastic website, the best of craigslist ( This site is the greatest depiction of humanity on the internet.

Craigslist is a website that began as a sort of message board for San Francisco. You could buy things, sell things, look for people, jobs, join groups, book gigs, whatever. It quickly branched out to pretty much everywhere. I've gotten multiple jobs off of craigslist. My mom bought her house off craigslist. It's a nifty site. There is also a 'Best of'. This isn't the best of New York, or Boston, or San Diego. It's the cumulative best of all the different sites, all categories. From unbridled optimism to moving pathos. From "Jar for sale. May contain ghost." to "To the guy doing my wife..."

The other source which prompted this was a gal pal who asked me point-blank, "What's wrong with guys?". This was, mind, in the context of relationships. Of course there's a laundry list of offenses. Yet I was moved by some anonymous fellow on the 'Best of' who wrote the slightly abridged (noted in parentheses) following transcript. It was an excellent defense, and I thought I'd share. It seemed somewhat pertinent to the Bennington dating pool.

"I see this question posted with some regularity in the personals section, so I thought I'd take a minute to explain things to the ladies out there that haven't figured it out. What happened to all the nice guys?

The answer is simple: you did.

See, if you think back, really hard, you might vaguely remember a Platonic guy pal who always seemed to want to spend time with you. He'd tag along with you when you went shopping, stop by your place for a movie when you were lonely but didn't feel like going out, or even sit there and hold you while you sobbed and told him about how horribly the (other) guy(...) treated you.

At the time, you probably joked with your girlfriends about how he was a little puppy dog, always following you around, trying to do things to get you to pay attention to him. They probably teased you because they thought he had a crush on you. Given that his behavior was, admittedly, a little pathetic(...)Besides, he totally wasn't your type. I mean, he was a little too short, or too bald, or too fat, or too poor, or didn't know how to dress himself, or basically be or do any of the things that your tall, good-looking, fit, rich, stylish boyfriend at the time pulled off with such ease.

Eventually, your Platonic buddy drifted away, as your relationship with the boyfriend got more serious and spending time with this other guy was, admittedly, a little weird (...)time passed, and the boyfriend eventually cheated on you, or became boring, or you realized that the things that attracted you to him weren't the kinds of things that make for a good, long-term relationship. So, now, you're single again, and after having tried the bar scene for several months having only encountered players (...)you wonder, "What happened to all the nice guys?" (...)

You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy. You laughed at his consideration and resented his devotion. You valued the aloof boyfriend more than the attentive "just-a-" friend. Eventually, he took the hint and moved on with his life. He probably came to realize, one day, that women aren't really attracted to guys who hold doors open; or make dinners just because; or buy you a Christmas gift that you mentioned, in passing, that you really wanted five months ago; or listen when you're upset; or hold you when you cry. He came to realize that, if he wanted a woman like you, he'd have to act more like the boyfriend that you had. He probably cleaned up his look, started making some money, and generally acted like more of an asshole than he ever wanted to be.

Fact is, now, he's probably getting laid, and in a way, your ultimate rejection of him is to thank for that. And I'm sorry that it took the complete absence of "nice guys" in your life for you to realize that you missed them and wanted them. Most women will only have a handful of nice guys stumble into their lives, if that. So, if you're looking for a nice guy, here's what you do:

1.) Build a time machine.
2.) Go back a few years and pull your head out of your ass.
3.) Take a look at what's right in front of you and grab a hold of it.

(...)So, please: either stop misrepresenting what you want(...) It's time to (...)deal with reality. You didn't want a nice guy then, and he certainly doesn't (...) want you, now.


A Recovering Nice Guy"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

94; It starts with an earthquake...

My apocalyptic visions as a child were perhaps abnormal. I think I got the idea from frequenting museums. If the world was going to end what knowledge did I want to have at my disposal?

There were other sources that lead to this notion, of course. I had read "The Giver" and "Fahrenheit 451". I envisioned a ceremony where we were all getting onto a spaceship and could only bring a few (the number varied depending on how lenient I was feeling towards humanity that day) things on board. What would you bring?

I always tried to think of things other people would forget. Why worry about the Mona Lisa? Someone, probably a lot of people, have thought of it. No need to bring a copy of War and Peace: 2,000 other people thought of it already.

According to some versions of the vision there were only four or five of us getting on the ship who were responsible for all of humanity's culture. I would be in charge of picking something like one hundred pieces of art, or books, or pieces of music. The decision had to be made on the spot, and my choices were broadcast to the earth's population below the launch platform, who listened intently to make sure I didn't forget anything (no consulting allowed). It always played out that I forgot some masterpiece that a white-haired man with glasses had dedicated his life to. Naturally I felt bad for him, and the fact that his life's work was going to be destroyed, likely by hostile aliens.

What, in another scenario, would you do if you couldn't bring artifacts? The actual songs, poems, scientific achievements, architectural wonders, all were lost. With only your memory to rely on what would you dedicate your mental space to remembering? Would you remember song lyrics, or novels? Scientific equations or Euclidean proofs? And how would you pass on the information, by writing or speaking? What about visual achievements?

