The Scientific Roots of Homosexuality

It’s amazing how many things I get wrong. I was sure UCLA’s new football coach, Jim Mora, was a bad hire. He’s on a short list of national “Coach of the Year” candidates. I was certain a book and movie series about humans, vampires, and wolves would be a bust. And I once mistakenly donated appreciated stock shares that I had held less than a year, thus losing the tax deduction. A “friend” of mine often tells me, in the endearing manner only he can, “You don’t know shit!” Maybe he’s right.

But now, thanks to David P. Barash’s challenging and fascinating short article titled “The Evolutionary Mystery of Homosexuality,” I might be right about something of importance. I’ve long had a hunch that scientists would someday prove that homosexuality has a genetic basis. Who, I wondered, would choose to be such a distinct minority in a still relatively homophobic world? My related prediction is that a few decades from now homophobes will be embarrassed by their anti-gay vitriol. Hope I’m not wrong about that one.

Here are two excerpts from Barash:

1) Nor can we solve the mystery (why hasn’t natural selection operated against homosexuality) by arguing that homosexuality is a “learned” behavior. That ship has sailed, and the consensus among scientists is that same-sex preference is rooted in our biology. Some of the evidence comes from the widespread distribution of homosexuality among animals in the wild. Moreover, witness its high and persistent cross-cultural existence in Homo sapiens.

2) . . . a reasonable summary is that, when it comes to male homosexuality, there is almost certainly a direct influence, although probably not strict control, by one or more alleles (defined as one member of a pair or series of genes that occupy a specific position on a specific chromosome). Ditto for female homosexuality, although the genetic mechanism(s), and almost certainly the relevant genes themselves, differ between the sexes.

Beyond the suggestive but inconclusive search for DNA specific to sexual orientation, other genetic evidence has emerged. A welter of data on siblings and twins show that the role of genes in homosexual orientation is complicated and far from fully understood—but real. Among noteworthy findings: The concordance of homosexuality for adopted (hence genetically unrelated) siblings is lower than that for biological siblings, which in turn is lower than that for fraternal (nonidentical) twins, which is lower than that for identical twins.

Gay-lesbian differences in those outcomes further support the idea that the genetic influence upon homosexuality differs somewhat, somehow, between women and men. Other studies confirm that the tendency to be lesbian or gay has a substantial chance of being inherited.

Consider, too, that across cultures, the proportion of the population that is homosexual is roughly the same.

Given some conservatives rejection of global warming data, this research will not cause a collective epiphany on the right. Many on the right will continue to be wary of science and many homophobes will continue to believe that there would be fewer gay men if more households were headed by strong fathers, that gayness will spread if we extend them more civil rights, and that gays and lesbians can be cured of homosexuality through Christian counseling.

On this one, I’m going to side with the scientists and celebrate the progress my gay and lesbian friends are making.

Of Breakfast Tables and Technological Change

One of my fondest childhood memories involves my older brother who loved making my life miserable. He routinely read the morning sports page and comics while eating toast weighted down by peanut butter and honey. Inevitably, a few drops of the honey would spill over onto the paper, so that when our dad read it, pages would stick together. Prompting dad to snap and drop a “g*d dammit” much to my delight.

Fast forward forty years to our Olympia, WA breakfast table. The GalPal and I grew up in newspaper reading families so we’re part of the diminishing newspaper reading minority. I read lots of local and national newspapers on my laptop and iPad. But as you know, the heavy hitters—led by the New York Times—have started to charge for more than very minimal access.

We have a local paper weekend subscription which runs $13.33/month or $160/year. 52 weekends times three days equals 156 issues a year at a cost of $1.02/per. That’s a terrible value, but it’s a concession to marital peace. For some reason Betrothed has to hold the paper in her hands on the weekends. I hear divorce costs more than $160.

And we subscribe to the Wall Street Journal which runs $8.33/month or $100/year. That’s the educator’s discount price. The regular price is three times more at $26/month. 52 weeks times six days minus holidays equals about 305 issues/year at a cost of 32.7¢/per for me and 98¢ for the masses. That’s for home delivery and complete digital access on any device.

The WSJ subscription is about to expire and I’m thinking about switching to the New York Times digital/tablet edition. No home delivery. Unlimited access on any computer and tablet. Smart phone access is a little more. Educator’s discount price, $10/month; regular price, $20/month. That’s $120/year for 365 issues meaning about 32.9¢/per for me and 66¢ for the masses.

