Sunday, February 28, 2010

History of the Boom Box

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Liberals & Atheists Are Smarter

(CNN) -- Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.
Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.
The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning -- on the order of 6 to 11 points -- and the data should not be used to stereotype or make assumptions about people, experts say. But they show how certain patterns of identifying with particular ideologies develop, and how some people's behaviors come to be.
The reasoning is that sexual exclusivity in men, liberalism and atheism all go against what would be expected given humans' evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them.
"The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward," said George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study. "It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people -- people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower -- are likely to be the ones to do that."
Bailey also said that these preferences may stem from a desire to show superiority or elitism, which also has to do with IQ. In fact, aligning oneself with "unconventional" philosophies such as liberalism or atheism may be "ways to communicate to everyone that you're pretty smart," he said.
The study looked at a large sample from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which began with adolescents in grades 7-12 in the United States during the 1994-95 school year. The participants were interviewed as 18- to 28-year-olds from 2001 to 2002. The study also looked at the General Social Survey, another cross-national data collection source.
Kanazawa did not find that higher or lower intelligence predicted sexual exclusivity in women. This makes sense, because having one partner has always been advantageous to women, even thousands of years ago, meaning exclusivity is not a "new" preference.
For men, on the other hand, sexual exclusivity goes against the grain evolutionarily. With a goal of spreading genes, early men had multiple mates. Since women had to spend nine months being pregnant, and additional years caring for very young children, it made sense for them to want a steady mate to provide them resources.
Religion, the current theory goes, did not help people survive or reproduce necessarily, but goes along the lines of helping people to be paranoid, Kanazawa said. Assuming that, for example, a noise in the distance is a signal of a threat helped early humans to prepare in case of danger.
"It helps life to be paranoid, and because humans are paranoid, they become more religious, and they see the hands of God everywhere," Kanazawa said.
Participants who said they were atheists had an average IQ of 103 in adolescence, while adults who said they were religious averaged 97, the study found. Atheism "allows someone to move forward and speculate on life without any concern for the dogmatic structure of a religion," Bailey said.
"Historically, anything that's new and different can be seen as a threat in terms of the religious beliefs; almost all religious systems are about permanence," he noted.
The study takes the American view of liberal vs. conservative. It defines "liberal" in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people. It does not look at other factors that play into American political beliefs, such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.
"Liberals are more likely to be concerned about total strangers; conservatives are likely to be concerned with people they associate with," he said.
Given that human ancestors had a keen interest in the survival of their offspring and nearest kin, the conservative approach -- looking out for the people around you first -- fits with the evolutionary picture more than liberalism, Kanazawa said. "It's unnatural for humans to be concerned about total strangers." he said.
The study found that young adults who said they were "very conservative" had an average adolescent IQ of 95, whereas those who said they were "very liberal" averaged 106.
It also makes sense that "conservatism" as a worldview of keeping things stable would be a safer approach than venturing toward the unfamiliar, Bailey said.
Neither Bailey nor Kanazawa identify themselves as liberal; Bailey is conservative and Kanazawa is "a strong libertarian."
Vegetarianism, while not strongly associated with IQ in this study, has been shown to be related to intelligence in previous research, Kanazawa said. This also fits into Bailey's idea that unconventional preferences appeal to people with higher intelligence, and can also be a means of showing superiority.
None of this means that the human species is evolving toward a future where these traits are the default, Kanazawa said.
"More intelligent people don't have more children, so moving away from the trajectory is not going to happen," he said.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime

lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Go ahead, kids. Touch it.

In Search of...Democrats

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who'da thunk it?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Agenda

Spitzer Gets It

Friday, February 19, 2010

Limited Release

I've been wondering lately why the Roman Polanski rape is suddenly so important. After all, it happened over 30 years ago, and it didn't seem like such a big deal in 2002 when Polanski won the Best Director Oscar for The Pianist. Then, earlier today, I happened across a clip on HuffPo with George Stephanopoulos interviewing Ewan McGregor about his latest role in Polanski's film, The Ghost Writer. The premise sounded pretty cool, so I looked it up. It's based on the novel The Ghost, by Robert Harris. McGregor plays a ghostwriter who is hired to write the memoir for a recently retired British Prime Minister named Adam Lang. According to critics of the novel, Lang is modeled on Tony Blair, and many of the book's ripped-from-the-headlines details are factually analogous to real life; Robert Harris was a journalist and BBC reporter before he became a novelist. His previous novels have been praised for their historical accuracy.

