Monday, May 30, 2005

Gay guy as HS prom dates


May 29, 2005

A Prince Charming for the Prom (Not Ever After, Though)

LATELY I've become wary of the question "Frank, what are you doing next Saturday night?" In the month of May it can only mean one thing: I'm going to yet another prom. And no, I'm not doing a favor for a cousin. Cousins are out. I'm this century's new answer to the last-minute prom date: the gay best friend.

By the end of June I'll have worn the tuxedo I swiped from the school drama department three or four times. While most 18-year-old guys are preparing for their one big night, I'm whipping up more magical evenings than Lance Burton or David Copperfield.

I am also swimming in corsages. I went to the florist today for the second time this week, and she gave me a suspicious look. Does she know what I'm up to? After all, I can't be the only one who understands that gay is the new cousin.

Until recently this wasn't really possible, because most gay men postponed coming out until college or later, if they came out at all. But now more and more young men are coming out in high school. I knew I was gay in sixth grade and came out in eighth. Originally I didn't plan to tell anyone until ninth grade, when I would enroll in a new school, but I decided I needed to let people know who I really was.

My decision had a traumatic aftermath. How is a school supposed to handle the coming out of an eighth grader? My middle school also contained an elementary school, and alarmed parents feared for their little children, worried, I suppose, that I might convert them or something.

I endured a set of excruciating meetings with school administrators during which parameters for my behavior were discussed. That and the cruelty of my classmates left me feeling isolated and scared, and I found myself turning mostly to girls for support and friendship.

Although things improved in high school, I still found myself relying primarily on friendships with girls, some of whom I met at summer drama camps and who attended different schools.

As I see it, these girls saved me, and now it's my turn to save them. Dancing a few steps in a beautified gymnasium is the least I could do to thank the girls who helped me become who I am.

I don't even have to go broke doing this. Any girl who's progressive enough to go to her prom with a gay guy understands that it's no longer the 1950's and that I shouldn't have to pay for everything. They also understand I won't turn into a drunken, groping creep in the middle of the evening, so I figure it's an even trade.

And unlike the goofy cousin who might arrive in a ruffled, powder-blue tux and tell embarrassing stories about computer camp, I'm a safe, chic choice. Neither of us will blush with sexual tension when it comes time to attach corsage to bosom. I won't make a fool of my date or myself with awkward straight-boy dancing. And I'll help her figure out the details of her dress and hairstyle. After all, we wouldn't want anyone committing social suicide on the biggest night of our tender young lives.

As the gay date, I also make one of the evening's most unpleasant moments a breeze. I have no problem meeting the girl's parents, a typical sticking point for most guys, because I know that wise and open-minded parents are smart enough to realize that a gay guy is their daughter's best and safest prom bet.

If I were a worried mother of a dateless daughter, I would scour the hip coffee shops of my town waving a rainbow flag in search of recruits. It might cause my daughter to die of embarrassment, but at least she would have a fabulous night out and wouldn't make me a grandmother anytime soon.

At the proms themselves, though, I'm supposed to be straight, so I do my best. Am I ever worried about being found out? Not really. My friend Katie goes to a Catholic high school, and at her prom I even passed rigid nun interrogation.

On our way through the lineup of nun inspectors, they shook my hand and eyed me up and down before pronouncing me a fit suitor. So what do I have to worry about? Then again, maybe nuns aren't known for their finely tuned gay-dar.

One thing I've discovered in my brief barrage of proms is that they're all pretty much the same. There's that sense of finality, of going out with a bang.

GAY or not, there's still that stomach-churning feeling of anticipation as you and your date see each other in your formal dress for the first time. There's the poor couple wearing the absolute wrong ensemble. There's that burned-out feeling in the early morning from so much fun packed into so little time. Rest assured that the onset of horror from wondering what the pictures will look like decades from now is there every time as well.

But sometimes our expectations get the better of us, and the prom's real purpose is lost. It's one of the last times to be together and have fun as a class before everyone scatters and comes back to the reunion 10 years later balding, divorced, wildly successful or exactly, pathetically the same.

Whether you loved your own prom, hated it, missed it, only made it to the parking lot or were too drunk to remember, there's no denying it's a milestone that happens only once. Or, in my case, several times.

