Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Enlarge your P3N15!

So can we? Of course not. If I took all the thought that I devote to my penis, and applied it to something useful to society, there'd probably be no more cancer.

When I stumbled across an archaic post of PZ Myers' on his Pharyngula blog, my subconscious was ecstatic with glee. Finally, another excuse to focus on my penis!

The gist of PZ's post is that research seems to suggest that while across different species, sexual selection shows a consistent pressure towards larger size in male genitalia, the varying effect of natural-selection pressures will drive size down.

The burden of bearing a massive penis

A couple of recent studies in fish and spiders have shown that penis size is a matter of competing tradeoffs, and that these compromises have evolutionary consequences. Guys, trash that e-mail for penis enlargement services—they can make you less nimble in pursuit of the ladies, or worse, can get you killed.[....]

[....]The authors measured [the spiders'] peak speed in short sprints, and found that it shot up from 2.7±0.2 cm/s to 3.8±0.3. They also had impressive improvements in endurance. They'd chase spiders with a soft brush until the poor fellows collapsed in exhaustion and would move no more. Spiders with two intact pedipalps [dual spider-cocks] would flop down after 17 min 30 s±55 s. Lose one palp, and they could keep running for 28 min 30 s±45 s. Even more severe, spiders with two palps died.53% of the time after collapsing, while the unipalp runners only died 12% of the time[....]

[and now for the fish-dick portion!]

[....]Given a choice, females flirted with the large-gonopodium male 81% more often than the small-gonopodium male. You knew that would be the case, didn't you?

[...]That advantage doesn't come for free. They also measured burst-speeds in startle-escape responses, the fast tail-flick dart fishes use to get away from the lunge of predators…and the large-gonopodium fish were significantly slower. That large object hanging off the fish represents a good bit of drag, reducing speed, maneuverability, and endurance, and may also be something to catch the eye of predators.

This study went a step further and looked to see if gonopodium size has consequences in the real world. They sampled populations from lakes and ponds that were either free of piscivorous predators (the open bars in the chart below), or contained beasts that would chow down on Gambusia (the black bars), and measured gonopodium size. Males in predator-free waters had gonopodia that were on average 12% larger than their more harried conspecifics.

The lesson is clear. If you live in an environment where you can afford to be slow and lazy, sexual selection can take over: the females will preferentially mate with the fish with the larger gonopodia, driving up the average size over generations. If you have to be nimble and swift to stay alive, natural selection will cull out the males with oversized genitals.

Thinking out loud: I'm not a biologist by training - or involved in any of the sciences for that matter, so if I make a colossal error in my thinking... My bad.

Genital size can vary between localized groups within the same species based on how much pressure is exerted by natural selection and the ability to be nimble and swift.

Does that really seem to transfer over empirically to humans?

A natural hypothesis to make would be that a population's genital size would be affected by how long ago that area switched from hunting and gathering to general agriculture.

There are probably few things that exert natural selective pressure towards being nimble and swift than hunting does, and any man that's ever run naked (or commando) knows that having your cock constantly slapping your thigh is a little impeding.

On the other hand, sustained agriculture would significantly reduce the effect of natural selection on the need for speed and agility.

You would expect that, in an area where humans have engaged in agriculture for hundreds of generations, you would see that sexual selection had outstripped survival pressures.

Where hunting and gathering had been the primary means of survival, you'd expect that natural selection would have, on average, a slightly diminishing effect on genital size.

Does the hypothesis hold up? Look at the difference between averages in Africa and Southeast Asia. I don't remember where I got this, but I remember reading somewhere that the averages differ between 10% and 20% (up to around an inch).

Southeast Asia has been engaging in regular agriculture for thousands of years, whereas humans were largely hunter/gatherers in Africa until more recently. Yet it's people of African descent that average slightly more than their Asian counterparts.

Based on that alone, the hypothesis doesn't seem to hold up.

Then again, we're looking at only two data, and many potentially confounding variables. (Climate, clothing, diet, etc.)

Still, if the main factor determining male genital size really is the surival pressure of speed and agility, then you would expect that pressure to outweigh any others.

Or maybe several thousand years don't leave enough time for differences in importance between natural selection and sexual selection to affect heritable phenotype.

hehehe... Penis.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

With a Little Help from my Friends

I just got back from the Joe Cocker concert at Casino Rama.

