Monday, April 30, 2007

Johann Hari: How multiculturalism is betraying women
It would be easy to congratulate ourselves on our tolerance of the fanatically intolerant
Published: 30 April 2007
Do you believe in the rights of women, or do you believe in multiculturalism? A series of verdicts in the German courts in the past month, have shown with hot, hard logic that you can't back both. You have to choose.

The crux case centres on a woman called Nishal, a 26-year-old Moroccan immigrant to Germany with two kids and a psychotic husband. Since their wedding night, this husband beat the hell out of her. She crawled to the police covered in wounds, and they ordered the husband to stay away from her. He refused. He terrorised her with death threats.

So Nishal went to the courts to request an early divorce, hoping that once they were no longer married he would leave her alone. A judge who believed in the rights of women would find it very easy to make a judgement: you're free from this man, case dismissed.

But Judge Christa Datz-Winter followed the logic of multiculturalism instead. She said she would not grant an early divorce because - despite the police documentation of extreme violence and continued threats - there was no "unreasonable hardship" here.

Why? Because the woman, as a Muslim, should have "expected" it, the judge explained. She read out passages from the Koran to show that Muslim husbands have the "right to use corporal punishment". Look at Sura 4, verse 34, she said to Nishal, where the Koran says he can hammer you. That's your culture. Goodbye, and enjoy your beatings.

This is not a freakish exception. Germany's only state-level Minister for Integration, Armin Laschet, says this is only "the last link, for the time being, in a chain of horrific rulings handed down by the German courts".

The German magazine Der Spiegel has documented a long list of these multicultural verdicts. Here are just a few:

A Lebanese-German who strangled his daughter Ibthahale and then beat her unconscious with a bludgeon because she didn't want to marry the man he had picked out for her was sentenced to mere probation. His "cultural background" was cited by the judge as a mitigating factor.

A Turkish-German who stabbed his wife Zeynep to death in Frankfurt was given the lowest possible sentence, because, the judge said, the murdered woman had violated his "male honour, derived from his Anatolian moral concepts". The bitch. A Lebanese-German who raped his wife Fatima while whipping her with a belt was sentenced to probation, with the judge citing his ... you get the idea.

Their victims are forced to ask - like Soujourner Truth, the female slave who famously challenged early women's rights activists to consider black women as their sisters - "Ain't I a woman?"

In Germany today, Muslim women have been reduced to third-class citizens stripped of core legal protections - because of the doctrine of multiculturalism, which says a society should be divided into separate cultures with different norms according to ethnic origin.

Too often this issue is mixed up with other debates and gets waved through for the sake of politeness. The right loves mashing "mass immigration and multiculturalism" into one sound-bite. Well, I think Britain should take more immigrants and refugees, not fewer - but multiculturalism is a disastrous way to greet them.

These German cases highlight the flaw at the core of multiculturalism. It assumes that immigrants have one homogenous culture which they should all follow - and it allows the most reactionary and revolting men in their midst to define what that culture is. Across Europe, many imams are offering advice to Muslim men on how to beat Muslim women. For example, in Spain, the popular Imam Mohammed Kamal Mustafa warns that you shouldn't use "whips that are too thick" because they leave scars that can be detected by the "infidels". That might be Mustafa's culture - but it isn't Nishal's. It isn't the culture of the women who scream and weep as they are beaten.

And yes, we should admit that this is disproportionately a problem among Muslim, Sikh and Hindu immigrants who arrive from countries which have not had women's rights movements. Listen to Jasvinder Sanghera, who founded the best British charity helping Asian women after her sister was beaten and beaten and then burned herself to death. She says: "It's a betrayal of these women to be PC about this. Look at the figures. Asian women in Britain are three times more likely to commit suicide than their white friends. That's because of all this."

Yet the brave campaigners who have tried to help these women - like the Labour MP Ann Cryer - have been smeared as racist. In fact, the real racists are the people who vehemently condemn misogyny and homophobia when it comes from white people but mysteriously fall silent when it comes from black and Asian men.

Indeed, in the name of this warm, welcoming multiculturalism, the German courts have explicitly compared Muslim women to the brain-damaged. The highest administrative court in North Rhine-Westphalia has agreed that Muslim parents have the "right" to forbid their daughter from going on a school trip unless she was accompanied by a male family member at all times. The judges said the girl was like "a partially mentally impaired person who, because of her disability, can only travel with a companion".

As the Iranian author Azar Nafisi puts it: "I very much resent it when people - maybe with good intentions or from a progressive point of view - keep telling me, 'It's their culture' ... It's like saying the culture of Massachusetts is burning witches." She is horrified by the moves in Canada to introduce shariah courts to enforce family law for Muslims.

Multiculturalists believe that they are defending immigrants. But in reality, they are betraying at least 55 per cent of them - the women and the gays. It is multiculturalists, for example, who are the biggest champions of the Government's massive expansion of "faith" schools, where children will be segregated according to parental superstition and often taught the most literalist and cruel strain of a "faith".

What will girls and gay pupils be taught there? Will they have Sura 4, verse 34 drilled into them, along with the passages from the hadith where Mohammed calls for gay people to be executed? We know Catholic schools often push the most vile aspects of their faith at children; why should Muslim schools be different?

We desperately need to empower Muslim women to reinterpret the Koran in less literalist and vicious ways, or to leave their religion all together, as they wish. But multiculturalism hobbles them before they even begin, by saying they should stick to the "authentic" culture represented by the imams.

Yes, it would be easy to keep our heads down, go with this multicultural drift, and congratulate ourselves on our tolerance of the fanatically intolerant. But I can give you a few good reasons not to. Their names are Nishal and Ibthahale and Zeynep and Fatima, and, yes, they were women.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Transcript of Nikki Giovanni's Convocation address
Delivered April 17, 2007

Professor Nikki Giovanni speaks

at Convocation, April 17, 2007.
We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cricket in India: It's Big Business but Not Businesslike
Published: April 05, 2007 in Knowledge@Wharton

Sachin Tendulkar, arguably India's best-ever cricket player, earns some $30 a minute. India's highest-paid CEO, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, gets $10, and celluloid superstar Amitabh Bachchan, $8. Ordinary people like Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh get 3 cents and 1 cent respectively. These figures from PaycheckIndia, which describes itself as an Internet-based labor market research tool, are back-of-the-envelope calculations. But even if you ignore the numbers, the conclusion is that India's cricket stars are handsomely paid. That makes it tempting to assume that the business of cricket must be huge and thriving, too.

It is -- though it wasn't always so. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is now the world's richest cricket association. But, in 1992, it had a deficit of $150,000. In 1997, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the apex body for world cricket, wasn't in the red, but it had just $25,000 to show for its 90-year history. Now, times have changed: The ICC is expected to make a profit of $239 million from the 2007 Cricket World Cup, currently underway in the Caribbean. The BCCI, meanwhile, has increased its profits from $1.11 million in 2004-05 to $7.64 million in 2005-06.

Alas, while the money keeps rolling in, disasters keep rolling out for the subcontinent's cricket fans. Both India and Pakistan have been eliminated in the preliminary rounds of the World Cup. Advertisers are hastily reworking expensive campaigns that were earlier based on cricket. And TV channels that paid big bucks for telecasting rights are having trouble offloading their inventory of advertising spots.

These troubles, aggravated by a nationwide sense of disappointment over the World Cup defeat, have caused many in cricket-obsessed India to ask whether the business model for the game is flawed -- and if so, how it might be fixed. According to faculty from Wharton, the Indian Institute of Management and other experts interviewed by India Knowledge@Wharton, India needs to rethink the business model for cricket. The current model needs improvement in areas such as governance as well as in the way incentives for players are structured. Some suggest that a professional league for cricket might be the solution. In fact, on April 3, Zee TV founder Subhash Chandra announced at a press conference in New Delhi that he would invest Rs. 100 crore ($23 million) to create a parallel cricket league as an alternative to the BCCI.

The Business of Cricket

To see why the current model doesn't work, consider how the business of cricket is organized. This is harder than it might appear because it is difficult to quantify exactly how much the business of cricket is worth or how much it makes. For the year ended 31 March 2006, ICC had revenues of $36 million and a deficit of $3.5 million. The money made depends on the events held during a year. One successful World Cup can replenish the coffers for several years.

The BCCI's finances, meanwhile, leave many questions unanswered. "The BCCI behaves as a private club," says Sandeep Bamzai, author of Gavaskar & Tendulkar: Shaping Indian Cricket Destiny and other books on Indian cricket. There is, of course, no reason why it shouldn't, because the BCCI is a club. (It is a society under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act.) Fighting often breaks out among different factions. Office bearers sometimes make more news than cricketers do. It is run by industrialists and politicians. India's agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, is the president.