Well, after reading the synopsis, I decided to see if it was playing nearby. The Stephanopoulos interview indicated it was "out Friday," but there were no showtimes listed locally. I returned to the HuffPo item to see if "out Friday" meant next Friday, but no, it means today. Then I noticed seventeen people rated it on Yahoo Movies for a cumulative rating of B+, so it must be playing somewhere. I returned to the movie listings page of the Tribune to see if maybe I had missed it or misspelled the title in my search or something, but after a thorough search, I still couldn't find a showtime. So then I went to IMDB to find out if it was out yet, and they list today as the release date, but with the word "limited" after the date. Well, Chicago is a big movie town, what with Siskel & Ebert and all, and most "limited" releases include Chicago. So I went to the Chicago Reader because they have a tradition of listing artsy fartsy and controversial releases, but they barely even mention the movie. Then I went to Ebert's page at the Sun-Times. He has had the gloves off as of late, due mainly I guess to his declining health and increasing legacy, but there was mention neither the movie nor of any surrounding controversy.

So I went back around to the various stops in this quest to revisit the synopsis. In the movie and novel, Adam Lang, the Tony Blair character, has been charged in The Hague with war crimes relating to his decision to send several British citizens to the notorious prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, where they are tortured. This transpires as the ghostwriter (McGregor) begins work on the memoir. The McGregor character is apolitical, which is partly why he was chosen to ghostwrite the memoir. But revelations of Prime Minister Lang’s alleged war crimes pique his interest, and he delves more thoroughly into Lang’s past. In doing so, he discovers that there had been a previous ghostwriter assigned to the task who had died mysteriously part-way through the project. This piques his interest even further, and he uncovers the same secrets the previous ghostwriter had uncovered, namely Lang’s involvement with CIA black operations, not to mention clues indicating that the previous ghostwriter had been murdered.

As I mentioned earlier, Harris’s previous novels have met with high praise for their drama and historical accuracy. The Daily Mail called Harris’s Pompeii “a blazing blockbuster.” Esquire calls Harris’s Fatherland (which has been made into an HBO movie), “ingenious…fast-paced and beautifully written.” The Times referred to his novel Enigma as “top-class stuff.” But strangely, The Ghost was universally panned, with critics calling it formulaic and far-fetched. The New York Observer went so far as to call it “The Blair Snitch Project,” while simultaneously admitting, “if it were [true] it would certainly explain pretty much everything about the recent history of Great Britain.”

Well, since I evidently can’t see the movie, I decided to walk down to my neighborhood Borders for the novel. But it wasn’t there. All of Harris’s other books are there, including his non-fiction. Not even the movie tie-in version with Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor on the cover was available.

Hmmm….could this historically-accurate-but-fictionalized portrayal of Tony Blair be the real reason Polanski’s rape case has suddenly taken a front seat? And why else would a popular novelist’s most recent work, and an A-list laden film adaptation, be so hard to come by?

I’ve always admired Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, two of Polanski’s early works. I never saw Tess or The Pianist. I saw Bitter Moon when it came out and I thought it was garbage. Like his work, Polanski’s life is marked by remarkable highs and incredible lows. He just barely escaped the Nazis by changing his name and pretending to be Catholic as a child. His mother died in Auschwitz; his father survived his Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp experience. Later, of course, he became a successful and highly regarded filmmaker and enjoyed the Good Life until his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was killed by the Manson gang. The rape ocurred a few years later. A probation officer recommended probation and psychiatric counseling, but the judge in the case wanted Polanski to serve a prison sentence so Polanski fled to France. In 1993, Polanski settled a civil suit with his rape victim by paying her $500,000. She has since filed a formal request with the court to drop the charges. In 2003, she wrote an op-ed piece saying that Polanski should be allowed to return to the States to collect his Best Director Oscar for the Pianist, and that she “got over [the rape] a long time ago.”

But a crime is a crime, and rape is a serious crime, so it’s hard for me to disagree with those who think he should face justice. However, I have to admit my opinion of Polanski has gone up a bit. In this age of retraction and my-comments-were-taken-out-of-context spinelessness, it’s nice to see someone with the cajones to make a film like The Ghost Writer in the face of obvious peril. I only wish I could see it.
UPDATE: Some reviews are appearing online, but it's still not showing anywhere.
The movie's official site indicates an initial release of New York and Los Angeles, and "select cities" on 2/26, which seems odd for a recent Oscar winner.
UPDATE 3: Polanski wins the Best Director award for The Ghost Writer at the Berlin Film Festival.
UPDATE 4: Ebert likes The Ghost Writer.