Another option is PressReader, the best choice for serious news junkies. It’s like a cocaine addict buying a personal cocoa field. For $30/month subscribers gain access to 2,300 newspapers from 95 countries, representing 54 languages. Here’s a 4+ minute video introduction. They’ve provided me with a sample subscription which I’ve been trying out. It’s a promising application, but it may not have your local paper. Also, it takes 10-15 seconds for papers to download and moving around within papers takes some getting used to. If it was my only option, I’d adjust quickly and like it, but I’m going to pass on paying three times more for way more content than it’s possible to process.

As if the newspaper subscription water isn’t muddy enough, two more options include the online news aggregator Zite which I’ve reviewed before (here) and Pulse another news aggregator which I really like and highly recommend (both available at iTunes). Pulse works especially well for skimmers. In fact, I dare you to find a rival.

For the love of all things digital, someone please convince the GalPal the answer is obvious. Read the local paper online, use $120 of that $160 in savings to subscribe to the New York Times, and use the remaining $40 to buy more dried mangos.

Stoicism, Minimalism, and Dried Mangos

Happy Thanksgiving. Extra credit points if you’ve been reading me over the years and remember this is my favorite holiday.

As I age, my wants and needs are shifting. I want less. Which is cool because there’s less need to make and stash mad money.

Maybe it’s all the Stoicism and minimalism I read, think and occasionally write about. I used to think I needed a big house on the water, a nice car, and silk underwear (not really, I just like the way that rounded out the sentence).

At the same time, I am not quite Seneca. I haven’t self actualized or achieved an otherworldly Stoic or minimalist form of enlightenment. I want perfect health. I want to grow the blog readership without posting pictures of bikini-clad snowboarders*. I want an even nicer small to medium-sized house, preferably on water. I want a nicer car. I’m in the process of building a nicer road bike. I want a mini iPad, but I’m waiting until the retina version comes out next year sometime. When I browse Sunset Magazine, I want a personal chef to cook different vegetarian meals for me every day. I want a weekly massage for the rest of my live long days and a steady supply of dried mangos and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from the hippy food co-op.

Which leaves my needs, which again I’m happy to report, keep shrinking. I need my wife and daughters to be happy and healthy, I need friends to workout with, I need a bathtub of really hot water coupled with good reading material most every night, and I need clean sheets and a comfy bed. And an amendment to the last pgraph. In light of the last three or four days, I need a steady supply of dried mangos.

Thanks as always for reading.

* Six months ago or so I wrote a post titled “Education Slowdown” based on a Wall Street Journal article about how some young people are avoiding college because of the costs. One character in the story was snowboarding nearly half the year. I wrote maybe there are some fringe benefits to his lifestyle and attached a picture of two scantily clad young women on snowboards. Gradually it captured the attention of horny young men (or old men, or young women, or old women) all over the world. I was crushed that people were way more interested in bikinis than my amazing insights into better schools, families, and communities. Initially, I was caught up in the rise in readership and mindlessly road the fleshy wave. Then the artificially inflated readership stats started to gnaw a bit. So, with a brief apology to the Snow Queens, I deleted the pic from the post. Since the deleted post was still Google’s 13th highest ranked link under “snowboard” and “snowboarder”, the bikini-lovers kept coming. So I pulled the plug on the whole post and single-handedly caused a spike in global sexual repression.

On Honesty, Rigor, and Success in College

Recently, I spoke to a group of AmeriCorp volunteers at Peace Lutheran in Tacoma, WA. Many were University of Puget Sound graduates working in K-12 classrooms and tutoring after school at the church. I was told they wanted to know the answer to two questions. What is learning? And how do students learn?

The fact that these whip smart young people didn’t think they knew the answers to those questions communicates a hell of a lot about schooling today. Specifically, too few teachers take time from “teaching to the standards” and “collecting and analyzing data” to think together with students about the learning process.

The cynic in mean assumes self-assessment and student-led conferences are en vogue because some policy analysts think they’ll lead to higher test scores. What’s needed is a genuine, substantive commitment to intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. Too few teachers “press pause on the class DVR” and ask what went well in today’s activity? What could have gone better? Which aspects of your group’s work went especially smoothly? Which parts were most challenging? When working with classmates, what do you do well? How do you know that? What could you improve upon? Why? What contributes to your learning? What thwarts it?

I asked the AmeriCorps to list a few meaningful things they’ve learned in the past. Looking for patterns and themes, I then asked them to reflect on how they learned them. “I’m learning how to cook,” one offered up, “by hanging out with roommates who are really good cooks.” We could have spent the entire two hours mining that gem of an anecdote.

