Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Report from the field: Africa

Because I know lots of students and ex-students, I get reports from the field from non-profit folks. These kids go over their wanting to change the world, and end up just shaking their heads and thinking, "WTF?" This, I thought, was a pretty good one. It does put my own very minor irritations in perspective. (Note: It was typed on a blackberry, in Africa, by someone with bad stomach flu, so just think how YOU would do on spelling and punctuation)

i am having a really frustrating morning so i thought i should sit down, write a bit, and try to regroup. never ever again will i complain about waiting in lines at home. at the bank, at the post office, anywhere.

i just spent over 3 hours at the bank. and i think im a pretty patient person but this just tested my limits to the max. i concurrently fought back tears and the urge to scream.

i came in from [CITY] specifically to get my may living allowance out of the bank. it doesnt help that today is sweltering, probably 105 degrees and humid and i am super dehydrated, thanks to a lovely GI issue i've been fighting for a couple days.

even on good days, i have to psych myself up for the bank. i wish you could see this hell hole. people dont know how to form lines so its just a big mass of people pushing and shoving. its awful. and hot and sweaty and very inefficient. you push your bank book at the teller and then they look at it, look at you and hand you a small metal circle with a number on it. after about 40 minutes (usually) your number will flash up above the paying tellers desk. oh, but the numbers dont go in order. like 3 will flash followed by 356 followed by 74. and they often have mismatched bankbooks with numbers so you have to check that you are getting your bank book and the actual amount you requested back. Its lots of fun (insert major major rolling of eyes here)

anyhow, usually [organization] is pretty incompetent and while they tell us our living allowance is deposited on the 25th of the previous month (ie my may money should have been in april 25) it never is there on time so i usually give them until about the 2nd or 3rd til i go to the bank. seeing as today is the 6th i figured it HAD to be there by now.

i woke up early, headed to the bank. and guess what, no money! i walked out and called [organization]. conveniently our accountant is out of the office today so i was given another number to try. that number was out of service. so i called my program director. he was clueless but eventually had someone call me back. who told me the transfer number and what not, so i headed back to the bank to try and explain all this in [obscure language].

so a 20 minute walk back to the bank. stand in mass of people again. explain situation. and the bank lady tells me, well, the phone line was busy so they actually never checked with the addis bank branch to see if my money was transferred or not. she said i should come back tomrow. i explained that wasnt going to work. i live 30 minutes away and i have like 50 [small monetary units] to my name right now. i said 'cant we try and call them again'. so she asked if she could use my cell phone.

this is annoying and i thought for a moment before giving it to her (phone miuntes are one of the most expensive things i buy here). but finally i decided i just wanted to be done with this so yes, we could use my phone instead of the banks phone. to which she replied that she was busy and why doesnt she give me the number and i can call the bank on behalf of her (the transfer teller). so i did that but obviously dont speak enough [obscure language] so when the main branch finally picked up i had to run and hand the phone to the teller lady.

long story short, [organization] transferred my money to the wrong bank. i have an account at the smaller branch but they sent it to the main branch in [large city] so its going to take another couple days to sort this out and in the meantime im eating ramen for every meal.

and it only took 3 hours to figure this out. which was cool. especially when i was fighting to hold in explosive diarrhea the whole time.

ha. oh man. i know in retrospect this will be a funny story to tell and im sorry i know this was annoying to have to read through but i really neeeded to vent. this is THE most horribly run organization i have ever seen. both [organization] and the banking system. i know america is in an ecomomic crisis and whatnot, but its still america and organzed, so appreciate that.

Developments in D-Land

Big doings. Much progress. And Joy.

Doings: I have a routine now. Up at 6:30, breakfast of hard dark bread and marmalade, with tea. Ride the mighty (fully tricked out) Gbike into the University. Trip takes 8-9 minutes, door to door. Usually cold (4-6 C) in the morning. (This morning it was 9 C, about 50 F). Make tea. Have most excellent darjeeling, and officemate Helmut just brought more. About 1.5 kilos of it. We should have enough tea for a while.

Teach on Wed and Thurs. Students happier, I think. Less readings, more talkings. Students have broad diversity of background and interest. Some are very, VERY good however. Impressive.

I have been to groceries, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. Successfully purchased things. I know just how proud you all are of me.

Did loads of laundry. Very handy to have washer/dryer access in the apartment. Shared with Dr. Ludwig and family, of course, but that is a huge help for me. I'll let Mittwoch be wash day, so as not to interfere with the family. (Three kids=lots of laundry).

