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Archive for November, 2009

Profit and Loss in Evolution

Something just occurred to me about biological evolution.

Yes, I know, if it’s Saturday night and I’m thinking about evolution (instead of participating in it 🙂 ), then my life must be soooo boring. Not really, but read on because I think this is a good idea.

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog about how New York Times science reporter Olivia Judson wondered why evolution “keeps failing:”

How come organisms keep going extinct in nature? In other words, why does evolution keep failing?

I just now remembered something I read for an economics class. I’m sorry but I can’t remember where I read it. The book said that free enterprise is not a “profit” system, but is instead a “profit and loss” system. Ideally, businesses that serve consumer needs make profits. Businesses that don’t serve consumer needs, or do it inefficiently, suffer losses. The theory is that eventually, the process puts resources into the hands of people best able to use them for the social good. (For the moment, we’re ignoring monopolies and corporate corruption that pervert the system.)

That sounds a lot like the evolutionary process.  Organisms that are best able to survive and reproduce in an environment have lots of offspring and survive as species — they “make profits.” Organisms that are less well adapted suffer losses and die off.

So if some species become extinct, that doesn’t mean evolution has failed. It means that evolution is working just as it’s supposed to work.

Problem solved. Hey, I wonder if The New York Times wants to hire me when I graduate? 🙂


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

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What Would Boudica Do?

You don’t see the bumper stickers much in godless Massachusetts, but they’re pretty common in the Midwest: What would Jesus do?

I think it’s a nice question to ask, because Jesus told us to love each other and to forgive seventy times seven (at least). But lately I’ve been asking myself a different question:

What would Boudica do?

You’ve probably never heard of Boudica. That’s okay. Most people haven’t heard of her. As queen of the Iceni tribe in Britain, she led a revolt against the Roman army in the year 61 C.E. She’s one of my heroes, though not for the reasons you might guess.

I was thinking about Boudica because of all the recent news stories about women in combat.  They suffer post-traumatic stress just like male soldiers. They’re forced to leave their families. And that’s not even counting the danger that they will be killed or be forced to kill other people.

I’m no fan of libertarianism. But when people criticize them for wanting to legalize recreational drug use, gambling, prostitution, and other “victimless crimes,” libertarians make a good argument in their own defense. They point out that supporting people’s freedom to do some things doesn’t necessarily mean that they think it’s a good idea to do those things. They just think that the decision should be left up to the individuals involved.

Certainly, any person regardless of sex should be free to serve in any military role for which she is qualified. But do we women really want to emulate men in their ability to kill and destroy? Is that really a good idea? Is that what it means to be free and equal?

Boudica didn’t go to war against the Roman Empire out of mindless male aggressiveness, which causes most wars. She did it for good reasons. Her dead husband, king of the Iceni, had left half his kingdom to the Roman Empire in hope that his wife and daughters would be left in peace. Instead, the Romans seized his entire kingdom, flogged Boudica, and raped her daughters.

Boudica would have understood one of my favorite quotes, from a movie called “She Gets What She Wants:”

“That which does not kill me is going to wish that it had.”

Boudica led the tribes of her kingdom in a devastating military campaign against the Roman occupiers, defeating battle-hardened Roman legions and burning Roman towns including London. Eventually, Roman reinforcements slaughtered Boudica and her followers, but not before she had made the Romans pay in fire and blood for their betrayal and cruelty.

The difference is that Boudica had a really good reason for going to war. Do most of us?

And if not, do we really want to seek out situations in which we might have to kill people or be killed ourselves? Testosterone-induced brain damage might make guys believe that it’s a glorious way to live, but I don’t. No thank you.


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

We Always Like to Find “One” Cause

I’m writing this in the airport while I wait for my flight.

In today’s New York Times, science columnist Olivia Judson writes to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. In particular, she muses about the limitations of evolution:

In the laboratory, in other words, evolution has huge potential. But if it has that much potential — how come organisms keep going extinct in nature? In other words, why does evolution keep failing?

That got me thinking, which of course is always dangerous. It seems to be human nature (whether evolved or not) to always want one single explanation for things. It makes us very uncomfortable to think that an event can have multiple causes. And it drives us crazy if sometimes our favorite causal explanation doesn’t even work at all.