When I turned to assessment, I implored them to honestly evaluate the quality of their high schoolers’ work. I said many of the secondary students they tutor get very good grades because they distinguish themselves by attending class regularly and turning in their work. Their simultaneous nodding communicated they understood this rarely talked about dilemma for many urban and rural poor districts and schools—you can’t fail the majority of your students, so students who attend and submit work get passing grades without nearly enough attention paid to the quality of their reading, thinking, math, and writing skills. Understandably, college admissions’ offices know and adjust for this, but that complicates those students’ transition to college.

Absent rigor, many students start to think of themselves as “A” students. But grade point averages can mislead. So it’s understandable that they’re sometimes devastated when they receive “C’s” on their first college assignments. Which is why I keep a box of kleenex handy in my office.

How can teachers, tutors, and parents help high schoolers come to grips with the fact that they may not be ready for college level work without those students giving in to a debilitating hopelessness? There’s no easy answer to that question, but passing students along without honestly assessing the quality of their work is inefficient and uncaring. Here are three starting points:

1) Impress upon them that their commitment to improving their skills is the single most important variable in determining whether they’ll catch up to their college bound peers and that closing the gap will take months and years of tireless work.

2) Invite successful college students from their community back to tell them that they too can overcome the same long odds if they commit to working hard and taking advantage of the resources available to them.

3) Make sure resources are in place, whether it’s well funded public schools, Peace Lutheran-like after school tutoring programs, or intensive summer remediation programs hosted by college campuses admitting first generation college students.

We Can’t Handle the Truth

Concussions are brain injuries. When you read “Jay Cutler suffered a concussion on Sunday,” substitute “brain injury” for concussion. For example, “Recently, Michael Vick had a really bad concussion brain injury.”

And another. “The NFL should have strict protocols in place to establish when a player has been concussed,” should read, “The NFL should have strict protocols in place when a player has been brain injured.”

Newsflash—Missy Franklin Forgoes $6m to Swim in College

Seventeen year-old amateur swimming phenom Missy Franklin’s countercultural decision isn’t getting nearly as much ink as it deserves. I’ve lauded her parents’, coach, and her before. I’ll have to plead guilty if accused of putting a 17 year-old athlete on a pedestal.

If Franklin turned pro sports marketing experts agree she’d earn about $2m a year through product endorsements. Instead, she’s decided to swim at the University of California for a few years and then turn pro in 2015, one year before the Rio Summer Olympics.

Here’s the conventional wisdom on her decision:

While the opportunity to earn money from endorsement deals will not completely evaporate should Franklin delay becoming a pro-swimmer by competing at the NCAA-level, it will drastically impact the amount of money she will earn from endorsements. Not only will she miss out on a lot of money in some prime earning years for what are normally short Olympic careers, but she will likely also miss out on the chance to build her brand on a larger stage by way of the promotion and visibility that would come from advertisers using her in campaigns.

Another sports marketer adds, “I think it’s hard not to justify waving her amateurism.  If I was an objective advisor to her and her family, I would advise this way:  Her window to reap the rewards of her life’s work is relatively limited when you consider it over a traditional working career.  As such, her potential earnings in the next four years will be five-times greater than what she’ll be able to make in the subsequent 30 years.”

My brother, who I may have been a tad too hard on the last several months, weighed in more creatively, “Missy-stake! Shoulda took the money.”

She’s rolling the dice on avoiding injury, finishing third in 2016 Olympic Trial races, and having Michael Phelps pressure her into a bong hit.

All you have to do for an alternative perspective, is turn to Franklin herself:

“Someday, I would love more than anything to be a professional swimmer, but right now I just want to do it because I love it. Being part of a college team is something that’s so special. I went on my recruiting trip, and the team was so amazing. Just being with those girls, I really felt like I belonged there. The campus itself is gorgeous. Everything about it was just perfect.”

Borrowing from the linked article above, Franklin said the opportunity to compete with close friends to earn points toward a team total, rather than simply attending school with them, was an allure stronger than the potential millions of dollars she could earn in endorsements. She actually wanted to commit to a full four seasons of swimming for Cal, but her parents told her “that would probably be the biggest financial mistake” she “could ever make.” Franklin acknowledged, “This can pay for your future family. This can pay for your kids’ school, things that I really have to think about. So that’s been the hard part.”

The materially minded majority will lament, “She’s paying about $6m for the opportunity to ride on busses and stand in security lines in airports with her college teammates in order to score points in college meets.” The assumption being she’d be two and half times happier with $10m in 2016 than $4m. What’s lost in that calculus is the fact that her parents are professionals and she’s grown up economically secure. She’s comfortable, she’s a good student, and with her family’s resources and a Cal degree, odds are she’ll continue to be comfortable.