Much progress.
I internet connection. It took more than ten visits to OIT, 5 different signatures, plus the signature and a very official stamp from the Lehrstuhl. But I am now the (temporary) owner of an actual static IP address, which I can use to connect to the wonderful interwebs.

Before that, as the lovely Ms. Mungowitz can attest, I was often relegated to sitting on the dirty floor in the stairwell in the basement of the OIT building, 10 meters from the HelpDesk. The reason was that that was literally the only place on campus that the VLAN actually worked. There were signals at other places on campus, but you can't connect. I asked the students about this, and they claimed that the VLAN* is actually a ruse. The university can save on bandwidth by having a network to which no one can actually connect.

I mentioned that this was kind of a shame for a university whose ostensible motto is "Advancing Through Networks." You have to HAVE a network before you can advance through it. The students said they didn't know that the university HAD a motto, and that having heard "Advancing Through Networks" was the motto that they now felt much more energized and motivated to advance. Mottos can DO that for people, you know.

Any way, danke to Herr Bieber of the HelpDesk, who ran interference through the bureaucracy and got me connected to the interwebs. It sure does help!

Joy! I went to the farmers' market, and shopped around for some spargel. This is not your mama's asparagus. I had some last week, at the MLS, as I wrote about then. But I thought I would take a shot at actually preparing some.

One booth had a special, 3 kilos for 16 euro. (that's almost $3.25/lb., for a vegetable you still have to PEEL, by the way). But I couldn't remember the word for "three" in German. (I should have remembered Schultzie trying to get the guys to march on Hogan's Heroes: "Ein! Zwei! Drei!" But I panicked, okay?). So I oredered two kilos.

And the "farmer" says, in perfect American English, "That doesn't make any sense. Noboby orders two. We have this special on three kilos." (It was 6 Eu per kilo, or 3 for 16).

I didn't admit that I just couldn't remember how to say 3, and pretended to change my mind. Turned out the guy was a cook for part of the time he had lived in the States, going to college. Now he worked selling vegetables, and also as a cook in the evening, cooking some of those same vegetables.

He gave (gave!) me some spices, and lots of advice on cooking spargel. The classic way to serve it would be boiled/steamed, with hollandaise sauce, with some slices of salty ham and boiled new potatoes. Serve with side of butter.

But he told me a soup recipe. I'm going to try to make it tonight, and if it works, I'll report back. (I still have 20 spears left, even after sharing with the Ludwigs).

In any case, after the market I just went home about 2 pm and peeled and steamed about 10 spargel spears, and then took them out and put them in a bowl, with a little salt, pepper, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar. I let them cool and soak while I went back to the office.

Didn't get home until about 10 pm, so I was glad that dinner was ready. Just put the spargel viniagrette on a plate, with some hard brown bread to boonge up the juice, and that was a mighty fine supper. Spargel has a lighter taste than green asparagus, and the texture is very nice. (It can be woody if it dries out, or is prepared badly. But this was that morning fresh, and I got lucky on cooking time).

Finally....the EYM is coming soon! He'll be in Germany on Sunday. Joy!

*Vireless LAN. (yes, that's a joke about accents)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Barack Peron is starting to scare me....

I don't have much to add to this. In fact, it is just about the smartest, most succinct thing I have seen on the bailout and the evil hedge funds, who thought their contract meant something.

Barack Peron is starting to scare me....

So Proud to be an American

A suspected terrorist. He's in the 10th grade. The kid is alleged to have made bomb threats. No hearing, no meeting a lawyer, no habeas corpus, no chance of seeing any of the evidence against him.

Now, the kid may have made bomb threats, over the internet. Or maybe he
didn't. But how can you arrest a U.S. citizen without evidence or formal charges, or a bail hearing?

When the Patriot Act passed, several of my colleagues at Duke told me I was paranoid, that of COURSE the government would never use these powers internally. And I said then, of COURSE the government will do exactly that.

Look, the people who work for law enforcement are good people. They thought they had a case. And maybe they DO have a case. The point is there is no way of knowing. And the point is that there CAN'T be no way of knowing. We have rights to due process.

All of you people who supported do you like it now? Coming soon, to a home very, very near you (in fact, it's your home): the Patriot Act. No hearings. No bail. And no explanation.

(Nod to Roxanne P., for the link)

UPDATE: Why no coverage of this story? Yes, WRAL is an MSM outlet. But otherwise zero MSM coverage. Except maybe this story in a tiny local paper.