"At the national level as well as state levels, politicians and businessmen dominate the BCCI administration," says Anjan Raichaudhuri, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC). "A long-term vision for developing the game is not apparent." Moreover, BCCI is involved in many lawsuits. The bill for legal expenses in 2004-05 was nearly $1 million.

Last year, Forbes magazine attempted a valuation of the different cricket boards. According to its calculations, the BCCI was worth $1.5 billion, the England & Wales Cricket Board $270 million and Cricket Australia $225 million. The ICC was pegged much lower at $200 million. The others were Pakistan ($100 million), South Africa ($65 million), Sri Lanka ($14 million) and Bangladesh ($5 million). "There are 10 full members of ICC, but in terms of revenue India contributes more than 70% to the game," the magazine wrote. "Most sponsorships and broadcast rights come from India, and Indian tours make foreign boards rich."

That has brought its own share of problems. Officials at the BCCI and the ICC have been waging a war for control of world cricket. The shifting of the ICC headquarters from London to Dubai in 2005 was regarded as one more battle won in the inevitable transition of power. But while acrimony prevails, running the business smoothly has its problems.

The official money in cricket is big. For instance, ESPN Star Sports has won the audiovisual rights for ICC events from late 2007 to 2015 for $1.1 billion. This includes two World Cups -- Asia (2011) and Australasia (2015). There is more money coming ICC's way. Sale of sponsorship rights could fetch another $500 million. Companies like LG Electronics, Pepsi and Hero Honda, which have been sponsors for the past few years, may, however, take a second look after India's poor performance at this year's World Cup.

The BCCI, meanwhile, has been setting new records. It collected $612 million from Nimbus Communications for the global media rights to all international and domestic cricket owned or controlled by BCCI to be played in India from 1 March 2006 to 31 March 2010. Later it sold its global media rights for one-day internationals (ODIs) at neutral venues (places like Abu Dhabi, Holland, the U.S. and Malaysia, where cricket is not very popular) to Zee Telefilms for $220 million. This contract runs up to March 31, 2010. The BCCI has also sold the kit sponsorship to Nike for $45 million for five years through December 31, 2010. The team sponsorship has gone to Air Sahara for $72 million. The board's income has crossed $1 billion. And, despite the recent setback, more funds will flow into its coffers. New Delhi-headquartered financial daily Business Standard estimates that it will get another $450 million from the sale of other rights, including hotel, travel and ground sponsorship.

Superstar Sachin

The business of cricket, however, goes beyond the ICC and the BCCI. Consider sponsorships. Last year, Tendulkar signed a three-year deal with Iconix, a newly formed marketing arm of international advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi. India's star batsman will be paid around $40 million over the period. Tendulkar is also leveraging his iconic status for other businesses. He owns two restaurants -- Tendulkar's and Sachin's. He has a joint venture with the South India-based Manipal Group for healthcare and sports fitness products. Virgin Comics, owned by Richard Branson, is bringing out a series in which Tendulkar will be featured as a superhero. The royalty may be minimal, but it all adds up.

Other Indian cricketers have not been able to create such successful money machines. But it is nothing to be sniffed at. Indian captain Rahul Dravid, for instance, is estimated to earn an annual fee of $3.5 million from endorsement deals, a little lower than Tendulkar's estimated $4.6 million annual endorsement money. (The latter's Iconix deal encompasses much more than sponsorship or endorsements.) Former Indian captain Saurav Ganguly has been charging an annual fee of close to $350,000 per endorsement. He endorses Hero Honda, Puma, TCL, Tata Indicom and Sahara, among others. Dravid promotes Reebok, Max New York Life, Sansui, Hutch, Britannia and Citizen. And Tendulkar has been endorsing products for companies such as Pepsi, Canon, MRF, Sunfeast, Pantaloons, Audemars Piguet and G Hanz, among others.

The cricketers also get paid to play the game, of course. The BCCI has several of them on contract. The top Indian players -- eight at last count -- get an annual retainer of $115,000. The players in Grade B (four) get an $81,000 retainer and those in Grade C (five) get $46,000. The match fee is $5,800 a test match and $3,700 for ODI matches. The contracts expired in September 2006. Hoping to squeeze more from the Board, the players walked away from the negotiating table before the World Cup. They may have hoped that good performance at the Cup would make it difficult for the BCCI to deny them a bigger slice of the pie. Under the existing system, 26% of BCCI's gross revenues were earmarked for player payments. The Men in Blue -- the Indian team -- got 13%, domestic cricketers got 10.6%, with the remaining 2.4% going to junior cricketers.

These sums may seem small compared to the endorsement amounts, but they provide a perspective on what is wrong in Indian cricket. At the level of the domestic league -- the Ranji Trophy -- a cricketer at the very top can expect to earn $15,000 annually. You can survive on that sort of money, but your one ambition is to make it to the India team and onto the gravy train.

Flawed Model

"It would be good to take a look at how professional leagues are structured in the U.S. and Canada as a possible model for Indian cricket," says Jitendra Singh, professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "In the NBA, NFL or the baseball leagues, you have professional athletes who spend time playing and a marketplace that supports them. There is a market for talent. You can get a contract for seven years based on your performance. If you do well, you can stay on in the major leagues. If you don't, you drop down to the minor leagues. Indian cricket isn't set up to work like this.

"I see three problems with the business model of Indian cricket," Singh continues. "First, the market is not as deep as it is in the U.S. It allows those who have talent to command a very high price, while those who are not part of that small group don't make money. In the U.S., performance is what drives your compensation. In India, the money from endorsements exceeds payment for performance by many multiples. We should ask if these incentives are structured the right way. Second, the governance system for cricket is not functioning effectively. The third issue is the motivation of the cricketers. In the past, it was an honor to play cricket for India. Now some players make $30 million to $40 million a year. If you make so much money, to what extent does that take away your motivation for the game? Money has changed the nature of the game."

Where does the money come from? Eventually, of course, it comes from the consumer. In India cricket sells better than anything else, including movies. In a curious sidelight, Bollywood, as Bombay's film industry is called, tried to cash in on World Cup fever with cricket-themed movies such as Hat Trick, Say Salaam India and Meerabhi Not Out. The first two were released to coincide with the World Cup and have bombed at the box office, in keeping with the Indian team's performance. Earlier movies on cricket have done better. "Cricket has been a catalyst for social transformation," says Raichaudhuri of IIMC. "This is reflected in movies like Lagaan (which won an Oscar nomination)."

It's not just the movies that have suffered. Many expensive campaigns that banked on India making it to the final stages of the World Cup have had to be withdrawn. Pepsi's Blue Billion campaign, on which it has spent several million dollars, has been yanked. It will return, probably without the cricketers and the hype. Several other companies that had launched similar campaigns have pulled out. Consumer durables company Videocon, which has already spent nearly $6 million on cricket-related advertising this year, has dropped cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni from its ads. The same has been the fate of Dravid in the campaigns of Sansui India, the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese electronics giant.

Before the World Cup debacle, the industry had estimated that some $450 million of the $1,600 million corporate advertising on TV would be on cricket. Now all bets are off. Companies want their money back. SET MAX, the official broadcaster of the World Cup and an affiliate of Sony, has dug in its heels. But it is believed to be doling out TV spots as freebies. It had not sold these spots, hoping to sell them at triple the price when India made the semis or the finals. This implies a notional loss of $18 million. "The advertisers took a gamble on India making it to the final rounds," says Rohit Gupta, executive vice-president of SET MAX, the channel that has the rights for the current World Cup. "In no other country would we be asked to share the losses."

The less quantifiable loss is the impact on TV manufacturers (inventories have begun piling up), tour agencies (corporate junkets to the Caribbean are being cancelled), hotels (which were setting up big screen extravaganzas) and others cashing in on the Cricket mania.

Darker Side

The massive illegal betting on cricket will also be affected. How much money is involved? Nobody quite knows. But Delhi-headquartered morning newspaper The Hindustan Times reckons it is more than $25 billion in a good year for Indian cricket. One of the most sordid incidents of the Caribbean World Cup was the alleged murder of Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer, a former England cricketer. Like India, Pakistan got knocked out at the initial stages of the tournament. Some media reports have claimed that Woolmer was about to blow the whistle on illegal betting and match-fixing. Now that both India and Pakistan are out of the World Cup, the illegal betting might cool off -- at least for a while.