Here's the thing about Joe Cocker:

The most powerful songs have this soul-slamming crescendo, the kind of note or short riff that closes your eyes, tenses every muscle in your body, and slams your throat into your stomach.

Whitney Houston hits that soul spot when she goes "...and AAAAAAAAAYIAYEEEEEEEE will always love you...."

Clapton kicks off Layla with it (The Derek and the Dominoes original, not the new unplugged crap.

It's that visceral sound that make the high point of a song, when you dig down deep and give it every ounce of your soul. Some artists find that note a few times in their career. It's tough to describe, I know. Joe Cocker lives in that crescendo. That's what makes him Joe Cocker. His power is in that range of force and verve that the best artists pull off for 3 or 4 seconds - tops- in their best songs.

The guy looks absolutely spastic once the music comes on. He'll walk on stage, introduce himself, greet the entire venue, and look perfectly normal. At the first note of music, though, his entire body winds itself into a writhing, rocking cross between what looks like Autism and Cerebral Palsy.

He's 65 now, and he has still got it!

It was about a two-hour drive up to Orillia, and about three quarters of that en route back; it was worth every mile of the trip to see the Sheffield legend perform live.

These aren't from the performance, but they're a few of my favourites:

God, the man's good.

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Zero Tolerance" is going to make spineless pussies out of my entire generation.

From the Globe and Mail:

Black belt teen strikes back at bully, and rallies community against racism

KESWICK, ONT. — The 15-year-old black belt thought he was doing his tormentor a favour when he elected to fight back with his weaker left hand.

He had heard his white classmate throw an angry racial slur in his direction after an argument during a gym class game of speedball, and now the student was shoving him backward, refusing to retract the smear.

The white student swung first, hitting the 15-year-old with a punch to the mouth.

The 15-year-old heard his father's voice running through his head: Fight only as a last resort, only in self-defence, only if given no choice, and only with the left hand.


This happened in a small rural town just north of Toronto - a town that already had problems with anti-Asian racism and hate crimes. Long story short, the Korean boy broke the bully's nose. While both students are under suspension, it is the Korean student that faces expulsion for ending a fight that he didn't start.

Nearly the entire student body staged a walk-out in a demonstration against racism.

I've been in exactly two real fights in my entire life: only once have I ever thrown the first punch.

This wasn't a friend, or even a friend of a friend. It was somebody that I had no choice but to deal with at work on a regular basis. The man had a tendency to make Jew jokes. Only they weren't said in jest, and since I was the only person there with any Jewish background, they were clearly directed at me. It didn't take too long before I began to be bothered by it.

I thought back to what my parents told me about dealing with bullies: "Walk away," "tell him to stop," "ignore him," "tell the teacher." I was always told to walk softly, but never told to carry a big stick. I don't think my parents were just preaching platitudes: they probably would have followed their own advice. I didn't.

If I failed to stand up for myself, I risked communicating to everyone else that his behaviour was tolerable. It was a short-term summer job in a small town where minorities are rare, and his example wasn't the one that I wanted to see set for the dynamic of the rest of the summer.

So at one point I'd had enough, and I let him know: "One more like that and I'm going to break your nose. "

A simple "Dude, that's enough" may have sufficed, but it could just as easily have been interpreted as me registering lip-service objection. Telling the guy that it bothered me enough to want to hit him left no room for interpretation: I wanted him to stop.

The thing was, he didn't.

A few minutes later, he made a crack about how to arrange the seating for a short drive around the corner. (Something about fitting me in the ashtray.)

A few seconds after that, he was on the floor.

Then I levelled my anger at the other men in the room: "Thanks for all the help, guys."

And it exactly then that I learned something. They hadn't been letting our concussed co-worker get away with racism because they were okay with it. Far from it, they were giving him a pass because they were following my lead. The only surprise that anyone had registered was at the fact that I had waited so long to do anything. They had been noticing it the entire time, and simply responding with the same passivity that they saw me display.

In the end, we both got fired. Here's how my boss explained it to me in private:

"We have zero tolerance for violence here. If there's a problem with racism, you're supposed to file a harassment complaint."

He paused for a while.

"You're supposed to file a harassment complaint. Off the record, though, the prick had it coming. Sometimes it's better to be pragmatic, and sometimes you've just got to draw the line. I'd have done the same thing.... Off the record, mind you."

Sometimes it's better to be pragmatic, and sometimes you've just got to draw the line.