To be clear, I'm not jumping on the "free Ashton Lundeby" bandwagon. I am jumping on the "Give Ashton Lundeby a bail hearing" bandwagon. That is a bandwagon we all should be jumping on.

The real question is how the Patriot Act, a STATUTE, can suspend provisions of the Constitution? Here are the provisions I have in mind:

Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment 5 - Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment 6 - Right to Speedy Trial, Confrontation of Witnesses. Ratified 12/15/1791.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

This would be a first

President O said last week that he doesn't intend to be real hands on with or micromanage his new public investment vehicles, Chrysler and GM. He also said:

"I'm not an auto engineer, I don't know how to create [an] affordable, well-designed plug-in hybrid. But I know that if the Japanese can design [an] affordable, well-designed hybrid, then doggone it, the American people should be able to do the same. So my job is to ask the auto industry: Why is it you guys can't do this?"

Hmmm, I guess President O is not a business historian either or he would know that one big reason the US headquartered automakers have been "unable" to make world class small cars is that the Federal government has long given them a large subsidy to make big ones!

Here is Robert Lawrence (via Dani Rodrik, who is on a roll!):

the US protects its domestic market with a twenty-five percent tariff. By contrast, the import tariff on regular automobiles is just 2.5 percent and US duties from tariffs on all imported goods are just one percent of the overall value of merchandise imports. Since many of the inputs used to assemble trucks are not subject to tariffs anywhere near 25 percent -- US tariffs on all goods average only 3.5 percent -- the effective protection and subsidy equivalent of this policy has been huge.

Since when you ask? How about 1962! I have to admit that I didn't know how long this had been in place. I assumed it came about in the 1970s.

PS: for a simple explanation of effective protection, look here.

Observations on D-land

My thanks to Nathalie, who invited me for a coffee at a cafe on the Schlossplatz. A pleasant day, though still cold. And Nathalie made some good points:
1. Don't be a baby. Shut up and go buy stuff. (Tommy the Englishman said this, too, to be fair.)
2. Don't try to ask questions, or do something complicated, if there is a long line. Just come back later.
3. Go to cafes, and you will be fine. First, lots of people are happy to practice their English. Second, the waiters, when they hear your American accent, will assume that they will get an actual tip, instead of the back of the hand they expect from German customers or students.

So, okay, I'll try again.

First, though, I went to Kaufland, the... store, I guess you would call it. But it is three different enormous levels. It's a little like a cross between a Whole Foods and a Super WalMart. They....have....everything. I was in there for two hours. Here is what I accomplished.

A. Got all the stuff I needed to fix up the Gbike. Back basket, which fit perfectly. Set of allen wrenches, so I could tighten the handlebars and raise the seat. Much, much better. Bungee cords, so I could keep all the loot in the baskets, fore and aft. The Gbike is now officially as cool as a girl's bike with a 50 year old guy on it could be.

B. Amazing stuff in the store. One thing I remember: they had a kind of ice cream called "Mövenpick." I thought to myself, Tom Gilligan makes ice cream? 'Cause I know that Gilligan must have picked up the copyright on the movin' pick. Nobody does it better.

C. The multi-level grocery store sounds like a bad idea. How are you going to move the big carts around? Answer: escalators. Wait, that can't be right. Oh, yes it can! The escalators flat, like the people movers at airports, but then elevated 20 degrees so they slope up. Won't the carts just roll backwards/forwards? Nope. The wheels have many little slots, and so do the escalators. The wheels lock in very effectively, but then unlock smoothly at the end of the escalator. Just the experience of riding this escalator occupied me for 20 minutes, with my cart.

D. Got excellent bread, cheese, and Franconische senf (spicy sweet mustard). EV Olive oil. Balsamic vinegar. Butter. Marmalade. A little bottle of that German kaffe-milk, to which I have become accustomed for coffee or tea.

E. And, then, the main course: Onions. Potatoes. Sauerkraut. Bockwurst. All in quantities large and cheap.

Then I hurried home with my bounty. Boil the potatoes, cut up small. At the same time, cook the onions in the EVOO, with some spices. (Paprika, salt, pepper). When the onions are good and carmelized. put in the bockwurst. Put the drained potatoes, and then the drained sauerkrat, on top. Let simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.

I took some ciabatta bread, drizzled it with EVOO, and then broiled it for five minutes. Added some Emmentaler cheese (which is good and melty), and broiled again.

Then....bockwurst with lots of mustard, onions and potatoes in s-kraut juice, the s-kraut itself, and the ciabatta bread with browned Emmentaler. That would have been one of Herb's all time favorites. Happy to represent.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Rock Bottom

I'm not sure if the economy has hit bottom yet, but I am pretty sure a couple of prominent economists hit rock bottom this week.