Kenneth L. Shropshire, professor of legal studies and business ethics and director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, acknowledges that gambling is difficult to control unless there is will. He recalls the Black Sox scandal in 1919, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox (known as the Black Sox after that) were banned from baseball for intentionally losing games. "The fans said they would no longer watch the game and they did not respect it any more," he says. A judge was appointed as the first baseball commissioner. Adds Shropshire: "That helped restore the credibility and the popularity of the game. It was a watershed moment in American sports. The challenge for Indian cricket may be to align political forces to bring about a similar outcome. This is one form of governance that has worked."

New Ballgame

With Woolmer's death, the dark clouds around Indian cricket have become darker; the big business of illegal betting is in India, not Pakistan. And the setback comes at a time when the game is under attack for a variety of reasons. The first is its traditional form. The principal form of cricket is a five-day test match. Throw in a rest day, and each game takes almost a week. When a test match is played in a city like Calcutta, where fans are known for their fanaticism, the city comes to a standstill. That may have been acceptable in a more laid-back world, and many players came from the leisured classes; it is an aberration in a fast-paced, global economy.

The alternative has been the ODI which, as its name suggests, lasts for a day, or 50 six-ball overs a side. Now the ICC has been pushing for a new format called the Twenty20. This will consist of 20 overs a side. A Twenty20 World Cup -- another ICC property in the making -- will be held in South Africa later this year. India had resisted the new format but fell in line after all other cricket-playing nations agreed to the ICC proposal. "It's a whole new ballgame," says sportswriter Bamzai.

Indeed it is. When five-day test matches ruled, cricket was genteel. The best players were noted for their elegance and style; it didn't matter how many runs they scored but the way in which they did it. With one-day cricket, the big hitters gained ascendancy. In the Twenty20 format, the pace will pick up further and players will be under pressure to throw their bats at everything they can. "It won't be cricket," rues a purist. "You could possibly call it baseball."

Changing the rules has often proved detrimental to India. A few decades ago, the country had no challengers in field hockey. Then came Astroturf -- a faster surface -- and rules were changed to make the game more "exciting." India just couldn't adapt. It didn't have the money to put up Astroturf surfaces across the country. And the players didn't have the muscle, size and stamina that the new game demanded. Hockey fell by the wayside. Cricket also could.

Cricket appears far more vulnerable when viewed in light of hockey's fall from grace. When India won, hockey had a huge following. Once the country joined the ranks of the also-rans, fans dumped it for cricket, where India had started performing respectably. Today, there are alternatives for disillusioned fans. Vishwanath Anand is the world chess champion. Sania Mirza has been doing exciting things on the tennis court. And, after several barren decades, India has started picking up medals at the Olympics. Indians have long lacked sporting icons. The moment they have others to cheer for, cricket could lose its primacy -- and possibly its mass appeal. The process may have begun. "There is a huge consumer market in South Asia and (Indian) advertisers have plans for this market," says Sushil Khanna, professor of economics and strategic management at IIMC. "Some of the advertising money is also going to football and car racing, even without an Indian team."

Misaligned Incentives

Saikat Chaudhuri, a professor of management at Wharton, sees the problems of cricket spreading to other sports. "If one player -- like Sania Mirza -- shines, everybody wants to go after her. That is how we see her ending up with contracts from a host of different companies. This is neither systematic nor sustainable because companies end up supporting individual brilliance rather than putting money into a system. In Indian sports, the biggest weakness is that whenever money flows into a sport, it ends up with individuals rather than in a system that can help build that sport. It is opportunistic in nature and very, very limited in its scope."

Others agree that the focus on individual incentives lies at the root of many problems. "We value the individual a lot more than the team," says Simon Chaudhuri, senior project manager at Citigroup in Düsseldorf, and a passionate supporter of professionalism in Indian sports.

"There is a distinction between individual incentives and collective incentives," says Jagmohan Singh Raju, a professor of marketing at Wharton. "The individual gets a lot more from outside sponsorships than from playing cricket. If all the money came to the BCCI, and it was then allocated to the players based on how popular they are, it would have been a different story. But if that money comes from outside, the players' incentive is not to retire but to keep playing as long as they can. They may spend more time in front of the TV cameras rather than on the cricket field. It creates an incentive structure that is not good for the game."

Once a player has made it to the hallowed ranks, his main ambition is to make as much money he can as fast as possible. The earning-per-minute figure for Tendulkar may seem high, but one has to remember that all sportspersons have a limited shelf-life. Tendulkar has been on the India team for 18 years, but he is an exception. Most Indian cricketers ride off into the sunset when they finish their playing careers. Some may find jobs as media experts, but not everyone can make the cut.

Some say discipline is a problem area too. Players have been known to arrange their schedules to accommodate their sponsors instead of participating in mandatory practice sessions and coaching camps. The coach and trainer have no authority because the top players are stars -- and can sometimes act like prima donnas. India's coach and former Australia captain Greg Chappell -- who resigned on April 4 -- has often pointed to the attitude problem of senior players as the main cause for their erratic performance. A day earlier, Tendulkar had lashed out against him in an interview in the Times of India. "Typically Indian players don't listen to their coaches," says Chaudhuri of the Wharton School. "I don't know why that should be the case, but it is definitely a problem."

India Team players also ignore the domestic leagues -- the Ranji Trophy, the Irani Trophy, the Deodhar Trophy and the Duleep Trophy -- though the BCCI requires them to take part. The only time they show up is when the BCCI declares that their performance in a particular match will be used for selection purposes. The net result is that domestic cricket in India is largely unloved and unnoticed. With no sponsors and very little money, cricketers can't treat this as a fulltime occupation.

Anjani Jain, vice dean and director of the Wharton School's graduate division, says that one problem is clearly the lack of professional cricket leagues in India. "A privatized professional league could help curb the illegal and 'greedy' aspects of the sport," he says. Incidentally, according to him, "some prominent Wharton alums are thinking of starting a professional cricket league in India."

Chaudhuri of Citigroup offers the example of Germany, which has "a structure in which clubs have a lot of say and they give the players to the national team." He explains: "The federation is responsible only for the national team. There is a very strong club culture, which means it is in private hands. This means there is accountability at the national level. But at the same time the clubs have the power to manage what happens and they are accountable to their fans. The head coach is responsible for the selection of the team. The coach of the national team is paid by the federation, and he is responsible for the results. But he has the freedom to choose the team based on performance. Politicians don't get involved."

Another challenge facing not just cricket but also other sports is the severe shortage of sports infrastructure. For long, food has come before football. Though India is no longer a shortage economy, sports and games are still not top of mind at most schools. Even today, if faced with a choice between funding a midday meal program (which have had remarkable success in improving attendance levels) and investing in a playing field, administrators are more than likely to choose the former.

The cash-rich BCCI, too, has found it difficult to set up the grassroots infrastructure to locate new talent. This is one of its mandates, but it has been largely content with refurbishing old stadiums. In its defense, though, it must be said that all the BCCI's wealth wouldn't make a significant impact. That does not mean that the BCCI is blameless. Cricket may be a gentleman's game, but for its administrators, it is a pugnacious sport. At the BCCI, every election for its office bearers is hard fought, and many election contests end up in court.

"Cricket is now too overheated," says Gupta of SET MAX, referring to the amounts being paid for rights. "At $1.1 billion (paid by ESPN Star Sports for the audiovisual rights for ICC events up to 2015), it will be impossible to make money." A decade down the line, he could be proved right, but for a different reason. The game in 2020 is more likely to be Twenty20. It might make money. But will it be cricket?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ecclesiastical One Liners

Don't let your worries get the
best of you; remember, Moses started
out as a basket case.


Many folks want to serve God,
but only as advisors.

It is easier to preach ten sermons
than it is to live one.


The good Lord didn't create anything
without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.

When you get to your wit's end,
you'll find God lives there.


People are funny; they want the front
of the bus, the middle of the road, and
the back of the church.


Opportunity may knock once, but temptation
bangs on your front door forever.


Quit griping about your church;
if it was perfect, you couldn't belong.


If the church wants a better pastor,
it only needs to pray for the one it has.

God Himself does not propose to judge
a man until he is dead. So why should you?


Some minds are like concrete
thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.


Peace starts with a smile.


I don't know why some people
change churches; what difference does
it make which one you stay home from?


A lot of church members who are singing
"Standing on the Promises"
are just sitting on the premises.


We were called to be witnesses,
not lawyers or judges.

Be ye fishers of men. You catch
them - He'll clean them.

Coincidence is when God
chooses to remain anonymous.


Don't put a question mark
where God put a period.

Don't wait for 6 strong men
to take you to church.


Forbidden fruits create many jams.


God doesn't call the qualified,
He qualifies the called.

God grades on the cross, not the curve.

God loves everyone, but probably prefers
"fruits of the spirit" over "religious nuts!"


God promises a safe landing,
not a calm passage.