The one thing I can't understand is why many of my female friends, who are charming, attractive and fun to be with, don't have straight male suitors to accompany them. Surely the school halls aren't filled with date-snatching floozies offering the one thing no teenage guy, except the gay best friend, can say no to. So I've got to believe I see things in these girls that straight guys can't because with me the element of sexual attraction was never there to begin with.

Many young gay men make friends with the cool girls who fly under the radar because they don't possess conventional good looks and they don't put out. We get to know these girls for the things about them that matter.

Sometimes I want to hold up a sign that says: "Here! Date this girl, you idiot!" Of course if they aren't smart enough to figure out a girl is worth dating, they probably aren't worthy of the girl in the first place.

Perhaps this is why certain girls and certain gay guys become such good friends in high school. They're waiting for an environment that isn't based on popularity or games, an atmosphere where they can thrive. While I've had an excellent time in high school these past four years, I have to believe there is something better out there for me in years to come. I know many of my friends feel the same way.

We've all heard famous women talk about how they were ostracized in high school or unpopular with the boys, only later to become gorgeous and desired. Even though they ended up successful, they never had that high school experience of the prom, that one magical time that can never be taken away. I'm here to provide this to many future famous women, even if I don't get it for myself.

As much as I'd like to, I will not be attending my own school's prom with a guy. My florist must know this because each time I walk in, she always flips past the boutonniere section of her prom accessories book.

I wish this weren't the case. I wish I could take someone with me, because I've got prom dreams of my own.

They involve buying expensive ingredients at the gourmet food store and spending the entire day making dinner with my date. We would enjoy the food even more knowing we put all the effort into making it ourselves.

When we walked into the dance, the two of us would initially stun people, not because we were two guys but just because we looked great. I wouldn't care if I had to learn to make clothes myself if it meant avoiding that awkward "I rented this, and it doesn't quite fit" look. I would be able to hold his hand all night without feeling weird or attracting attention. By the time it was over, we would be so tired we wouldn't even care.

RIGHT now, however, my prom dream is just that. My school is a great place, but out of about 500 students, there are only a few other openly gay kids. (There are also a handful of openly bisexual girls, but that's considered trendy, so they don't count.)

I'm pretty brave, but sorry, I just don't feel ready to take a boy to prom. I once tried to take a boy to a school dance, and it was just too weird. It felt like every eye was focused on us for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe things will be better for younger guys. I hope so.

At my school, attending the prom in groups of friends is normal and acceptable, so that's what I'm doing. Time to drag out that tuxedo again. But I'm looking forward to it. I will thank my friends for the great times and try not to focus on the thing I cannot yet have. I'll walk in feeling sad and knowing that, for better or worse, I'll be leaving these people in the fall. We'll all go off to our own lives. Who knows what'll happen in mine?

All proms have their cheesy themes, and ours is no exception. "Let the Dreams Begin!" cries out from invitations and prom updates throughout our school.

My dream began a long time ago. I'm just waiting for it to come true.

Frank Paiva graduates next month from the Lakeside School in Seattle. He will attend New York University in the fall.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Women and competition


May 24, 2005

What Women Want

Suppose you could eliminate the factors often blamed for the shortage of women in high-paying jobs. Suppose that promotions and raises did not depend on pleasing sexist male bosses or putting in long nights and weekends away from home. Would women make as much as men?

Economists recently tried to find out in an experiment in Pittsburgh by paying men and women to add up five numbers in their heads. At first they worked individually, doing as many sums as they could in five minutes and receiving 50 cents for each correct answer. Then they competed in four-person tournaments, with the winner getting $2 per correct answer and the losers getting nothing.

On average, the women made as much as the men under either system. But when they were offered a choice for the next round - take the piece rate or compete in a tournament - most women declined to compete, even the ones who had done the best in the earlier rounds. Most men chose the tournament, even the ones who had done the worst.

The men's eagerness partly stemmed from overconfidence, because on average men rated their ability more highly than the women rated theirs. But interviews and further experiments convinced the researchers, Muriel Niederle of Stanford and Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh, that the gender gap wasn't due mainly to women's insecurities about their abilities. It was due to different appetites for competition.