First, consider Larry Summers. If he thought being run out of the Harvard presidency was the worst thing that could happen to him, he was way wrong, as this week President Obama threw Larry under the bus, claiming that Summers was Robert Reich re-incarnate!

Second, consider Christina Romer who made her reputation calling out people for using faulty data. Now she's reduced to flacking for President Obama's "create or save (fill in the the number here) jobs" from the stimulus bill meme, using nothing other than chutzpah to produce her numbers.

Speaking of "rock bottom" the Republicans should get the Rock to be their spokesman. I'm serious. What do they have left to lose at this point? Can you imagine it? "Now I want to you to take that stimulus bill, roll it up real tight and......."

Multicultural Experiences

I have tried to cultivate some multicultural experiences, while here in Germany.

But since I don't speak German, and since the fruit incident (let us never speak of it again), I have been pretty terrified to go to stores or restaurants. Wed, Thurs, Fri and Sat nights, therefore, I went back to my hotel room, and carefully rationed the bread and cheese I had purchased on my one disastrous trip to the grocery. The hotel, to its credit, does also provide apples and granola bars. And since I was confident enough to go buy two bottles of red wine, this makes for a pretty excellent meal.

Which means that my multicultural experiences for the last four evenings have been the television. And, that's not bad. Hockey and soccer is on every night (a cool game between Sweden and Czech Republic, with Jaromir Jagr getting the snot beaten out of him by a bunch of enormous Swedes). There are ads for "chaten and daten" 900 numbers, with the young ladies doing the soliciting clearly very, very excited at the thought that you, the viewer, might call soon. (These, by the way, are porn, pure and simple. None of the ladies are wearing anything but shoes and ecstatic expressions). There is CNN International, with interesting and diverse offerings, and (Gott sei Dank!!) no Lou Dobbs.

But the best was Friday night. A Japanese monster movie, dubbed into extremely glottal German. That alone is a good start. But the movie...a piece of cinematic art I had never seen before. It was Ocean Godzilla v. Space Godzilla v. Mogera, a big nasty three-way.
There were so many wonderful things in this movie that I have to skip over most of them. (And, since I had had most of a bottle of a very nice Italian chianti, my own memory likely skips over them, too.)

But, the highlights. The dubbed-German-over-Japanese would helpfully lapse into English whenever describing the three combatants. And the maps that showed the locations of the three titans also always was in English. So I could keep up pretty well. "(long German statement) Ocean Godzilla (more German) Space Godzilla!" And there they were, on the map, getting closer together, as millions of hapless Japanese tried to run away from the Tokyo train stations where they had gathered to evacuate.

The problem was that Space Godzilla was dramatically more powerful than Ocean Godzilla. But the Japanese High Command was reluctant to team up with Ocean Godzilla, in spite of the old Sun Tzu line about "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." (BTW: Sun Tzu is pronounced something like "SOON-zeh," not "sun ZOO," the way most Americans pronounce it. You're welcome!)

The battles themselves, of course, were straight out of WWF professional wrestling. Huge explosions, rockets the size of tractor trailers, getting hit with a folding chair, and running head first into the turnbuckle never did more than temporary damage, presumably because both Godzillas are "scientific" wrestlers.

But there were two remarkable things that became clear. This movie was actually....Spiderman! I should say that the Japanese had a flying super weapon (Mogera) with lots of nasty powers. It had been designed for use against Godzilla, of course, and now they had to switch, and take on Space Godzilla. But, Space Godzilla can easily beat either Mogera or Ocean Godzilla alone, because he has this lightning power that comes from the sun, or outers space, or something like that. (If you care....)Finally, the High Command (a cheesy bunch of eye-rolling political appointees, not real leaders, I can spot these things a mile away, trust me) commits the Mogera to the battle. Now, here is the Mogera, in stand up and fight mode:
Except that Lokie, the commander of the Mogera, is really....Jonah Jameson! He hates Ocean Godzilla so much that he diverts from the attack on Space Godzilla and goes after Ocean Godzilla! Like Spiderman, people can't really believe that Ocean Godzilla could be good, instead of evil.

The rest of the Mogera crew knock Lokie unconscious, and tie him up. Then they return to the mission and attack Space Godzilla. But Ocean Godzilla is hurt, and Mogera gets smashed.