He who angers you, controls you!


If God is your Co-pilot - swap seats!



Don't give God instructions -- just report for duty!


The task ahead of us is never as
great as the Power behind us.


The Will of God never takes you to
where the Grace of God will not protect you.


We don't change the message,
the message changes us.


You can tell how big a person is
by what it takes to discourage him.


The best mathematical equation
I have ever seen:
1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

By Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY
At what point does a mother's ferocious attachment to her child stop being healthy and loving and become oppressive, indeed destructive?
That's the question Shapiro asks in her provocative, hypnotic novel about a frighteningly ambitious Manhattan photographer whose success demolishes her younger daughter's emotional well-being.

Ruth Dunne is trying to make a name for herself behind the lens when she accidentally discovers that her gorgeous toddler daughter Clara makes a spellbinding subject.

Like controversial real-life shutterbug Sally Mann, Ruth starts shooting her daughter nude, in alluring poses. The photos are a hit, her gallery shows sell out, and her husband is furious that she's manipulated their child for her own gain.

Excerpt from 'Black & White'

By Dani Shapiro
Chapter One

It has been years since anyone has asked Clara if she's Ruth Dunne's daughter—you know, the girl in those pictures. But it has also been years—fourteen, precisely—since Clara has set foot in New York. The Upper West Side is a foreign country. The butcher, the shoe repair guy, even the Korean grocer have been replaced by multilevel gyms with juice bars, restaurants with one-syllable French names. Aix, Ouest. The deli where Clara and Robin used to stop on Saturday mornings—that deli is now some sort of boutique. The mannequin in the window is wearing blue jeans and a top no bigger than a cocktail napkin.

This is not the neighborhood of her childhood, though she can still see bits and pieces if she looks hard enough. There's the door to what was once Shakespeare & Co. She spent hours in that bookstore, hiding in the philosophy section, until one summer they gave her a job as a cashier. She lasted three days. Every other person, whether they were buying Wittgenstein or Updike, seemed to stare at her, as if trying to figure out why she looked familiar. So she quit.

Shakespeare & Co. is now an Essentials Plus. The window displays shampoos, conditioners, a dozen varieties of magnifying mirrors. A small child bundled up in winter gear is riding a mechanical dinosaur next to the entrance, slowly moving up and down to a tinny version of the Flintstones theme song.

Since the taxi dropped her off at the corner of Broadway and 79th Street, she has counted five wireless cellular stores, three manicure parlors, four real estate brokers. So this is now the Upper West Side: a place where people in cute outfits, their bellies full of steak-frites, talk on brand-new cellphones while getting their nails done on their way to look at new apartments.

It is as if a brightly colored transparency has been placed over the neighborhood of Clara's memory, which had been the color of a sparrow: tan, brown, gray as smudged newsprint. Now, everything seems large and neon. Even the little old Jewish men who used to sit on the benches in the center islands in the middle of Broadway, traffic whizzing around them in both directions—even they seem to be a thing of the past.

She crosses Broadway quickly, the DON'T WALK sign already flashing. Outside the old Shakespeare & Co., a man has set up a tray table piled with books. A large cardboard sign announces PHILIP ROTH—SIGNED COPIES!!! Above the sign, a poster-sized photograph of Roth himself peers disapprovingly over the shoppers, the mothers pushing strollers, the teenagers checking their reflections in the windows of Essentials Plus.

She has brought nothing with her. No change of clothes, no clean underwear, not even a toothbrush. She's not staying, no way in hell. That's what she told herself the whole flight down from Bangor. Ridiculous, of course. She's going to have to stay at least overnight. Broadway is already cast in a wintry shadow, the sun low in the sky, setting across the Hudson River. Her body—the same body that spent her whole childhood in this place—knows the time by the way the light falls over the avenue. She doesn't need to look at her watch. It's four o'clock. That much—the way the sun rises and sets—has not changed.

She's been circling for an hour. Killing time. Down Columbus, across brownstone-lined side streets, over to West End Avenue with its stately gray buildings, heavy brass doors, uniformed doormen just inside.

A man in an overcoat hurries by her. He glances at her as he passes, holding her gaze for a moment longer than necessary. Why does he bother? She looks like a hundred other women on the Upper West Side: pale, dark-haired, lanky. A thirtyish blur. She could be pretty if she tried, but she has long since stopped trying. Clara stares back at the man. Stop looking at me. This, too, she has forgotten about the city: the brazen way that people size each other up, constantly weighing, judging, comparing. So very different from the Yankee containment of Maine, where everybody just minds their own business.

The phone call came at about eleven o'clock, a few nights ago. No one ever called that late; it was as if the ring itself had a slightly shriller tone to it. (Of course, this could be what her memory is supplying to the moment now—now that she is here.) Everybody was asleep. Jonathan, Sam, Zorba, the puppy, in his crate downstairs in the kitchen.

Jonathan groped for the phone.


A long pause—too long—and then he reached over and turned on the bedside lamp. It was freezing in their bedroom, the bed piled with four blankets. One of the windowsills was rotting, but to fix it meant ripping the whole thing out, which meant real construction, which cost money, which they didn't have.

Jonathan handed her the phone.

"Who is it?" she mouthed, hand over the receiver.

He shook his head.

"Hello?" She cleared her throat, hoarse from sleep. "Hello?"


With a single word—her own name—her head tightened. Robin almost never called her, and certainly not at this hour. They talked exactly once a year, on the anniversary of their father's death. Clara sank deeper beneath the pile of blankets, the way an animal might try to camouflage itself, sensing danger. Her mind raced through the possibilities. Something had happened, something terrible. Robin would not be calling with good news. And there was only one person, really, whom they shared.

"What's wrong?" Clara's voice was a squeak. A pathetic little mouse.

"I'm going to tell you something—and I want you to promise me you won't hang up."

Clara was silent. The mirror over the dresser facing the bed was hanging askew, and she could see herself and Jonathan, their rumpled late-night selves. Through the receiver, on Robin's end, she heard office sounds. The muted ring of corporate telephones, even at this hour.

"Don't hang up. Promise?"

How like Robin to want to seal the deal, to control the situation, before Clara even knows what the situation is.


"Say 'promise.' "

Clara squeezed her hands into fists.

"Christ! I promise."

"Ruth is. .. she's sick. She's—oh, shit, Clara. It's bad. She's very sick."

"What do you mean?" Clara responded. The words didn't make sense. She was stupid with shock.

"Listen. I'm just calling to say that you need to come home," Robin said.

There it was. Fourteen years—and there it was. Home. She was home, goddammit.

"I've made myself insane, going around and around in circles." Robin paused. "My therapist finally said it wasn't up to me—that you had a right to know."

"How long has this been going on?" Clara managed to ask.

"Awhile," Robin said. She sounded tired. Three kids, partner in a midtown law firm; of course she was tired. Clara couldn't imagine her sister's life.

Clara climbed out of bed and walked over to the window. She was suddenly suffocatingly hot in the freezing room. The lights from the harbor beckoned in the distance.

"Look, the truth is—I can't deal with this by myself," Robin said. Never, in Clara's memory, had Robin ever admitted such a thing. She was the queen of competence.

"I have to think about it," Clara said. Her sister was silent on the other end of the phone. Clara tried to picture her, but the image wasn't clear: round brown eyes, a tense mouth. "Okay, Robin? This is— I never thought I would ever even consider—"

"I know," said Robin. "But please."

After she hung up the phone, Clara climbed back into bed and twined her legs around Jonathan's, her hands on his belly. She closed her eyes tight and burrowed her face into the crease of his neck. He was asking her something—What are you going to do?—but his voice sounded muffled, as if suddenly there were something, something thick and cottony, separating her from her real life. She breathed Jonathan in, fighting the avalanche of thoughts.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
, economicsThe Feminine Face of Poverty
By Riane Eisler, AlterNet
Posted on April 19, 2007, Printed on April 19, 2007
If you're a woman, or a man who cares about his mother, sister, or daughter, there's something you need to know. Seventy percent of those living in absolute poverty in our world -- that is starving or on the edge of starvation -- are female. Not only that, in our wealthy United States, women and children are the mass of the poor and the poorest of the poor.

Women are entitled to know that statistically women worldwide are far more likely to be poor than men. Even if you're a guy, this "women's issue" is about your mother and your grandmother. It's about your sisters and it's about the future of your daughters.

Consider that in the United States women over the age of 65 are twice as poor as men in the same age group. And there's a reason poverty so disproportionately hits women. Most of these poor women were, or still are, caregivers. And we've got an economic system that gives no visibility or value to this essential work when it's done in the home.

