Saturday, December 08, 2007

Alternate Version of "Oh, Holy Night"

This one is from my sister, Mrs. Meliorist:

"You know, once you start singing 'long lay the world in sin and pointless whining,' it's hard to stop."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Push Present? Put it in the College Fund

I appreciate the ingenuity of capitalism in turning every event, no matter how intimate or sacred, into an occasion to buy things. But even I find the idea of giving your wife a "push present" as a reward for giving birth to your child, um, repulsive. Evidently, a large number of women would rather get diamonds in the delivery room than, say, a good start on a college fund. My wife says the best "push present" I gave her was the chance to stay with my helpful mother when the kids were born.

Men should, of course, be very appreciative of their wives for bearing their children, and show that appreciation in a hundred ways, especially during and just after your baby's birth. But giving jewelry seems to me a way of letting the market into your nursery in an unwholesome way.

I do appreciate that Mrs. G. pushed our kids out into the world. And I have been pushing them ever since. That is part of our joint project.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Deep Voiced Men Have More Kids

This is a nifty, small study, reported today in the New York Times by Nicholas Bakalar. Researchers at Harvard, McMaster, and Florida State studied a group of 100 Hadza men and women. Fertility researchers like studying the Hadza because they pick their own partners and don't use birth control. The main finding:

After controlling for age, voice pitch was a highly accurate predictor of the number of children a man fathered, and those with deeper voices fathered significantly more. The researchers estimated that voice quality alone could account for 42 percent of the variance in men’s reproductive success. The quality of women’s voices was unrelated to how many children they had.

This research fits with other findings that women are drawn to more masculine men, other things being equal -- taller, stronger, square-jawed, high testosterone, and smelling of more male hormones.

It happens that we were watching "Capote" last night. Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for his portrayal of the very gay Truman Capote, including his distinctive, high-pitched voice. Research on "sounding gay" has found suggestive evidence for a "gay voice" among some gay men. Most of this research has focussed on lisping, but one of the features of the gay voice is its higher-pitched, nasal tone -- like Truman Capote's.

Putting these two bodies of research together suggests -- but only suggests -- that how masculine men's voices sound probably correlates with how many children they produce.

[In case you are wondering: low bass, three kids. Not that anecdotes prove anything.]

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

George Washington, Centrist

The more I see of world leaders, the more I appreciate George Washington. Washington, the permanent Greatest American in my book, understood that power is necessary for a leader. Even more importantly, he understood that giving up power is a great virtue in a leader.

I am reminded of this by Vladimir Putin. It is important for the world that Russia become truly democratic. The fall of the Stalinist Soviet Union -- the worst government ever, in my estimation -- was a great victory for humanity. The idea of free elections in Russia still lifts my spirits. But it appears that Russia is sinking back into strong-man rule. Putin thinks he is indispensable, and he will twist the constitution out of recognition to stay in power. This is sad, and is likely to turn tragic.

Africa is full of independence leaders -- the "George Washingtons of their country" -- who couldn't let go of power. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is currently the worst of this breed, but by no means the last or the only one. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela tried to amend the constitution to make himself president for life. The voters rejected this ploy and, so far, he has said he will accept their verdict.

One of the most George Washington-like figures on the world stage now is King Juan Carlos of Spain. I don't like monarchy, and rarely find myself praising kings, but I like this man. When the fascist dictator Franco died in 1975, he left power to the young king, whom he had tried to groom. Juan Carlos, however, backed the movement to create a democratic constitution for a parliamentary monarchy, which the Spanish voters approved on this day in 1978. In 1981 a group of dissident Spanish colonels seized the parliament and attempted a coup, which they called on the king to ratify. Instead, Juan Carlos gave a national television address condemning the coup and supporting democracy. The coup collapsed that day. Recently, Juan Carlos had to listen to Hugo Chavez rail against a former Spanish prime minister as a fascist. The king had enough of the would-be president-for-life, and suggested that he shut up.

Washington would probably not have told even Hugo Chavez to shut up. He would have fixed him with his steely gaze and firm jaw and ultimately overwhelmed the lesser man with superior self control.

We need more Washingtons, now and always.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eco-hostile Divorce

A new study by environmental scientists Jianguo Liu and Eunice Yu argues that divorce has bad environmental effects. Divorce means duplication of household consumption and lots of extra travel to see separated family members. They estimate that there are 6 million extra households in the United States due to divorce.

Those are only the extra households created directly by splitting up marriages. Indirectly there are many more extra households from divorced kids who live on their own because they are afraid to marry and risk divorce.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Whada Ya Gonna Do?

We caught up with the conclusion of "The Sopranos" this week. I thought the whole series was a great depiction of the moral universe of consistently vile people. Tony Soprano and the people around him never become better. They sometimes feel some remorse for the terrible things they do. Then they crush it with this dismissal:

"Whada ya gonna do?"
"What can ya do?"

And that closes the matter. Seeing a whole season of the series in one week really brings home how often the characters say this to one another. It is essential to their moral universe that they are creatures of fate. Nothing can be done to make up for their horrible acts, nor to prevent the next one.

The initial hook of the series was that if the mafia boss went to a therapist, the therapist would give the world of decent people an unusual window into the moral view of the underworld. I never thought the shrink plot worked, and it became a minor theme. The mobsters' world was self-explaining. It remained as ugly and selfish at the end as at the beginning. Indeed, in the last season, the psychiatrists have a debate among themselves over whether talk therapy actually helps sociopaths become more effective at conning other people, by helping them fake empathy, feign remorse, and use all the therapeutic excuses for bad action.

The world of the psychiatrists is not nearly as immoral as that of the mafia, but it doesn't come off as a shining moral example, either. Mostly they seem weak and ineffectual.

Television has actually had some real high points in the last decade. The duel between "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing" for the best drama Emmy helped both shows. They also make an excellent contrast of two views of how to use power. Neither is very effective. But Tony Soprano makes clear that Jed Bartlett represents an ethical universe that is infinitely superior -- and worth fighting for.

That said, I thought the famous black-screen/"Don't Stop Believing" ending of the final Sopranos episode was perfect.