Except, like in professional wrestling, neither Ocean Godzilla NOR Mogera are really hurt. Ocean Godzilla comes back for more, gets smashed down again. Then the smoking ruin of Mogera recovers, and reveals a new power: it can divide into TWO weapons, an air attack weapon with lasers, and a ground attack/tank sort of thing with a powerful drill for going underground. (Note to High Command: the whole coordinated air/ground assault thing has been shown, in many conflicts, to work pretty well. You might want to try that FIRST next time).

Fortunately, Lokie-Jonah Jameson has seen the light, and agreed to put aside his hatred of Ocean Godzilla-Spiderman....for now. Lokie commands the ground-tank half of the Mogera, and he is one tough panzer leader. The air-ground assault causes huge explosions and fire all over the Space Godzilla, all of which have zero effect.

Now, across the bay, two SmokinHotChicks (SHCs) wearing outfits made of sheer aluminum foil decide to come over and see what is going on. The police try to hold the line, but it's like bouncers at the rope line at a chic bar in New York: The SHCs in sheer aluminum foil can just walk right through. (It's not fair, but we have all seen it.) The SHCs jump in a boat which, for some reason, is already running and having its tie line held by a flunky. They cross the bay, and run up on shore.

Having proven that combined air-land assault is much more effective, the idiots running the Mogera recombine into one weapon. But, at precisely this moment, Ocean Godzilla "recovers" from getting smashed through a building (it was fake, you could tell.) But Mogera is suddenly well and truly smashed by the lightning power of Space Godzilla. The SHCs are distraught, because they clearly think Lokie is hot. The crew of the Mogera try to evacuate through the smoke and flames, and hanging electrical panels.

But then Lokie sees through the smashed window that Ocean Godzilla is bravely going after Space Godzilla all by himself! Lokie shrugs off the protests of his pussweiler crew, and starts punching buttons like a madman, as if punching buttons REALLY HARD is more likely to make them work, when the whole Mogera is on fire.

But it works! The Mogera takes off one final time, with Kamikaze Lokie at the helm. The rest of the crew run over and find the SHCs (I would have done that, too), and offer to console them in special ways.

Just as Ocean Godzilla comes in low, with explosive fire breath and hard kick to the knee, Kamikaze Lokie comes in high, with flaming Mogera striking Space Godzilla full in the face! Space Godzilla is overwhelmed by the combined attack, and falls. The Mogera breaks up, and explodes. But Ocean Godzilla finishes the job: since Space Godzilla is down, he can' connect with his lightning from space power source. Ocean Godzilla toasts him like a marshmallow in a blow torch. Space Godzilla explodes, and floats skyward in shower of sparks.

What about Lokie? The crew and the SHCs look for him. One of the crew runs up into the burning Mogera, the other stays back with the SHCs. They all shout, "Lokie! Lokie!" Then, out of the mists, come the crew guy and Lokie, limping badly but okay.

One of the SHCs plants a big wet one on Lokie...and his leg is healed! No longer stiff (his leg). A miracle. He walks normally.

And then the camera cuts to Ocean Godzilla, walking back out to the ocean. Lokie reverts to Jonah Jameson, muttering about how he still "Doesn't trust that Godzilla and how come it seems like whenever there is trouble, THAT's when you see Godzilla. A coincidence? I think not...."

Is THIS what I came to Germany for? I didn't know it, but....yes.

Come Upstairs and See My Vocabulary, Baby?

Human vocabulary use as display
Jeremy Rosenberg & Richard Tunney, Evolutionary Psychology, Summer 2008, Pages 538-549

Abstract: The average human vocabulary consists of approximately 20,000 word families, yet only 6000-7000 word families are required to understand most communication. One possible explanation for this level of redundancy is that vocabulary size is selected as a fitness indicator and is used for display. Human vocabulary size correlates highly with measurable intelligence and, when choosing potential mates, individuals actively prefer other correlates of intelligence, such as education. Here we show that males used more low frequency words after an imaginary romantic encounter with a young female shown in a photograph relative to when they viewed photographs of older females. Females used fewer low frequency words when they imagined a romantic encounter with a young male shown in a photograph relative to when they viewed photographs of older males. These differences in male and female vocabulary displays may be related to sex differences in investment costs in offspring.