In fact, according to economists, the people who do the caring work in households, whether female or male, are "economically inactive." Of course, anyone who has a mother knows that most caregivers work from dawn to dusk. And we also know that without their work of caring for children, for the sick, and for the elderly, there would be no workforce, no economy, nothing.

Yet current economic indicators and policies fail to include this work. Measures of productivity such as GDP (gross domestic product) not only include activities that harm and even take life -- such as making cigarettes plus the resulting medical and funeral bills -- but fail to include the life-sustaining activities that contribute the most to human well being. The life-sustaining work of caring for people and maintaining a clean and healthy home environment still performed primarily by women in households is not included as "productive work."

The good news is that we can change this bizarre way of looking at what is, and is not, productive work. In fact change is already in the works.

Already in 1995 the UN Human Development Report estimated that the economic value of the unpaid work of women worldwide is a whopping 11 trillion dollars per year. A 2004 Swiss government survey placed the value of the unpaid work in households at 70 percent of the reported Swiss GDP. And according to, a U.S. organization, the caring work of a mother is worth over $100,000 per year.

Recognizing the value of caring and caregiving is the first step. The next, essential step, is changing business practices and government policies to recognize and reward this work in ways that put food on the table and a roof over people's heads. We need family-friendly business policies such as good paid parental leave and government policies such as caregiver tax credits and, for poor mothers, caregiver stipends and other forms of parenting assistance.

The Canadians are already doing this: their Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program offers assistance to mothers. And it's a tremendous economic investment in the bargain. Assessments of the program show that children are gaining in health and skill levels due to this assistance -- in other words, that in economic terms, the program is an excellent investment in high quality human capital.

Sweden has a paid parental leave policy that makes it possible for both mothers and fathers to be home with their new babies for many months. By contrast, the only U.S. state that has even a very modest paid parental leave policy is California. But it's a start -- and Mom's Rising has launched a campaign to bring similar bills to other states, starting in the state of Washington.

The caregiver tax credit proposed by Theresa Funiciello is also beginning to gain attention. And so is the Caring Family Values Policy Agenda proposed by the Center for Partnership Studies.

Now it's up to us to join these efforts. It's up to us to ensure that the truth about poverty is told by politicians and the media.

It's up to us to vote for legislators who really value the work of mothers and other caregivers, who will, not just in rhetoric, but through the bills they introduce and vote for, support this work. It's up to us to convince businesses to have more family-friendly policies by buying only from those that do. It's up to us, in our own work and lives, to give real value to the most important work: the work traditionally performed by mothers of caring and caregiving -- the work that keeps our economy and all of us going. That's how we can change the shameful fact that the mass of the poor worldwide are women and children.

Riane Eisler is the author of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics and The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future, and President of the Center for Partnership Studies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

April 11, 2007
Imus Struggling to Retain Sway as a Franchise
That Don Imus can be abrasive and offensive is undeniable, but he is also one of the most successful and influential pitchmen in the history of radio, if not broadcasting.

In the last few weeks, Mr. Imus has provided a forum for a Democratic presidential aspirant, Christopher J. Dodd, to announce his candidacy and promoted a book from Simon & Schuster (“Green This! Volume 1”) that his wife, Deirdre, wrote about cleaning products she conceived. He also pumped sales for a country singer, Martina McBride, and raised millions of dollars for an Army medical facility in Texas.

His program generates in excess of $20 million in annual revenue for CBS Radio, his primary employer, and his flagship New York station, WFAN, according to two people apprised of the show’s finances who spoke on condition of anonymity. When advertising revenue for affiliates and MSNBC, which simulcasts the program, is included, the figure exceeds $50 million.

But yesterday, the third day Mr. Imus spent asking for forgiveness for a racially disparaging remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, he demonstrated that the brand he was having the hardest time selling was his own.

His plea that the Rutgers team agree to hear his apology directly — a request he renewed yesterday during a live, combative interview on the “Today” program — was answered.

In a midday news conference at the Rutgers University athletic center in Piscataway, N.J., one player said that the team would soon meet privately with Mr. Imus.

Whether Mr. Imus can use the team’s gesture to help save his broadcasting career — he begins serving a two-week suspension on Monday — remains unclear. As CNN broadcast pictures of the players arrayed on a stage behind their coach, their faces long and at times streaked with tears, several prominent advertisers announced plans to distance themselves from the talk show host.

Staples, the office supply chain, as well as Miralus Healthcare, a pharmaceutical company that makes a headache medication called HeadOn, said yesterday that they had asked MSNBC to remove their advertising from the television simulcast of Mr. Imus’s radio program and run their commercials elsewhere.

Some advertisers had left the Imus program before last week’s remarks. AT&T stopped advertising in January, and General Motors stopped its radio ads (though it still broadcasts TV commercials with the simulcast.)

Procter & Gamble went a step further yesterday. It said that, for now, it had withdrawn all its advertising from MSNBC’s daytime schedule — a potential loss of more than $560,000 on an annual basis for the Imus simulcast alone, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.

“We have to think first about our consumers,” said Jeannie Tharrington, a spokeswoman for the consumer products manufacturer, “so anyplace where our advertising appears that is offensive to our consumers is not acceptable to us.”

Procter & Gamble’s response underscored a delicate balance that has existed on “Imus in the Morning” for years. For those who have been the beneficiaries of Mr. Imus’s largess, putting a product or a cause in his hands is not unlike a spin of the roulette wheel. Sometimes, he will talk about someone after a thoughtful 12-minute interview of Senator John Kerry or Senator John McCain that is as substantive or illuminating as any on programs like “Meet the Press.”

Other times, he might sing a person’s praises after uttering an ill-considered remark or after a member of his supporting cast had done a scalding send-up of such regular targets as the embattled United States attorney general, Alberto Gonzales; the mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin; or Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Bo Dietl, a former New York police detective who appears weekly on the program to plug his private security business. “I do the show because the power of that show is enormous. But I’ve also lost a lot of business for being on that show.”

That said, the program, which draws an estimated two million listeners and viewers each day, is lucrative for Mr. Imus’s bosses, which could well be what saves him.

It is also lucrative for Mr. Imus — he earns an estimated $10 million a year, and has signed a five-year contract extension — and, at least until recently, his show had provided a lift to any number of ventures.

That may be at least partly why many of those who have gained from their associations with Mr. Imus — whether politically, financially or through the abundant publicity — were sticking by him yesterday, as he continued to lament his dismissal of the Rutgers team, most of whose members are black, as “nappy-headed hos.”

On the campaign trail, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mr. McCain, two Republicans who have appeared on the program, said they found the comment wrong and offensive, but said they believed that Mr. Imus was sorry. Each said he intended to appear on the show again. “I called him a little while ago to talk to him about it personally,” Mr. Giuliani said. “And I believe that he understands he made a very big mistake.”

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Dodd issued statements criticizing Mr. Imus’s original remark, but sidestepped any question of whether they would go back on the show. Mr. Kerry noted his apology.

While expressing his disappointment in Mr. Imus’s remark about the Rutgers team, Peter Osnos, founder and editor at large of PublicAffairs books, said he hoped Mr. Imus would not lose his job — a punishment that the Rev. Al Sharpton, among others, has demanded.

“He’s not a philistine,” Mr. Osnos said. “He’s not a bigot. But he was a jerk.”

“I would prefer not to see him driven off the air,” added Mr. Osnos, who recently placed Mr. Kerry, co-author with his wife, Teresa, of “This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future” on Mr. Imus’s show.

Indeed, outside of rare berths on “Today” or more frequent but still difficult to place bookings on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” authors have access to few other broadcast arenas with the reach and influence of Mr. Imus.

In the wake of the firestorm over his remark, Mr. Imus has pledged to purge the most offensive humor from his program.

“In that spirit,” said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House Inc., whose imprints include Random House, Doubleday, Crown and Knopf, “our publishers will also evaluate their future advertising commitments for the program.”

Similar internal discussions are under way elsewhere.

Lumber Liquidators, a hardwood flooring company in Virginia, said its agreement to sponsor portions of Mr. Imus’s radio show was coming up for renewal, after its initial year. Tom Sullivan, the company’s chairman and founder, said that as recently as a few weeks ago, its continued association with Mr. Imus would have been a sure thing. Now, he said, he was unsure.

“I’ve been thinking about it the last few days,” he said in a telephone interview. “My girlfriend is black and she said not to do it.”

Nonetheless, he said he might well extend the contract, at least partly because advertising on Mr. Imus’s program had brought him new business, especially from customers in the New York area with high incomes.

Ultimately, whether Mr. Imus returns to radio and television after his suspension — and if so for how long — could rest with advertisers like Mr. Sullivan, and of listeners.