And if comfort was her primary goal, she’d cash in now. She’s saying you can’t put a price tag on some things like memories of close friendships strengthened through athletic competition. She’s wise beyond her years. She probably knows that multimillionaires tend to get caught on an ever speedier treadmill, and as a result, never pause long enough to ask, how much is enough? Franklin, who I suspect is extremely confident she can swim as fast or faster in Rio, is saying $4m is enough.

And what if somewhere in the world right now there’s a 12 year old girl who out touches Franklin in Rio?

I have no doubt she’ll handle it with grace and dignity. “Honestly anything can happen,” she recently reflected. “You can’t predict the future, so whatever God has in store for me I’ll just go along with it.”

Veterans’ Day—Be Very Careful

I woke up yesterday to a Daily Olympian headline that read “Attacker ignored cries of ‘We are children,’ Afghan witnesses say. The article described the trial of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians and wounded six more in a nighttime rampage on March 11th.

After skimming that news article, I started pancaking while listening to a story on National Public Radio about the Obama administration’s 300-person Al-Qaida Yemeni “kill list”. A few years of pilotless drone bombings later, there are around 1,000 members of Al-Qaida in Yemen.

To many military readers and listeners those stories were more evidence of the media’s anti-military bias. The implication being we’d all be better off if the media just reported on all the good the military does.

Then I went to adult Sunday school where Melinda, our young intern, was leading a discussion on our church formally becoming a “military friendly” congregation a designation that requires meeting a few criteria. I like Melinda. Married to a three tour Iraqi war veteran, she’s personable, articulate, and  a huge NASCAR fan.

She shared a story about a veteran who returned to a church that strongly condemned him for his wartime activities. Understandably, people were dismayed. Melinda added that now he is among the “most anti-Christian people you’ll ever meet.”

It’s more common she said for churches to fail veterans through a debilitating silence, which they interpret as negative judgement. Logically then, the only option is to proactively and positively embrace military veterans and their families.

I did the unthinkable. Asked a question. Unless my attorney has a better one, my defense is maybe the maple syrup went to my head. You would think I would have learned by now that you can’t question the military, especially on Veteran’s Day. The bumper sticker “Dissent is patriotic” is what liberals wish was true. You cannot question the size of the military, military strategies like the drone program, or even the effects of war on its victims without raising the ire of the pro-military super majority.

The default thought process is you can’t question the military because we’re all indebted to them for our freedom. Unquestionably, that’s been true in the past. Between 1941 and 1945 we were indebted to all Allied forces for our freedom. Apparently, once true always true. The specific thinking being that current military campaigns against Yemeni Al-Qaida or Iraqi insurgents keeps the U.S. safe from foreign invasion and/or terrorist attacks, preserves our constitutional government, and makes it possible for dovish bloggers to question the military. To question is to be ungrateful for their sacrifices including extended separations from their families, risk of serious injury or death, and endless challenges upon return. The ancillary question is “What have you done for your country?”

I told everyone that I understood the aforementioned church silence of which Melinda was critical because I interpreted it as confusion which I share. A few people pushed back because it’s not even okay to be confused. You have to be all in, all the time.

Our military, I added, is fueled by nationalism which doesn’t factor into the New Testament. More specifically I asked, “How do we embrace the Beatitudes, which I think are the essence of the gospel, and the U.S. military whose values are often antithetical to the Beatitudes?”

Some of the Beatitudes from Matthew Chapter 5:

4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.

Had there been one large cartoon cloud above everyone’s heads, it would’ve read, “No he didn’t!”

Melinda replied confidently. Too confidently. “Lots of military are anti-war. My husband is anti-war.” The message being that one has to separate individual members from the actions of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines more generally. On the surface that’s sensible, but as could have been predicted, a few people questioned my question, and Melinda elaborated. The gist of her message was it’s okay for people in the church to be anti-war as long as congregations are pro-military.

The inherent tension in that seemed lost on her. It seems to me, truly anti-war servicemen and women would not re-enlist or they’d band together to change the military’s culture and mission.

We need anti-war military personnel to take the lead in creating a new military. A multilingual one that is steeped in the social sciences. One that’s smaller, less misogynist, more knowledgeable about world religions, more transparent, and more adept at winning the hearts and minds of people intensely wary of American power.

There’s little hope for reinventing our military without impolite questions and uncomfortable moments in adult Sunday schools around the country. My hope is some of you will join me in breaking the silence and daring to be impolite.