Attractiveness, body size, masculine sex roles and 2D:4D ratios in men
Anthony Bogaert, Catherine Fawcett & Luanne Jamieson
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming

Abstract: Several studies have examined men’s attractiveness in relation to the index -to-ring-finger (2D:4D) ratio, which may be linked to prenatal androgen levels. These studies have yielded conflicting results and have not controlled for related characteristics (i.e., body size and masculine personality/sex role). The present study again examined this relation and attempted to address these limitations. Participants were 273 men recruited at university. The men were assessed for physical attractiveness (both self-perceived and other-rated), body size (height, BMI), 2D:4D ratios and masculine personality/sex roles. Results showed that masculine personality /sex role and height predicted men’s attractiveness. Results also indicated that a low (more masculine) 2D:4D ratio in the right hand was related to men’s attractiveness. This relationship occurred controlling for body size and personality /sex roles, along with relevant demographics. The findings suggest that women may be partially attracted to men because of their relative level of prenatal androgen exposure; and that features of physical attractiveness in men are, at least partly, androgen-based markers of fitness detectable by women.
Dissing Oneself versus Dissing Rivals: Effects of Status, Personality, and
Sex on the Short-Term and Long-Term Attractiveness of Self-Deprecating and
Other-Deprecating Humor
Gil Greengross & Geoffrey Miller
Evolutionary Psychology, Summer 2008, Pages 393-408
Abstract: This study explores the adaptive functions and design features of self- and other-deprecating humor. Sixty-four female and 32 male college students participated in a two-part study. In the first part, we examined the relationships among participant demographics, personality traits, and preferences for producing different types of humor. Men report using more other-deprecating humor than women do, and the use of other-deprecating humor decreases with age for both sexes. In the second part of the study, each participant listened to tape recordings of opposite-sex people who were described as having different levels of status, and who produced different types of humor; then participants rated each person’s attractiveness as a potential short-term and long-term mate. Humor type and presenter status had no effects on short-term attractiveness, but self-deprecating humor by high-status presenters (but not low-status presenters) increased long-term attractiveness for both sexes. These results are discussed in the light of sexual selection theory and costly signaling theory.
Menstrual cycle phases and female receptivity to a courtship solicitation:
An evaluation in a nightclub
Nicolas Guéguen
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming
Abstract: Previous research has demonstrated that female behaviors toward men or sexual interest are different across the menstrual cycle. However, women's receptivity to an explicit courtship solicitation still remained in question. In a field experiment, 20-year-old women were approached by 20-year-old male confederates in nightclubs and solicited to dance during the period when slow songs were played. A survey was administered to the women in order to obtain information about the number of days since the onset of previous menses. It was found that women in their fertile phase agreed more favorably to the dance request than women in their luteal phase or in their menstrual phase.
The association between men’s ratings of women as desirable long-term mates
and individual differences in women’s sexual attitudes and behaviors
Lorne Campbell, Lee Cronk, Jeffry Simpson, Alison Milroy, Carol Wilson &
Bria Dunham
Personality and Individual Differences, March 2009, Pages 509-513
Abstract: This research examined whether individual differences in women’s sexual attitudes and behaviors are associated with men’s ratings of them as desirable long-term mates when men were exposed to only pictures of women’s faces. Links between sexual attitudes and behaviors with the presence of more masculine facial features were also assessed. Women completed the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI; Simpson & Gangestad, 1991) and had their faces photographed (without make-up). Facial markers of masculinity were measured, and female raters then independently rated the perceived masculinity of each face. Following this, male raters independently evaluated each woman’s face on two dimensions: desirability as a long-term mate and trustworthiness. More sexually unrestricted women, who pose a greater threat of future infidelity, had more masculine facial features, and were evaluated as being both less desirable long-term mates and less trustworthy in relationships. Exploratory analyses suggested that men rated women with higher SOI scores less positively partly because these women had a more masculine facial appearance.
Men’s Faces Convey Information about Their Bodies and Their Behavior: What
You See is What You Get
Melanie Shoup & Gordon Gallup
Evolutionary Psychology, Summer 2008, Pages 469-479
Abstract: We investigated whether men’s faces contain embedded cues that signal differences in individual fitness. Data on shoulder-to-hip ratios (SHR), grip strength, sexual history, and facial photographs were collected from male college students. Female college students rated the photographs for attractiveness We found a striking relationship between ratings of facial attractiveness and body morphology. Males with attractive faces had significantly more masculine, wedge-shaped SHRs. Ratings of facial attractiveness accounted for over 25% of the variance in this sexually dimorphic dimension of male body configuration. Male students with attractive faces also had higher grip strength scores, and more sexual partners. These findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence showing that facial features contain important cues to fitness and hormonal status.