“My bet is he survives,” said Larry Gerbrandt, senior vice president and media analyst for Nielsen Analytics. “I think it’s the principle here. You can’t let third parties decide corporate policy.”

He added, “If the notoriety pushes up his ratings, he could even come out ahead.”

If the calculation were purely financial, both CBS Radio and MSNBC would have strong incentive to keep the program.

Beyond the rights fee it pays to CBS Radio to simulcast the program — about $4 million a year — the MSNBC show costs the network only about $500,000 a year, which is a modest expense for a three-hour daily program. If the channel had to replace the show with three hours of regular news coverage, “it would cost far more money than that to produce” an MSNBC executive said.

And CBS Radio could little afford to lose Mr. Imus’s cash stream, as it continues to reel from both the defection of Howard Stern to Sirius Satellite Radio and the failure of its efforts to institute a standardized format (known as Jack-FM) across the country.

And yet Mr. Dietl, the former detective, said he worried about the appeal of an Imus program without humor.

“If you handcuff him and just take away the entertainment,” Mr. Dietl said, “it’ll just become like any other talk show.”

Bill Carter, Sarah Abruzzese, Jeff Leeds, Motoko Rich, Marc Santora, Louise Story, Sarah Wheaton and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

April 10, 2007
Romantic Revulsion in the New Century: Flaw-O-Matic 2.0
In this meta-analysis of online dating and speed dating, we propose a corollary to the Flaw-O-Matic theory of romantic revulsion. Current research reveals that the Flaw-O-Matic, a mechanism in the brain that instantly finds fault with any potential mate, can be reoriented positively in certain conditions through a newly identified process, the Sally Field Effect.

When I first identified the Flaw-O-Matic, in a 1995 column, it seemed primarily a mechanism to kill romance. After studying picky daters — like a guy who couldn’t tolerate dirty elbows, and a woman who insisted on men who were at least 5-foot-10 and played polo — I predicted that they would remain permanently single.

Today I’m more hopeful. Thanks to a revolution in dating research over the past decade, the Flaw-O-Matic now looks like a more versatile mechanism than we theoretical pioneers imagined.

My early work was done using personal ads, a crude tool (although state of the art in 1995). I found that people looking for love in New York magazine listed far more prerequisites (like polo skills) for a partner than did people advertising in other cities. Based on these numbers, and many dinners with friends who could never find anyone good enough, I concluded that the high percentage of single-person households in New York was due to New Yorkers’ hyperactive Flaw-O-Matics.

This new theory of a neural mechanism did not immediately gain wide acceptance in the social-science literature. By my count, it has been cited a total of one time (in a psychotherapist’s treatise on the “avoidant lover”). But the study of romantic revulsion has expanded because of the rise of online dating services and speed-dating events — gold mines of data.

Instead of asking people about their mate preferences, scientists can now watch mating rituals in real time. They’ve tracked who asks out whom — and who says yes — at online dating services by watching the customers’ clicks and scanning their messages to look for telephone numbers and phrases like “let’s meet.”

They’ve analyzed the courtship choices of more than 10,000 customers of a commercial speed-dating service. On campuses, they’ve even organized their own speed-dating events, at which you talk for several minutes apiece with perhaps a dozen people, sometimes two dozen. You discreetly mark on your scorecard which partners you’d like to see again, and the organizers match you afterward with any of them who reciprocated your interest.

Just as Darwin could have predicted, the researchers have found that women are pickier than men. While men concentrate mainly on looks and will ask out a lot of women as long as they’re above a certain threshold of attractiveness, women focus on fewer prospects.

They’re less willing to date someone of another race. When using online services, they pay more attention than men do to a potential partner’s education, profession and income. They prefer taller men, but they’re willing to relax their standards for the Ron Perelmans of the world, as revealed in a study of more than 20,000 online daters by Gunter Hitsch and Ali Hortacsu of the University of Chicago and Dan Ariely of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They found that a 5-foot-8 man was just as successful in getting dates as a 6-footer if he made more money — precisely $146,000 a year more. For a 5-foot-2 man, the number was $277,000. [For more of these trade-offs, see]

Online dating reveals the most exquisite calibrations of the Flaw-O-Matic because the daters fill out questionnaires listing more attributes than could ever fit in a personal ad. They can spend all day finding minute faults in hundreds of potential partners. But that’s also why so many people never make a lasting match.

“When you have all these criteria to consider, and so many people to choose from, you start striving for perfection,” Dr. Ariely says. “You don’t want to settle for someone who’s not ideal in height, age, religion and 45 other dimensions.”

It’s the same problem afflicting New Yorkers: with so many prospects in the big city, they refuse to stop searching.

Customers of online dating services typically end up going out with fewer than 1 percent of the people whose profiles they study online. But something very different happens at a speed-dating event. The average participant makes a match with at least 1 in 10 of the people they meet; some studies have found the average is 2 or 3 out of 10. Women are still pickier than men, and in some speed-dating experiments they still prefer affluent, well-educated men, but the preference is less strong — and in some other studies they don’t discriminate at all by income or social status.

What happens to speed daters’ Flaw-O-Matics? The people at these events realize that there aren’t an infinite number of possibilities. If they want to get anything out of the evening, they have to settle for less than perfection. They also can’t help noticing that they have competition, and that their ideal partner just might prefer someone else.

But these speed daters don’t simply shut down their Flaw-O-Matics. They still have their standards, as demonstrated in speed-dating sessions organized by Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel at Northwestern University. The researchers, working with Daniel Mochon and Dr. Ariely of M.I.T., analyzed the preferences of more than 150 students at the sessions.

The students were particularly turned off by prospects who exhibited what the researchers call “unselective romantic desire.” Another way to put it would be “desperate.” The speed daters were very good at guessing which of their partners were indiscriminately friendly — willing to go out with lots of the other people — and which dates had eyes only for them. They much preferred the ones with “selective desire.”

Being able to make this distinction in a four-minute speed date, the researchers write in the April issue of Psychological Science, “suggests that humans possess an impressive, highly attuned ability to assess such subtleties of romantic attraction. In fact, the need to feel special or unique could be a broad motivation that stretches across people’s social lives.”

The scientists don’t propose a name for this phenomenon; nor, as usual, do they deign to mention the Flaw-O-Matic when discussing this “impressive, highly attuned ability” to make snap romantic judgments. But to me this clearly looks like a redirection of the Flaw-O-Matic’s power, because of what I call the Sally Field Effect.

These speed daters were looking for someone who shared their distaste for the others in the room: someone who was just as picky as they were. When they found that person, and neither one of them sneered or bolted, that hectoring little voice in the brain was suddenly transformed into a purring engine of love. They gazed dreamily into each other’s eyes, channeled a certain actress on Oscar night, and thought: “Your Flaw-O-Matic likes me! It really likes me!”

That may not be enough to sustain the relationship through the trials of dirty elbows and long, polo-less weekends. But it’s a start.

April 10, 2007
Birds Do It. Bees Do It. People Seek the Keys to It.
Sexual desire. The phrase alone holds such loaded, voluptuous power that the mere expression of it sounds like a come-on — a little pungent, a little smutty, a little comical and possibly indictable.

Everybody with a pair of currently or formerly active gonads knows about sexual desire. It is a near-universal experience, the invisible clause on one’s birth certificate stipulating that one will, upon reaching maturity, feel the urge to engage in activities often associated with the issuance of more birth certificates.

Yet universal does not mean uniform, and the definitions of sexual desire can be as quirky and personalized as the very chromosomal combinations that sexual reproduction will yield. Ask an assortment of men and women, “What is sexual desire, and how do you know you’re feeling it?” and after some initial embarrassed mutterings and demands for anonymity, they answer as follows:

“There’s a little bit of adrenaline, a puffing of the chest, a bit of anticipatory tongue motion,” said a divorced lawyer in his late 40s.

“I feel relaxed, warm and comfortable,” said a designer in her 30s.

“A yearning to kiss or grab someone who might respond,” said a male filmmaker, 50. “Or if I’m alone, to call up exes.”

“Listening to Noam Chomsky,” said a psychologist in her 50s, “always turns me on.”

For researchers in the field of human sexuality, the wide variance in how people characterize sexual desire and describe its most salient features is a source of challenge and opportunity, pleasure and pain. “We throw around the term ‘sexual desire’ as though we’re all sure we’re talking about the same thing,” said Lisa M. Diamond, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Utah. “But it’s clear from the research that people have very different operational definitions about what desire is.”

At the same time, the researchers said, it is precisely the complexity of sexual desire, the depth, richness and tangled spangle of its weave, that call out to be understood.