"Even in tasks where they do well, women seem to shy away from competition, whereas men seem to enjoy it too much," Professor Niederle said. "The men who weren't good at this task lost a little money by choosing to compete, and the really good women passed up a lot of money by not entering tournaments they would have won."

You can argue that this difference is due to social influences, although I suspect it's largely innate, a byproduct of evolution and testosterone. Whatever the cause, it helps explain why men set up the traditional corporate ladder as one continual winner-take-all competition - and why that structure no longer makes sense.

Now that so many employees (and more than half of young college graduates) are women, running a business like a tournament alienates some of the most talented workers and potential executives. It also induces competition in situations where cooperation makes more sense.

The result is not good for the bottom line, as demonstrated by a study from the Catalyst research organization showing that large companies yield better returns to stockholders if they have more women in senior management. A friend of mine, a businessman who buys companies, told me one of the first things he looks at is the gender of the boss.

"The companies run by women are much more likely to survive," he said. "The typical guy who starts a company is a competitive, charismatic leader - he's always the firm's top salesman - but if he leaves he takes his loyal followers with him and the company goes downhill. Women C.E.O.'s know how to hire good salespeople and create a healthy culture within the company. Plus they don't spend 20 percent of their time in strip clubs."

Still, for all the executive talents that women have, for all the changes that are happening in the corporate world, there will always be some jobs that women, on average, will not want as badly as men do. Some of the best-paying jobs require crazed competition and the willingness to risk big losses - going broke, never seeing your family and friends, dying young.

The women in the experiment who didn't want to bother with a five-minute tournament are not likely to relish spending 16 hours a day on a Wall Street trading floor. It's not fair to deny women a chance at those jobs, but it's not realistic to expect that they'll seek them in the same numbers that men will.

For two decades, academics crusading for equality in the workplace have been puzzled by surveys showing that women are at least as satisfied with their jobs and their pay as men are. This is known as "the paradox of the contented female worker."

But maybe it's not such a paradox after all. Maybe women, like the ones who shunned the experimental tournament, know they could make more money in some jobs but also know they wouldn't enjoy competing for it as much as their male rivals. They realize, better than men, that in life there's a lot more at stake than money.

For Futher Reading: Do Women Shy Away from Competition? by Niederle Muriel, and Lise Vesterlund (working paper) Performance in Competitive Environments: Gender Differences by Uri Gneezy, Muriel Niederle and Aldo Rustichini (Quarterly Journal of Economics, CXVIII, August 2003, 1049 – 1074) Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (Princeton University Press, 240 pp., September 2003) Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior by James McBride Dabbs with Mary Godwin Dabbs (McGraw-Hill, 256 pp., July 2000) The First Sex : The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World by Helen Fisher (Random House, 377 pp., May 1999)


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Shea hey, time to change trains


Shea hey, time to change trains!


Ahh, it's Subway Series time again. That part of the season where Yankee fans hope the Mets don't ruin their weekend and Met fans hope the Yanks don't wreck their season.

It's the longest two weekends of the season for die-hard Met and Yankee fans.

You'll notice I didn't say all baseball fans in the area, just the die-hards.

Let me confess that I am a Mets fan, a big one. Like most die-hard Mets fans, I lose sleep after a tough loss and lose my grip on reality after a big win. I have a daughter named Shea and would've named my son Mookie, but my wife wouldn't go for it. From Doug Flynn to Doug Mientkiewicz, I've spent every summer of my life living and dying - mostly dying - with the boys from Queens.

I also know many die-hard Yankee fans. I work with some, live near some. They are mostly in their late 40s and beyond. They know why nobody on the current Yankees wears No. 4 and when you ask them to name the greatest catcher in Yankee history, they don't say Joe Girardi. They appreciate what Joe Torre's Yankees have done, but don't take it for granted. And, like me and the rest of the Met fans in the area, they are few and far between.

You see, this city consists of millions of fans who love to play follow the leader.

They started rooting for the Mets the minute Gary Carter arrived, but switched over to the dark side around the same time Jeffrey Maier was making his game-winning catch in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS.

Need some proof? In 1987, the Mets drew over 3 million people to Shea. In 1996, they drew 1.5 million less. Last year, the Yanks drew 3.7 million to the Bronx. In 1986, you guessed it, the number was 2.2 million - 1.5 million less.