Face Value: Information and Signaling in an Illegal Market
Trevon Logan & Manisha Shah
NBER Working Paper, April 2009
Abstract: Economists argue that rich information environments and formal enforcement of contracts are necessary to prevent market failures when information asymmetries exist. We test for the necessity of formal enforcement to overcome the problems of asymmetric information by estimating the value of information in an illegal market with a particularly rich information structure: the online market for male sex work. We assemble a rich dataset from the largest and most comprehensive online male sex worker website to estimate the effect of information on pricing. We show how clients of male sex workers informally police the market in a way that makes signaling credible. Using our institutional knowledge, we also identify the specific signal male sex workers use to communicate quality to clients: face pictures. We find that the premium to information is large and that it is due entirely to face pictures. More importantly, the premium is in the range of premiums to information estimated for legal markets. We also show that the evidence is inconsistent with alternative explanations such as beauty premiums. The findings provide novel evidence on the ability of rich information environments to overcome the problems of asymmetric information without formal enforcement, and show that the value of information in illegal markets is similar to its value in legal markets.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Keep those germy humans away from my pigs

American farmers are concerned that their pigs might catch the swine flu from people! I understand that this actually could happen, but it's still funny to think about isn't it?

Plus some of the farmers seem a bit insular, if not clueless in their viewpoint:

"That is the biggest concern, that your herd could somehow contract this illness from an infected person," said Kansas hog farmer Ron Suther, who is banning visitors from his sow barns and requiring maintenance workers, delivery men and other strangers to report on recent travels and any illness before they step foot on his property.

Ummm, isn't the biggest concern that the death rates we seem to be seeing in Mexico will continue and spread to other parts of the world?

But apparently, Mr. Suther is not alone in his view:

Those sentiments were echoed by producers around the nation this week as fears of a possible global flu pandemic grew, with more than 200 people sickened, including more than 100 in the United States, and at least 177 dead, all but one in Mexico.

"There is no evidence of this new strain being in our pig populations in the United States. And our concern very much is we don't want a sick human to come into our barns and transmit this new virus to our pigs," said National Pork Producers chief veterinarian Jennifer Greiner.

Look, I like bacon as much (maybe more?) as the next guy but I think we still have more important things to worry about right now.

Tell it like it is

On the fantastic internet site: "Postcards from yo momma", where people report emails/texts they've received from their mothers, I was reminded yet again what real people think about me and my chosen profession.

Here is the relevant entry:

Words of Encouragement

Backstory: After I got a D on my economics exam.

"Honey, econ is for boring and ugly people. You shouldn’t be in that class, you’re too pretty and creative. I’m sick of these hard classes. Next semester sign up for gym classes."

The Trains, and the Riots, Run on Time

Walpurgisnacht goes off on schedule. I can imagine the scene in a bar, in Berlin.

"One more beer?"

"Sounds good. Oh, wait, I can't. I'll be late for the riot. I've already missed the bonfire. If I don't hurry, I'll miss the scripted spontaneous outrage of the masses, the inevitable accidental confrontation of left and right wing extremist groups, and the beating of the police with random pieces of lumber. Dude, I gotta fly!"

Still, it could have been worse. Predictions were that it might be.

(Note: the photo at top is actually a bonfire from Chapel Hill, after UNC won the national NCAA championship. My older son is one of those people jumping. Another example of a scripted riot. Interesting. We all need to satisfy our atavistic urges to dance around a big-ass fire, I guess.)

UPDATE: Anonyman writes about the paradox of rioting against war. He also notes that 273 German policemen were injured, some of them fairly seriously. Why?

Excerpt from the news story:

Rainer Wendt, chairman of one of Germany's national police unions, criticized Berlin interior minister Erhart Koerting's handling of the operation, saying protesters were allowed too much time to get out of hand and urging that a "no tolerance" policy be adopted in the future.

"Whoever throws a stone or wears a mask must be immediately taken out of play," he told the Neuen Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.

Koerting condemned the violence, but said overall the police response could be considered a success.

"The deployment concept saw many different measures of violence prevention available, which the police quickly and effectively were able to use when it came to criminal acts," he said.

Konrad Freiberg, the head of Germany's other major police union, said forces had been cut back by 10,000 officers across the country since 2000, making it difficult to muster enough police for major confrontations.

"On days like May 1 we are on the fringes of our capacity," he told Bild newspaper.

Friday, May 01, 2009

M in Dland: Observations

Things have settled down enough that I won't be posting daily just on my time here. I will continue to offer observations on things I find interesting. You may or may not find them interesting, also.