No matter how bleak my recurrent apocalyptic visions got they were always, at heart, optimistic. If you're bothering to save something, after all, then you must have a purpose in mind for it. The artifacts, the knowledge were going to be passed on to someone. The human race had a future yet.

This brings me to the collector's mania. If one chooses to dedicate their time, money, and life to collection they usually have one of two views in mind. The first view is that they are collecting things of monetary value, and so they will, at a later date, sell these things and their investment will turn a profit. The other form of collector is the type who collects things with the design to pass them on.

Personally, as someone who collects books and music, I think I'm still working under the end of the world assumption. My library of albums and classic literature is to serve more of a database function than as something I intend to sell. I suppose it could be viewed as something to pass on to my children, should I ever be unfortunate enough to procreate, but they'll have to fight me for it.

Here's a question to wrap up these musings on materialism: If you realized your house was on fire, what one thing would you take with you? A sentimental object, or one of great worth? Your hard drive? I once knew a woman who actually had to make that decision. The choice? Her dirty laundry basket. All her favorite clothes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

93; Opening a Can of Worms

"So what is the problem here? In a nutshell: too many people writing about politics. Everybody's got to do a piece, and everybody's got to have an angle, and the angle is either viewing with alarm or noting with approval, and noting with approval isn't very interesting, so there's just a whole lot of viewing with alarm." -Jon Carroll, from the SF Chronicle

Number of bloggers in 1995: 0. Number in 2008: roughly the population of the United States.

I have a friend who is into worms. Earthworms, particularly, are fascinating. One may be tempted to inquire why, and one may receive answers, very enthusiastic answers, about how most earthworms in New England are actually invasive European worms and their effect on the ecosystem is monumental and the west was really won by the great deeds of worms and not men. When you walk away, blinking, you'll also have a nifty fact to parse out at cocktail parties. Or in your column.

But, my oh my, what a change I have witnessed. The poor fellow, this sympathetic creature, was subjected to earthworm study without stop for too long. To compare his portrait before and after:

Then: *Bounding with glee* I get to study earthworms! All the time! I'm going to know so much about them! *Kisses baby, does cartwheels, and breaks out in soft shoe*

Now: *Slouched over the bar, barely coherent* Wroms@! Motha...GraAaH. They...They... ...They. Wormies. Gimme 'Nother?

One can only hold out hope that some emotional duct tape will be found for him.

These topics were related in my mind when this article began and I think it had something to do with how I needed to write a column. But more than that there was the element that overexposure is a Bad Thing. Too much of a Good Thing is a Bad Thing isn't particularly newsworthy, I realize - Ah! Now I remember where I was going - and that's part of the reason for my relief in completing this writing exercise soon. Everyone is out there gabbing, but all that overexposure to gabbing has lead to an overwhelming experience.

If, as Jon Carroll points out, everyone is writing on politics, and trying for different angles and viewing with alarm, then what's the point? You only need a few people to do it. The number of people watching a tenement burn down doesn't affect the horror or the consequences. You might argue that a broader audience allows you to spread it around more. And this is useful why?

Well, the main argument is that if more people are made aware then they are better informed. And if you accept that notion then you can get good results like an informed citizenry who makes democracy work. Taking issue with the initial assumption, however, is what I'm getting at. Just because more people view the fire doesn't mean that they'll be any better informed. They still won't know the cause of the fire, or perhaps who is involved, or what's being done inside the building. See where this metaphor is going?

When it comes to politics, if you see the politician's face on the television more it doesn't mean you have a better understanding of who they are. You only get a better idea of what they look like. And if millions of people see that face it's no more likely that they as a group will have a better understanding than you did. It would be more likely that, collectively, they have a worse understanding. Rumour, gossip, misinformation: all of these are present and inflamed by the numbers of people involved.

Now, what I'm saying may be kinda dangerous. Advocating a position of limited informed citizenry is definitely a peculiar stance, I'll admit. The concern regards "just a whole lot of viewing in alarm". Sure, some people viewing with alarm can be a good thing. Alarm is often necessary. I am reminded of the fellow who came to speak a few years ago at Bennington through the Social Science Colloquium who was trying to raise awareness about Darfur. Without people like him getting the word out awareness wouldn't have been easily possible. But it is important to stress that he was a very well-informed person, who had spent time and energy on cultivating an understanding of the situation. Had we, during the Colloquium, been subjected to a presenter who wasn't very well-informed, our understanding would not have been as valuable. Or if we had heard thirteen presenters on Darfur we'd not have had exposure to all the other wonderful topics that were brought up in that series.

To wrap up: If all the bloggers are writing politics then you lose out on their value, and you lose out on all the other topics to explore. Being presented with this volume of angles and opinions and alarm can leave one overwhelmed, much like my friend who dug earthworms, but is now sick of them. Had he spiced up his investigations by occasionally dissecting butterflies instead he may have been a happier scientist.

Oh no! It''s...another column taking an angle on how people write too much about politics! The hypocrisy! The horror!