Need more proof? In 1991, Billy Crystal wore a Mets hat in "City Slickers" (it's right on the movie poster). By 1996 you got the impression he had been at every Yankee game ever played.

With the exception of Crystal, most of these "Yankee fans" are between the ages of 25 and 40, have highlight videos from 1986 and 1996 in their collection, own Mookie Wilson and Enrique Wilson jerseys, and every once in a while get on the 7 train instead of the 4 train. They are folks called "bandwagoners," and it's people like them I wonder about this weekend.

Now, they will never admit they are bandwagoners, they will swear they are die-hard Yankee fans, but we all know where they spent their time in the summer of 1986. We know they were the ones booing Mariano Rivera in April. We know they still have a Met cap in their closet, just in case.

So just what do they do tomorrow night when Victor Zambrano takes the hill in Queens? Oh, sure, they'll be reminding Met fans about Scott Kazmir, but they'll also be looking out at that big screen in left and thinking about the first time they did "The Curly Shuffle."

But mostly, they will be questioning the decision they made nine years ago.

Sure, they've seen the Yanks win four titles since 1996, but they also know, deep down, the tide could be turning.

After all, the Yanks may have A-Rod, but the Mets have the best Japanese infielder in the National League. Sure Derek Jeter is exciting, but nothing beats the thrill of watching Jose Reyes sprint to first, praying he doesn't blow out his hammy. And we all know which team's manager does the better acting in that Subway commercial.

Plus, there's no Jason Giambi and no John Sterling in Queens, and we have Anna Benson. There's three reasons right there to switch.

With the Mets showing a pulse, the A's and Mariners not on the Yanks' schedule until Labor Day, and Lee Mazzilli - he started as a Met, you know - and his Orioles still atop the AL East, I have to warn all you bandwagoners that your window of opportunity to switch back to the Mets is getting smaller each day.

So before you yell out "Who's Your Daddy?" every time you see Pedro, ask yourself, "Who's My Baseball Team?" Then look deep into your soul and think about all the good times the gritty, gutty Mets gave you when Sid Fernandez was literally the biggest unit in town. So find your Hojo jersey, take it out of moth balls, put it on and and come home.

But, remember, time is of the essence. The Met bangwagon may be full come Sunday afternoon. Then again, it could be completely out of gas.

Bill Price is an associate sports editor with the Daily News.

Originally published on May 19, 2005

Wittigjr's Brother Dies After Bike Accident, Donates Organs

Ars link

Local paper link

Bike racer's death brings life to 5 organ recipients
Posted: May 13, 2005

Mequon - Matt Wittig didn't know four years ago that his signature on his driver's license would result in five strangers getting a chance to live longer.

He couldn't have known then, at the age of 16, that his death four years later would elevate him to hero status in the eyes of his family and of those strangers who needed organ transplants to have a chance at survival. The 5 strangers - 4 of them from southeast Wisconsin - received one or more of Wittig's organs in transplant surgeries that occurred Friday, hours after his death Thursday.

Wittig, 20, succumbed to head injuries he suffered May 7 while participating in a bicycle race in Muskego.

Wittig's mother, Susan, said the decision to be an organ donor had been made by her son 4 years ago.

"One of the reasons Matt wanted a driver's license was to say that he would be an organ donor," Susan Wittig said. "He was as excited to say that he would be a donor as he was to drive.

"That's the kind of kid he was," she added. "He had a kind, giving soul and heart."

Despite Matt Wittig's choice to be an organ donor, though, his family still faced an agonizing decision to keep him on a respirator and continue a steady supply of blood and oxygen to his organs, preserving them for transplant.

Cardiac cases account for the largest number of deaths in the United States. That prevents organ donations, because the organs are deprived of a continuous blood and oxygen supply, said Tim Olsen, community development coordinator for the Wisconsin Donor Network.

Brain injuries, though, normally allow major organs to keep receiving the required blood and oxygen, he said.

Susan Wittig said the Wittig family made the decision to keep Matt on the respirator.

"The reason that we chose to wait for brain death was so that it would allow the optimum number of organs to be saved, which we as a family felt was in Matt's heart," she said.