OBSERVATION THE FIRST. My class was supposed to start at 4 p.m. Lots of people came in at 4:10, and then more at 4:15. I asked if people had other classes or commitments that made it hard for them to get there at 4:00. Two women nodded, one quite vigorously. So I said, "Okay, so let's start at 4:10, and actually start on time then."

And a young man started to protest quite vigorously. He said that the start time, by university rule, was supposed to be 4, not 4:10. I pointed out that he was one of the people who had come in late, at 4:15. And he said (he really said this), "Yes, if the class starts at 4:00, I come at 4:15. If the class starts at 4:10, am I supposed to come at 4:25? Then the class would be too short."

I started to ask the young man if he was related to Herbert Kitschelt (who appears to live by the same rule), but held my tongue. Now, either the kid was yanking my chain, in which case well played by the kid; he was totally deadpan. OR, he was serious. In which case, even MORE well played, because that is just a fantastic question. He totally shut me down.

UPDATE: Interesting. My office mate Helmut points out (and a commenter points out also) the tradition of the "academic quarter." So, in fact, a class that starts at 4:00 is understood to start at 4:15. You can look it up....

UPDATE II: VeniBill writes: Across continental Europe generally, when you schedule a meeting for business- but particularly academics- it is expected that you start 15 minutes after the advertised time. And this isn't just like a [lazy person stereotype], it's actually a long standing tradition that has some elaborate origins. There is a German word that translates to something like "the prerogatives of a free citizen" that is supposedly linked to this custom. The upper/educated classes prided themselves on not being "slaves" to the clock like the working man on a timecard. But whatever the origins it is definitely very official custom.

Take a look at the second paragraph on this site ( under the heading Akademisches Viertel)

This was periodically an issue when I was at [European University], and people would clarify if the meant continental time when the advertised a talk (default was British time).

Also, from the Wikipedia entry on Globalization:
Trends such as outsourcing and offshoring are a direct offshoot of globalization and have created a work environment in which cultural diversity can be problematic. A U.S. company where punctuality is important and meetings always start on time faces adjustments if it opens an office in South America or France, where being 10 to 15 minutes late to a meeting is considered acceptable: being on time is called 'British Time'.

OBSERVATION THE SECOND. My good friend VeniBill also writes: "It just occurs to me - be attentive regarding the fruit purchasing customs. I'm not sure what the local grocery is like there, but they often have a machine near the produce section that weighs your fruit/veggie (after you punch in the corresponding ID number) and then prints out a barcode that you bring with you to the cashier. If you just walk up to the checkout with a bag of fruit like we do in the US they look at you like you are crazy; and cashiers are drawn from a demographic that really doesn't speak much English. And then all the Germans behind you in line get so upset because it takes awhile to resolve and they'll probably miss their train because of it."

Without going into details, let me just say that everything VeniBill says is true, exactly true. Let me also say that this advice would have been A LOT MORE F*****G USEFUL TWO DAYS AGO, before I proved the correctness of every aspect of it. It seemed like everybody in the store was pissed off at me. Any other little tidbits, VeniBill?

OBSERVATION THE THIRD. Today, of course, is May 1. Now more often a "labour holiday," it comes from Walpurgisnacht, itself a celebration that comes from pagan quarter equinox celebrations that are thousands of years older than THAT.

Anyway, one of my Erlangen colleagues came in yesterday and asked me where I was going to travel on the "holiday." I said that I was going to travel to the office, and get some work done.

Colleague was aghast. "But it is a holiday. The offices are closed!" I had a "what would Angus do?" moment; I pulled out my key, and said the office doors were always closed, until they were open. If the doors were always open, no key would be necessary. And if the doors were always closed, they would be called "walls." The advantage of the key is that I could have the door open, or closed, as suited me. (And, yes, you can bet that this is PRECISELY what Angus would have done, in more or less these some words. Trust me.)

Colleague: " I mean the offices THEMSELVES are closed. Not the doors, the offices. It is a holiday."

Now, this fellow is a very nice guy, and really is very helpful in every way. Not as artlessly sincere as Eva, perhaps, because NO ONE is as sincere as Eva, but still a very nice guy.

So, I said, "Oh, now I see. A HOLIDAY. Of course. It was just the language problem. Perhaps I will go to Nurnberg, then. Or ride my bike, if the weather is nice."

This met with MUCH more approval. And, I was in the office by 8:30, safe in the knowledge that my secret would be secure. Since everyone else is off rioting in Berlin*...

*From Wikipedia: In Berlin traditional leftist Mayday riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. I'm not sure why, but the idea of a "traditional riot," held at the same time and place every year, fills me with happiness.