Seven tenths incorrect: Heterogeneity and change in the waist-to-hip ratios of Playboy centerfold models and Miss America pageant winners:

We seek to correct what appears to be an emerging “academic urban legend” (Tooby & Cosmides, 2000) regarding the stability and precision of what heterosexual males find sexually attractive. The academic urban legend in question is that there has been a remarkable consistency in the waist-to-hip ratios (WHR) of both Playboy centerfolds and winners of the Miss America pageant. Because these women are taken as representative icons of venerated beauty standards, this supposed consistency has been taken by some authors as prima facie evidence of an evolved basis for this very specific preference, although that claim would seem to be refuted by studies that have failed to find the preference in societies whose conditions resemble those of our Pleistocene ancestors far more closely than our own. There is also dispute about the validity of the arguments that have been made for why such a preference would have been adaptive in the environments of our evolutionary past. We do not pursue these points here; what we dispute are the empirical assertions that have been made about the WHR of these supposed twin pillars of American beauty: Playboy Playmates and Miss Americas. The data presented below demonstrates both that the WHR has been more variable than others have suggested and that the average WHR has in fact changed in what seems to us to be a consistent fashion over time. Journal of Sex Research


Shoot Back, Record the Lens That Records You

Ronald Deibert, a University of Toronto associate professor of political science, wants people to grab their cameras and hit the shopping malls Dec. 24 and participate in World Sousveillance Day. Surveillance means “to view from above.” Sousveillance means “to view from below.”

On the day before Christmas, at noon, local time, all over the world, Deibert wants citizens to “shoot back” at surveillance cameras — not with guns, but with cameras of their own. Participants are to head out, in disguise, to their favorite malls and public spaces, and photograph all the security cameras they find. Wired News


Vampire Population Dynamics: Brian Thomas, a PhD candidate in ecology at Stanford University in California, considers Vampire Ecology, population dynamics and models of predator-prey relationships:

We are gathered here today to ponder the ways in which the humans and vampires of Sunnydale interact. Specifically, Betsy asked:

“Ooh, Brian, can you help us work out the vampire carrying capacity of a typical population? I’m assuming a typical vampire accounts for, say, 150-200 humans a year. So how big does a town have to be to support Sunnydale’s apparently limitless supply of vampires? Are there human warrens in the catacombs somewhere, used only for feeding purposes?”

The term “carrying capacity” isn’t often applied to predator population dynamics. Instead, ecologists generally estimate stable predator populations by first coming to grips with the prey’s population dynamics, including its carrying capacity. Actually, in a lot of different cases, the prey’s carrying capacity ultimately determines how well the predator does.



Thanks to Walker for pointing me to this O’Reilly Network article on How to Validate an E-mail Address which contains the following tidbit:

“Yes, e-mail addresses can contain comments. I tested them too – and they work. A comment is (to the best of my knowledge) any text placed in parentheses anywhere in the email address. For example, my e-mail can be:

* kevin@kbedell.com, or

* kev(you da man!)in@kbedell.com, or

* kevin@k(evin)bedell.com

All these work – I tried them.”

Caveat: Don’t assume, however, that the comment is necessarily private, should you have the burning desire to list your boss in your contact list as, e.g., “john(that_fool)@company.com“, or something even less printable in a family medium. Walker cautions that the comment may be appended to the email address when mail is sent. (David, thanks, how did you know I’d be tempted?) Addendum: when I set up “mailto” URLs for the commented email addresses and click on them in my browser, the comment is extracted and prepended to the email address in the “To:” line. For example, “mailto:john(that_fool)@company.com” would become “To: that_fool john@company.com”.


Human Conditions:

Kenan Malik’s review essay on The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker and Straw Dogs by John Gray: “The psychologist Geoff Miller has called it a ‘paradigm shift’: the restoration of human nature into discussions of human behaviour, political policy and social organisation. Where once the idea of human nature was treated with suspicion and ridicule, today there is barely a human activity for which someone does not have an evolutionary account.” Also: David Lodge and psychologist Kenan Malik discuss what the novel — and science — have to tell us about human consciousness. BBC [Real Audio]


The New York Times Books Feature — Ted Hughes: ” A retrospective on the career of the late poet laureate of England includes Times reviews and articles and excerpts from Hughes’s poetry.”