"Not only did he have a strong athletic heart," she added, "but his heart was truly the essence of who he is."
A passion for bicycling

A licensed U.S. Cycling Federation racer, Matt Wittig was injured during a Wisconsin Cup bicycle race in Muskego County Park on May 7. He was pulling away from the pack of riders when his right foot slipped out of a pedal, his right knee struck the handlebars and he was flung over the bars onto the pavement, said Hans Higdon, a fellow rider and event organizer.

Wittig suffered head injuries. He was wearing a helmet, but he likely was traveling 25 to 30 mph when the accident occurred, Higdon said.

Wittig, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was involved in a similar serious bicycling accident last spring. He was an officer in the UW Cycling Club.

Even after the first accident, he continued racing this fall because "that was his passion," his mother said. "This was the light that kept him going."

His family supported Wittig's decision to get back into racing, she said. "We will never regret that he went back on his bike."

Matt Wittig was flown from the scene of the May 7 accident by Flight for Life helicopter to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa. He was declared brain dead Thursday morning and his organs were harvested Thursday night, said his brother, Mark Wittig.

On Friday, the organs were transplanted into four people from southeastern Wisconsin and one from Indiana.

The recipients include:

• A man in his mid-30s who received Wittig's heart.

• A woman in her late 40s who received his lungs.

• A woman in her mid-50s who received his liver.

• An Indiana man in his early 30s, who received one of Wittig's kidneys.

• A man in his late 20s who received Wittig's other kidney and his pancreas.

The enormity of Matt Wittig's gift and the even larger loss felt by his family wasn't lost on Olsen of the Wisconsin Donor Network.

"It's beneficial to the people who receive the organ transplants, but it's tragic when anyone dies young and suddenly like that," Olsen said.

Wittig's tissues also were harvested. Olsen said they could have included bone segments, veins, skin, his corneas and connective tissue, such as cartilage, ligaments and tendons.

"These tissues can be used to help up to 75 people," Olsen said. "They are considered life enhancing."

As of May 6, more than 95,000 people were waiting for organ transplants in the United States, according to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

In addition to his mother and father, John, Matt Wittig is survived by two older brothers, John Jr. and Mark, and his grandmothers, Mary Wittig and Virginia Lemberger.

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Schmidt & Bartelt Funeral Home, 10280 N. Port Washington Road, Mequon.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. James Catholic Church, 2700 W. Mequon Road, Mequon.

Burial will follow the services at Resurrection Cemetery and Mausoleum, 9400 W. Donges Bay Road, Mequon.

The family suggests memorials to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, P.O. Box 130819, Houston, TX 77219-0818.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Stabmaster J on "Livestrong" bracelets

OH holy fucking shit I hate this crap. There are all kind of douchebag ass fuckstains here at Campbell that wear this crap. Then people that arent in the Army ask me if I want them to wear one to support the troops or whatever. And I Say FUCK NO MOTHERFUCKER, I mean mom, because that shit is queer as a bitch. I mean shit who really gives a fuck about how many assbag causes you pretend to care about to feel good about yourself. And this other fuck in my squad wears like 2 or three of them when he goes to clubs to start conversations with bitches, and I'm like what are you a fucking queer? and he's like nah man it's cool and I'm like no it's queer cause you dont even know what them shits is for you just got ones that match your clothes. My roomate here wears a pink one because his mom has breast cancer or some stupid shit, whaa whaa boo hoo, I dont give a fuck what kind of shit that bitch is dying from you don't wear queer ass pink shit at work, especially a job where you are suppossed to be a cold blooded killer, it fucking says so in 670-1 "Badass infantry killing machines dont wear pink at work" or something like that. Or ever if you are gonna live in the same general space as me. Holy fucking shit. No one really cares so stop wearing that shit and let the dumbass disease ridden fuckbags die of cancer or war or whatever in peace without pretending you care so you can get some 'tang.

Supreme Court says states can't bar out-of-state wine shipments


Saturday, May 14, 2005

Hat Monster on Norton Products



This is the biggest piece of shit I've ever had the misfortune to use. It's so utterly revolting that Symantec dropped the Norton name for their corporate product.