An understanding could hardly come too soon. In an era when the rates of sexually transmitted diseases continue to climb; when schools and parent groups spar bitterly over curriculums for sex education classes; when the Food and Drug Administration angers both religious conservatives and women’s groups by approving the sale of the morning-after pill over the counter but then limiting those sales to women 18 years or older; and when deviations from the putative norm of monogamous heterosexuality are presented as threats to the social fabric — at such a time, scientists argue that the clear-eyed study of sexual desire and its consequences is vital to public health, public sanity, public comity.

“Sexual desire may be complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s chaotic,” said Julia R. Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Ind. “We can make an honest attempt to understand what sexual desire is and what it is not, and that it is important to do so.”

Meredith L. Chivers, a researcher at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, concurs. “Sexuality is such a huge part of who we are. How could we not want to understand it?”

Unabashed about acting on their academic appetites, sexologists have gained a wealth of new and often surprising insights into the nature and architecture of sexual desire. They are tracing how men and women diverge in their experience, and where they converge. They are learning how and why people pursue the erotic partners they do, and the circumstances under which those tastes are either fixed or fluid.

Some researchers are delving into the neural, anatomical and emotional mechanisms that modulate and micromanage sexual desire and sexual arousal; others are exploring the role that culture plays in plucking or muffling the strings of desire. The pragmatists in sexology’s ranks are seeking better bedside medicines — new ways to help people who feel they suffer from an excess or deficit of sexual desire.

One recent standout discovery upends the canonical model of how the typical sex act unfolds, particularly for women but very likely for men as well.

According to the sequence put forward in the mid-20th century by the pioneering sex researchers William H. Masters, Virginia E. Johnson and Helen Singer Kaplan, a sexual encounter begins with desire, a craving for sex that arises of its own accord and prods a person to seek a partner. That encounter then leads to sexual arousal, followed by sexual excitement, a desperate fumbling with buttons and related clothing fasteners, a lot of funny noises, climax and resolution (I will never drink Southern Comfort at the company barbecue again).

A plethora of new findings, however, suggest that the experience of desire may be less a forerunner to sex than an afterthought, the cognitive overlay that the brain gives to the sensation of already having been aroused by some sort of physical or subliminal stimulus — a brush on the back of the neck, say, or the sight of a ripe apple, or wearing a hard hat on a construction site and being surrounded by other men in similar haberdashery.

In a series of studies at the University of Amsterdam, Ellen Laan, Stephanie Both and Mark Spiering demonstrated that the body’s entire motor system is activated almost instantly by exposure to sexual images, and that the more intensely sexual the visuals, the stronger the electric signals emitted by the participants’ so-called spinal tendious reflexes. By the looks of it, Dr. Laan said, the body is primed for sex before the mind has had a moment to leer.

“We think that sexual desire emerges from sexual stimulation, the activation of one’s sexual system,” she said in a telephone interview.

Moreover, she said, arousal is not necessarily a conscious process. In other experiments, Dr. Spiering and his colleagues showed that when college students were exposed to sexual images too fleetingly for the subjects to report having noticed them, the participants were nevertheless much quicker to identify subsequent sexual images than were the control students who had been flashed with neutral images.

“Our sexual responsiveness can be activated or enhanced by stimuli we’re not even aware of,” Dr. Laan said.

By reordering the sexual timeline and placing desire after arousal, rather than vice versa, the new research fits into the pattern that neurobiologists have lately observed for other areas of life. Before we are conscious of wanting to do anything — wave at a friend, open a book — the brain regions needed to perform the activity are already ablaze. The notion that any of us is the Decider, the proactive plotter of our most lubricious desires, scientists say, may simply be a happy and perhaps necessary illusion.

The new findings also suggest that in some cases, the best approach for treating those who suffer from low sex drive may be to focus on enhancing arousability rather than desire — to forget about sexy thoughts and to emphasize sexy feelings, the physical cues or activities that arouse one’s sexual circuitry. The rest will unwind from there, with the ease of a weighted shade.

Researchers have also gathered considerable evidence that the sensations of sexual arousal, desire and excitement are governed by two basic and distinctively operating pathways in the brain — one that promotes sexual enthusiasm, another that inhibits it. An originator of this novel concept, Erick Janssen of the Kinsey Institute, compares these mechanisms to the pedals of a car.

“If you let go of the gas pedal, you’ll slow down,” he said, “but that’s not the same as stepping on the brakes.”

In any given individual, each pedal may be easier or harder to press. One person may be quick to become aroused, but equally quick to stifle that response at the slightest distraction. Another may be tough to get started, but once galvanized “will not lose sexual arousal even if the ceiling comes down,” Dr. Janssen said. Still another may be saddled with both a feeble sexual accelerator and an overzealous sexual inhibitor, an unenviable pairing most likely correlated with a taste for beige pantsuits and the music of Loggins and Messina.

Dr. Janssen and his colleagues have developed extensive questionnaires to measure individual differences in sexual excitability and inhibition, asking participants how strongly they agree or disagree with statements like “When I am taking a shower or a bath, I easily become sexually aroused” and “If there is a risk of unwanted pregnancy, I am unlikely to get sexually aroused.”

The researchers have also explored the physiological, emotional and cognitive underpinnings associated with high scores and low. In one recent study, they recruited 40 male undergraduates and determined by questionnaire the subjects’ relative degree of sexual excitability and inhibition. Each participant was then ushered into a plush, private room with low lighting, a comfortable recliner and a television monitor and instructed in how to place the aptly named Rigiscan device on his genitals.

Thus outfitted, the student s watched a series of erotic film clips, some classified as “nonthreatening” and depicting couples engaged in mutually animated consensual sex, others of a “threatening” variety featuring coercive, violent sex.

Analyzing the excitability and inhibition variables separately, the researchers found that the men who had scored high on the questionnaire in sexual excitability showed, on average, a swifter and more robust penile response to all the erotic films than did the low scorers, regardless of the comparative violence or charm of the material viewed.

More intriguing still were the divergent sexual responses between men who ranked high on the inhibition scale and those who scored low. Whereas both groups reacted to the nonthreatening sex scenes with an equivalently hearty degree of tumescence, only the low scorers — those whose answers to the questionnaire indicated they had scant sexual inhibition — maintained an enthusiastic physiological response when confronted with film clips of sexual brutality.

The results suggest that having a good set of sexual brakes not only dampens the willingness to commit rape or sexual abuse, but the desire as well, giving the lie to notions that “all men are the same” and would be likely to rape their way through the local maiden population if they thought they could get away with it.

The researchers have also found a link between sexual inhibition and sexual risk-taking: men who are low in inhibition do not necessarily engage in more or kinkier sex than do their high-inhibition counterparts, but the odds are greater that they will forgo condoms if they indulge.

Most of the studies on the autonomy of sexual brakes and accelerators have been done on men, but scientists lately have begun applying the dual-control model to their studies of female sexuality as well. At first they used a slightly modified version of the excitement/inhibition questionnaire that had proved valuable for assessing men, but they soon realized that their menu of sex situations and checklist of physical arousal cues might be missing large swaths of a woman’s sexual persona.

What was the feminine equivalent of an erection anyway? Was it vaginal swelling and lubrication, or something else entirely? Women are generally smaller and less muscular than men. What might the feeling of being physically threatened do to enhance or hamper a woman’s sexual appetite?

“We started putting together focus groups, asking women to tell us the various things that might turn them on and turn them off sexually, and how they know when they’re sexually aroused,” said Stephanie A. Sanders of the Kinsey Institute and Indiana University. “They mentioned a heightened sense of awareness, genital tingling, butterflies in the stomach, increased heart rate and skin sensitivity, muscle tightness. Then we asked them if they thought the female parallel to an erection is genital lubrication, and they said no, no, you can get wet when you’re not aroused, it changes with the menstrual cycle, it’s not a meaningful measure.”

Through the focus groups, Dr. Sanders and her colleagues compiled a new, female-friendly but admittedly cumbersome draft questionnaire that they whittled down into a useful research tool. They asked 655 women, ages 18 to 81, to complete the draft survey and scrutinized the results in search of areas of concurrence and variability.

The researchers have identified a number of dimensions on which their beta testers agreed. For example, 93 to 96 percent of the 655 respondents strongly endorsed statements that linked sexual arousal to “feeling connected to” or “loved by” a partner, and to the belief that the partner is “really interested in me as a person”; they also concurred that they have trouble getting excited when they are “feeling unattractive.”

But women’s tastes varied widely in many of the finer details of seduction and setting. “Some women say they find the male body odor attractive, others repulsive,” Dr. Sanders said. “Some women are turned on by the idea of having sex in an unusual or unconcealed place where they may be caught in the act, while others have a hard time getting aroused if they think others may hear them, or the kids will walk in.”