No such thing…

The God of new things: ‘Indeed, there was no such thing as ”Hinduism” before the British invented the catch-all category in the early 19th century and made India seem the home of a ”world religion” that was as organized and theologically coherent as Christianity and Islam. The word ”Hindu” itself was first used by the ancient Persians to refer to the people living near the river Indus (”Sindhu” in Sanskrit). It later became a convenient shorthand for those who weren’t Muslims or Christians.’ Boston Globe


R.I.P. Ivan Illich, 76

Philosopher Who Challenged Status Quo Is Dead

Mr. Illich was a priest who thought there were too many priests, a lifelong educator who argued for the end of schools and an intellectual sniper from a perch with a wide view. He argued that hospitals cause more sickness than health, that people would save time if transportation were limited to bicycles and that historians who rely on previously published material perpetuate falsehoods.

His intellectual ordnance of anarchist panache, hatred of bureaucracy, Jesuitic argumentation, deep reverence for the past and watered-down Marxism, was applied to many targets, including relations between the sexes. More often than not, his conclusions were startling: he thought life was better for women in pre-modern times. NY Times


Has pop culture couched our fear of the shrink?

Are increased numbers of people seeking psychotherapy responding to recent media characterizations?

”A depiction of anything in popular culture can help make participation in that thing spike,” said Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television. After Fonzie got a library card on ”Happy Days” in the 1970s, Thompson noted, thousands of Americans followed suit.

Psychiatry has been a theme of TV shows from ”Newhart” to ”Frasier,” but seldom has it been so central to a show as on ”The Sopranos.” Major plot twists are reheated in Melfi’s office; mob hits are attributed to Tony’s ”impulse control problem.” In one episode, three characters paid visits to three different therapists. Even Tony’s therapist sees a therapist. Boston Globe [thanks, Spike!]

I wonder if this isn’t putting the cart before the horse. Stonger cultural forces — growing social anomie, the effort to medicalize a growing range of distresses, the increasing suborning of the psychiatric profession by the powerful marketing forces of the pharmaceutical giants — shape our depictions when filtered through the scriptwriters’ (often neurotic?) vision. It’s different than running out to get a library card on whim because you were inspired by a TV character. Finding Tony Soprano’s struggles sympathetic is a far cry from breaking down the considerable barriers to investing the time, money and demanding effort in a mental health consultation. And let’s not think for a moment, despite this columnist’s suggestion, that it is the macho, acting-out, impulse-ridden types who are coming to see therapists un droves. Not to mention that there is, especially in the current Sopranos season, a more complicated depiction of the therapist and the therapy process as flawed and sometimes ludicrous, some would say deeply so, rather than the unconditional positive regard which would demystify and inspire viewers to emulate Tony as suggested. Those who follow The Sopranos will know that in the season’s 11th episode last week he ditched his therapy after four years, perhaps partly because he is sinking to new lows he cannot examine but perhaps as much because Dr. Melfi’s clumsiness has failed him. It is likely, on the other hand, that the relationship with Dr. Melfi will resume. given that the show will return for a fifth season…

In other organized crime news:

Mobster, wife indicted in sperm smuggling

One of five New York mobsters believed to have smuggled their sperm out of a Pennsylvania prison to impregnate their wives has been indicted, along with his wife, on a charge of criminal conspiracy.

Kevin Granato, a convicted hit man for the Colombo crime family, came under suspicion four years ago after he was seen in the visitation room at the Allenwood Federal Prison showing off a toddler he called his child, even though he had been in jail since 1988.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Granato, 42, and his wife, Regina Granato, on two counts of criminal conspiracy. Regina Granato, who lives in New York, is also charged with one count of providing a prohibited object — a cryogenic sperm kit — to an inmate. Salon