It does not know when to stop. It hooks into every tiny nook and cranny of your system peeping constantly for anything that looks vaguely semi-suspicious and then, if it finds anything (and it will...) OI! YOU! USER! STOP WHAT THE FUCK YOU'RE DOING! I'M MORE IMPORTANT! I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR IMPORTANT REPORT, I WANT ATTENTION NOW!

It's rude, attention seeking and self-gratifying bullshit. Like a three year old child, but without the cuteness factor.

You can tell that long long ago, it was a slim, well performing and well natured product (roughly 1996). Then it went on a diet of pure 100% fat.

Superior Products:
Avast! Antivirus (Alwil Software)

Internet Security
Astute readers will be comparing AOL already after the AntiVirus entry. AOL nowadays is rather well behaved, though. NAV isn't.
I've known UTTER NOVICES throw their hands up in disgust when NIS claims that their computer is attacking itself. There's absolutely no need to be molesting loopback traffic. Certainly not labelling them "RPC Attacks".
It's entirely possible to render your machine non-functional by clicking what NIS recommends. Say you have a front-end application and a service which it communicates with (O&O Defrag is a prime example). Normally, it'll use RPC traffic loopbacked over Winsock. NIS will molest this and, potentially, the service will hang since it didn't recieve data it was expecting. It has no business doing that!

Worse still, NIS will monitor and filter HTTP traffic. More than one user has known their IE to become very unstable due to this. Firefox is also vulnerable, joined by Avant, Maxthon, Opera, you name it. NIS fucks with them.

Just like NAV, it'll pop up with some totally trivial "attack" and it'll be like the Weekly World News. Tabloid application. It'll refuse to go away until you've satisfied its attention request and, again, it deems itself more important than you.

Nothing is more important than the user! He is your lord and master. Symantec would be wise to realise this.

Superior Products:
WindowsXP SP2
WindowsXP SP1
A router with NAT
Kerio 2.x

Together, they're a total disaster. They mess up so much of the system that they cannot be safely removed. Indeed, Symantec's uninstaller generally leaves the services installed and available, just set on Manual. Sometimes it doesn't even do that. If one of them stops working, you're in VERY deep trouble, yet they're so big and fat and clumsy that they're going to fall over sooner or later. When a program is demanding to inspect all network traffic, but it's not working, the network traffic is going absolutely nowhere.

Even AOL were forced to tone down their abuse of a machine. Rumour has it that Microsoft were not happy about being given a bad name for crashes and disfunctionality which AOL were causing.
Symantec are being rude, obtrusive and aren't doing what they're asked to. Both of their products covered here consistently rate mediocre in tests while small, fast and unobtrusive applications rate higher.
The sheer amount of scaremongering causes users to enter a condition which we've been fighting for years: Don't be scared, you won't break it!
It scares the user into obedience - Anyone knows a scared person is an obedient person. The message? "Buy my next version"

Monday, May 09, 2005

May 10, 2005
Gay Men Are Found to Have Different Scent of Attraction

Using a brain imaging technique, Swedish researchers have shown that homosexual and heterosexual men respond differently to two odors that may be involved in sexual arousal, and that the gay men respond in the same way as women.

The new research may open the way to studying human pheromones, as well as the biological basis of sexual preference. Pheromones, chemicals emitted by one individual to evoke some behavior in another of the same species, are known to govern sexual activity in animals, but experts differ as to what role, if any, they play in making humans sexually attractive to one another.

The new research, which supports the existence of human pheromones, is reported in today's issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Dr. Ivanka Savic and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The two chemicals in the study were a testosterone derivative produced in men's sweat and an estrogen-like compound in women's urine, both of which have long been suspected of being pheromones.

Most odors cause specific smell-related regions of the human brain to light up when visualized by a form of brain imaging that tracks blood flow in the brain and therefore, by inference, sites where neurons are active. Several years ago, Dr. Savic and colleagues showed that the two chemicals activated the brain in a quite different way from ordinary scents.

The estrogen-like compound, though it activated the usual smell-related regions in women, lighted up the hypothalamus in men. This is a region in the central base of the brain that governs sexual behavior and, through its control of the pituitary gland lying just beneath it, the hormonal state of the body.

The male sweat chemical, on the other hand, did just the opposite; it activated mostly the hypothalamus in women and the smell-related regions in men. The two chemicals seemed to be leading a double life, playing the role of odor with one sex and of pheromone with another.