Oops, time to get on the plane. More later. I already got felt up by the airport security people, so at least I don’t have to go through that again today. I hope they enjoyed it.

Hey, I’ll be home when I finish this blog entry!

Back home again …

Back home now! Things are pretty normal. Dad already told me how proud he is of me. Mom fussed with my hair. Grandmother told me to sit up straight. And Josh is off with his gamer friends, to be back in time for dinner. Life is good. Because none of them reads this blog, none of them will find out that I got a tramp stamp (just a little one) while I was at school. 🙂

Okay, so where was I with the actual blog article? Oh, yes, Olivia Judson seemed a little miffed that evolution doesn’t explain everything about the development of life.

What I was getting at was, we seem to like single-cause explanations of things. Developed life forms (such as us, if we may flatter ourselves) developed through evolution. Psychological problems are caused by brain dysfunction of various kinds, with each problem coming from a particular kind of brain dysfunction. Economic problems are caused by either high taxes and too much regulation or low taxes and not enough regulation, depending on who you believe. My brother Josh is a pain because he’s an 18-year-old male. And so on.

What I’d like to know is why people are so determined to find only one single cause for things. Maybe it’s just how the human mind works. One cause is nice and neat and easy to remember. Multiple causes are troublesome and messy and you can lose track of which is which.

So why can’t the development of advanced life forms depend mostly on evolution and partly on other things? Why can’t psychological problems be caused sometimes by brain dysfunction and sometimes by childhood trauma (I’ve read some Freud, and I think he’s pretty cool). Why can’t tax cuts and deregulation be the solution to some problems, but tax increases and more regulation be the solution to others?

This popular idea that all situations, problems, and people have to fit into the same ready-made slots causes us to misunderstand a lot and sometimes to do the wrong things.

And for me, right now, the thing is to go downstairs and see what smells so good! Our main Thanksgiving dinner isn’t until tomorrow of course, but we always have something special the night before.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. Ttys!


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

Flying Home for Thanksgiving

I went out tonight but it was low-key. Just fun and relaxing.

Mostly I can’t wait to get home for Thanksgiving. Dad drove me to school at the beginning of the year, but it’s obviously not practical for the short Thanksgiving holiday. I fly out of Hartford and then a little less than three hours later, I’m home! Well, not home, but at least at the airport being met by my parents.

I love school and I love all my classes, but I love my family too. I even miss my annoying younger brother, but don’t tell him that. 🙂


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

Categories: Life Tags: , , ,

The Top 10 Sexist Advertisements

Why our mothers and grandmothers are so weird: They grew up seeing things like these “Top 10 Sexist Adverts” listed by The London Times.

They’re all ridiculous, but I think the funniest one is “put some fun between your legs.”


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

Categories: Life Tags: , , ,

Unisex Is OK, but Let’s Not Go Crazy

Today’s New York Times has an article about unisex fashions and the blurring of gender roles.

Naturally, I support people’s freedom to be who they are and wear what they want.

But I take it as a bad sign if a guy wants to try on my clothes. Especially if he looks better in them than I do. 🙂


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

Categories: Dating, Guys, Life Tags: , , ,

Gossip Girl, the Good and the Bad

Delighted that Lady Gaga was on “Gossip Girl” this week, though I would have preferred it if she’d had a speaking part and didn’t just perform one of her songs. I think that if I weren’t going to be me, and weren’t going to be Rachel Maddow, I might like being Lady Gaga.

Otoh the game of switching relationships between characters on “Gossip Girl” is starting to make my head spin. First Dan was with Serena, then with Olivia, and now it looks like he’s going to be with Vanessa. And Serena is starting to disappoint me. She’s a nice person, probably the character I most identify with, but she’s switching guys so fast — Dan, Carter, Trip, Nate, Trip, not even counting her European stuff over the summer. I found myself making a mental list of the guys she hasn’t been with yet. There aren’t that many. And she was also trying to find her father, then the show dropped that storyline completely for several episodes, and then started talking about it again, then dropped it again … maybe Dan Humphrey can get an after-school gig as a script doctor.


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.