The Swedish researchers have now repeated the experiment but with the addition of gay men as a third group. The gay men responded to the two chemicals in the same way as did women, Dr. Savic reports, as if the hypothalamus's response is determined not by biological sex but by the owner's sexual orientation.

Dr. Savic said that she had also studied gay women, but that the data were "somewhat complicated" and not yet ready for publication.

The finding is similar to a report in 1991 by Dr. Simon LeVay that a small region of the hypothalamus is twice as large in straight men as in women or gay men. The brain scanning technique used by the Swedish researchers lacks the resolution to see the region studied by Dr. LeVay, which is a mere millimeter or so across. But both findings suggest that the hypothalamus is organized in a way related to sexual orientation.

The new finding, if confirmed, would break ground in two important directions, those of human pheromones and human sexuality.

Mice are known to influence each other's sexual behavior through emission of chemicals that act like hormones on the recipient's brain and so are known as pheromones. Hopes by the fragrance industry, among others, of finding human pheromones were dashed several years ago when it emerged that a tiny structure in the nose through which mice detect many pheromones, the vomeronasal organ, is largely inactive in humans, having lost its nervous connection with the brain.

Researchers interpreted that to mean that humans, as they evolved to rely on sight more than smell, had no need of the primitive cues that pass for sexual attractiveness in mice. But a role for human pheromones could not be ruled out, especially in light of findings that women living or working together tend to synchronize their menstrual cycles.

Some researchers see Dr. Savic's work as strong evidence in favor of human pheromones. "The question of whether human pheromones exist has been answered. They do," wrote the authors of a commentary in Neuron about Dr. Savic's report of 2001.

Dr. Catherine Dulac, a Harvard University biologist who studies pheromones in mice, said that if a chemical modified the function of the hypothalamus, that might be enough to regard it as a pheromone. She said the Swedish study was extremely interesting, even though "humans are a terrible experimental subject." She noted, however, that the researchers used a far higher dose of the armpit chemical than anyone would be exposed to in normal life.

If human pheromones do exist, Dr. Savic's approach may allow insights into how the brain is organized not just for sexual orientation but also for sexuality in general.

"The big question is not where homosexuality comes from, but where does sexuality come from," said Dr. Dean Hamer, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health.

The different pattern of activity that Dr. Savic sees in the brains of gay men could be either a cause of their sexual orientation or an effect of it. If sexual orientation has a genetic cause, or is influenced by hormones in the womb or at puberty, then the neurons in the hypothalamus could wire themselves up in a way that permanently shapes which sex a person is attracted to.

Alternatively, Dr. Savic's finding could be just a consequence of straight and gay men's using their brain in different ways.

"We cannot tell if the different pattern is cause or effect," Dr. Savic said. "The study does not give any answer to these crucial questions."

But the technique might provide an answer, Dr. Hamer noted, if it were applied to people of different ages to see when in life the different pattern of response developed.

Dr. LeVay said he believed from animal experiments that the size differences in the hypothalamic region he had studied arose before birth, perhaps in response to differences in the circulating level of sex hormones. Both his finding and Dr. Savic's suggest that the hypothalamus is specifically organized in relation to sexual orientation, he said.

Some researchers believe there is likely to be a genetic component of homosexuality because of its concordance among twins. The occurrence of male homosexuality in both members of a twin pair is 22 percent in nonidentical twins but rises to 52 percent in identical twins.

Gay men have fewer children, meaning that in Darwinian terms, any genetic variant that promotes homosexuality should be quickly eliminated from the population. Dr. Hamer believes that such genes may nevertheless persist because, although in men they reduce the number of descendants, in women they act to increase fertility.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

SAT Essay Test Rewards Length and Ignores Errors


May 4, 2005
SAT Essay Test Rewards Length and Ignores Errors


IN March, Les Perelman attended a national college writing conference and sat in on a panel on the new SAT writing test. Dr. Perelman is one of the directors of undergraduate writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did doctoral work on testing and develops writing assessments for entering M.I.T. freshmen. He fears that the new 25-minute SAT essay test that started in March - and will be given for the second time on Saturday - is actually teaching high school students terrible writing habits.

"It appeared to me that regardless of what a student wrote, the longer the essay, the higher the score," Dr. Perelman said. A man on the panel from the College Board disagreed. "He told me I was jumping to conclusions," Dr. Perelman said. "Because M.I.T. is a place where everything is backed by data, I went to my hotel room, counted the words in those essays and put them in an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop."

In the next weeks, Dr. Perelman studied every graded sample SAT essay that the College Board made public. He looked at the 15 samples in the ScoreWrite book that the College Board distributed to high schools nationwide to prepare students for the new writing section. He reviewed the 23 graded essays on the College Board Web site meant as a guide for students and the 16 writing "anchor" samples the College Board used to train graders to properly mark essays.

He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," he said. "If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time." The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade.

He was also struck by all the factual errors in even the top essays. An essay on the Civil War, given a perfect six, describes the nation being changed forever by the "firing of two shots at Fort Sumter in late 1862." (Actually, it was in early 1861, and, according to "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James M. McPherson, it was "33 hours of bombardment by 4,000 shot and shells.")

Dr. Perelman contacted the College Board and was surprised to learn that on the new SAT essay, students are not penalized for incorrect facts. The official guide for scorers explains: "Writers may make errors in facts or information that do not affect the quality of their essays. For example, a writer may state 'The American Revolution began in 1842' or ' "Anna Karenina," a play by the French author Joseph Conrad, was a very upbeat literary work.' " (Actually, that's 1775; a novel by the Russian Leo Tolstoy; and poor Anna hurls herself under a train.) No matter. "You are scoring the writing, and not the correctness of facts."

How to prepare for such an essay? "I would advise writing as long as possible," said Dr. Perelman, "and include lots of facts, even if they're made up." This, of course, is not what he teaches his M.I.T. students. "It's exactly what we don't want to teach our kids," he said.

SAT graders are told to read an essay just once and spend two to three minutes per essay, and Dr. Perelman is now adept at rapid-fire SAT grading. This reporter held up a sample essay far enough away so it could not be read, and he was still able to guess the correct grade by its bulk and shape. "That's a 4," he said. "It looks like a 4."

A report released this week by the National Council of Teachers of English mirrors Dr. Perelman's criticism of the new SAT essay. It cautions that a single, 25-minute writing test ignores the most basic lesson of writing - that good writing is rewriting. It warns that the SAT is pushing schools toward "formulaic" writing instruction.

This is a far cry from all the hoopla when the new SAT was announced two years ago. College Board officials described it as a tool that could transform American education, forcing schools to better teach writing. A "great social experiment," Time magazine said.

In an interview, five top College Board officials strongly defended the writing test but sounded more muted about its usefulness. "The SAT essay should not be the primary way kids learn to write," said Wayne Camara, vice president for research. "It's one basic writing skill. If that's all the writing your high school English department is teaching, you have a problem."

They said that while there was a correlation between writing long and a high score, it was not as significant as Dr. Perelman stated. Graders also reward good short essays, they said, but the College Board erred by failing to release such samples to the public. "We will change that," said Chiara Coletti, a vice president.

As to facts not mattering, they said it was a necessary accommodation on such a short, high-pressure test. "We know students don't write well when they're anxious," said Ed Hardin, a College Board test specialist. "We don't want them not to go forward with that little detail. Our attitude is go right ahead with that missing date or fact and readers should be instructed not to count off for that."

Cynics say the new essay is window dressing added to placate California officials who in 2001 were calling the old SAT outmoded and were threatening to stop requiring it. In a recent paper, Edward White of the University of Arizona notes, "As long ago as 1999, in College Board Report No. 99-3, a research team pointed out that 'writing assessments based on a single essay, even those read and scored twice, have extremely low reliability.' "

Indeed, the College Board's own advanced placement tests require multiple essays, but officials say that is not possible for the SAT, which at nearly four hours, is being criticized as too long.

"You can't base a lot on one essay," Dr. Camara of the College Board admitted. He said that was why the new SAT writing section also included 49 multiple-choice questions on grammar and style. Multiple-choice counts for 75 percent of the new writing grade; the essay 25 percent. "The multiple-choice makes the writing test valid," he says. In short, the most untrustworthy part of the new SAT writing section is the writing sample.