Conventional wisdom has it that a woman’s libido is stifled by unhappiness, anxiety or anger, but the survey showed that about 25 percent of women used sex to lift them out of a bad mood or to resolve a marital spat.

Women also differed in the importance they accorded a man’s physical appearance, with many expressing a comparatively greater likelihood of being aroused by evidence of talent or intelligence — say, while watching a man deliver a great speech.

The researchers are now trying to correlate women’s sexual inhibition and excitement ratings to their sexual behavior and sexual self-image— whether they are likely to engage in risky sex, dissatisfying sex or no sex at all.

Other scientists have devised surveys of their own to plumb the depths and contours of sexual desire. Richard A. Lippa, a professor of psychology at California State University in Fullerton, for months invited anybody with the time and interest to take his online survey, in which he asked people to rate their reactions to statements like “I frequently think about sex,” “It doesn’t take much to get me sexually excited,” “I fantasize about having sex with men,” “I think a woman’s body is sexy” and “If I were looking through a catalog with sexy swimsuits, I’d spend more time looking at the men in the pictures than the women.”

Dr. Lippa has collected responses from more than 200,000 people around the world, and, though he has yet to complete his analysis of the data, a number of salient findings shine through. Whether the test-takers live in North America, Latin America, Britain, Western Europe or Japan, he said, men on average report having a higher sex drive than women, and women prove comparatively more variable in their sex drive.

“Men have a consistently high sex drive,” he said, “while in women you see more low sex drive and more high sex drive.”

Women’s sexual fluidity extends beyond the strength of desire, he said, to encompass the objects of that desire. In his survey, heterosexual women who rated their sex drive as high turned out to have an increased attraction to women as well as to men.

“This is not to say that all women are bisexual,” Dr. Lippa said. “Most of the heterosexual women would still describe themselves as more attracted to men than to women.” Still, the mere presence of a hearty sexual appetite seemed to expand a heterosexual woman’s appreciation of her fellow women’s forms. By contrast, the men were more black-and-white in their predilections. If they were straight and had an especially high sex drive, that concupiscence applied only to women; if gay, to other men.

Dr. Diamond of the University of Utah also has evidence that women’s sexual attractions are, as she put it, “more nonexclusive than men’s.”

One factor that may contribute to women’s sexual ambidextrousness, some researchers suggest, is the intriguing and poorly understood nonspecificity of women’s physical reactions to sexual stimuli. As Dr. Chivers of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health and other researchers have found, women and men show very divergent patterns of genital arousal while viewing material with sexual content.

For men, there is a strong concordance between their physiological and psychological states. If they are looking at images that they describe as sexually arousing, they get erections. When the images are not to their expressed taste or sexual orientation, however, their genitals remain unmoved.

For women, the correlation between pelvic and psychic excitement is virtually nil. Women’s genitals, it seems, respond to all sex, all the time. Show a woman scenes of a man and a woman having sex, or two women having sex, or two men, or even two bonobos, Dr. Chivers said, and as a rule her genitals will become measurably congested and lubricated, although in many cases she may not be aware of the response.

Ask her what she thinks of the material viewed, however, and she will firmly declare that she liked this scene, found that one repellent, and, frankly, the chimpanzee bit didn’t do it for her at all. Regardless of declared sexual orientation, Dr. Chivers said, “with women, there’s a discrepancy between stated preference and physiological arousal, and this discrepancy has been seen consistently across studies.”

Again, the why of it remains a mystery. Dr. Chivers and others have hypothesized that the mechanism is protective. Women are ever in danger of being raped, they said, and by automatically lubricating at the mere hint of sex, they may avoid damage during forced intercourse to that evolutionarily all-important reproductive tract.

Regardless of gender or relative genital congestion, people attend almost reflexively to sexual imagery. In an effort to trace that response back to the body’s premier sex organ, Kim Wallen and his colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta have performed brain scans on volunteers as the subjects viewed a series of sexually explicit photographs. The researchers discovered that men’s and women’s brains reacted differently to the images. Most notably, men showed far more activity than women did in the amygdala, the almond-contoured brain sector long associated with powerful emotions like fear and anger rather than with anything erotic.

Heather Rupp, a graduate student in Dr. Wallen’s lab, tried to determine whether the divergent brain responses were a result of divergent appraisals, of men and women focusing on different parts of the same photographs. “We hypothesized, based on common lore, that women would look at faces, and men at genitals,” Dr. Wallen said.

But on tracking the eye movements of study participants as they sized up erotic photographs, Ms. Rupp dashed those prior assumptions. “The big surprise was that men looked at the faces much more than women did,” Dr. Wallen said, “and both looked at the genitals comparably.”

The researchers had also predicted that men would be more drawn than women to close-up views of genitalia, but it turned out that everybody flipped past them as quickly as possible. Women lingered longer and with greater stated enjoyment than did their male counterparts on photographs of men performing oral sex on women; and they noticed more fashion details. “We got spontaneous reports from the women that we never got from the males, comments like ‘I would have liked the photos better if the people didn’t have those ridiculous ‘70s hairstyles,’ ” Dr. Wallen said.

He proposes that one reason men would scrutinize faces in pornographic imagery is that a man often looks to a woman’s face for cues to her level of sexual arousal, since her body, unlike a man’s, does not give her away.

Some researchers say that on average, male sexual desire is not only stronger than women’s, but also more constant from hour to hour, day to day. They point to a significant body of research suggesting a certain cyclic nature to female desire, and some say women only begin to attain masculine heights of lustiness during the few days of the month that they are fertile.

Studies have indicated, for example, that women are likelier to fantasize about sex, masturbate, initiate sex with their mates, wear provocative clothing and frequent singles bars right around ovulation than at any other time of the month. Women obviously can, and do, have sex outside their window of reproductive opportunity, but it makes good Darwinian sense, Dr. Wallen said, for them to have some extra oomph while they are fertile.

Men, by contrast, are generally fecund all month long, and they are theoretically ever anxious to share that bounty with others, a state of perpetual readiness that Roy F. Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University, described as “the tragedy of the male sex drive.”

Yet some experts argue that such absolutist formulas neglect the importance of age, experience, culture and circumstance in determining the strength of any individual’s sexual desire.

“Baumeister’s ideas may have some validity for people in nonmarried relationships who are under the age of 40,” said Barry W. McCarthy, a sex therapist in Washington and one of the venerable voices in the field. “But as men and women age, they become much more alike in so many ways, including in their sexual desire.”

For women, Dr. McCarthy said, “sex feels more in their control and safer for them,” while the aging man loses the need to imagine himself the “sexual master of the universe.”

As one married male photographer and editor in his mid-50s said, “Jeez, when I was 20, I couldn’t walk straight,” but now he is sexually much looser and “unconcerned.” And while he considers his libido to be of standard dimensions for men his age, he also said it “exactly matches that of my partner.”

Together they walk the line.

April 10, 2007
Pas de Deux of Sexuality Is Written in the Genes
When it comes to the matter of desire, evolution leaves little to chance. Human sexual behavior is not a free-form performance, biologists are finding, but is guided at every turn by genetic programs.

Desire between the sexes is not a matter of choice. Straight men, it seems, have neural circuits that prompt them to seek out women; gay men have those prompting them to seek other men. Women’s brains may be organized to select men who seem likely to provide for them and their children. The deal is sealed with other neural programs that induce a burst of romantic love, followed by long-term attachment.

So much fuss, so intricate a dance, all to achieve success on the simple scale that is all evolution cares about, that of raisingthe greatest number of children to adulthood. Desire may seem the core of human sexual behavior, but it is just the central act in a long drama whose script is written quite substantially in the genes.

In the womb, the body of a developing fetus is female by default and becomes male if the male-determining gene known as SRY is present. This dominant gene, the Y chromosome’s proudest and almost only possession, sidetracks the reproductive tissue from its ovarian fate and switches it into becoming testes. Hormones from the testes, chiefly testosterone, mold the body into male form.

In puberty, the reproductive systems are primed for action by the brain. Amazing electrical machine that it may be, the brain can also behave like a humble gland. In the hypothalamus, at the central base of the brain, lie a cluster of about 2,000 neurons that ignite puberty when they start to secrete pulses of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which sets off a cascade of other hormones.

The trigger that stirs these neurons is still unknown, but probably the brain monitors internal signals as to whether the body is ready to reproduce and external cues as to whether circumstances are propitious for yielding to desire.

Several advances in the last decade have underlined the bizarre fact that the brain is a full-fledged sexual organ, in that the two sexes have profoundly different versions of it. This is the handiwork of testosterone, which masculinizes the brain as thoroughly as it does the rest of the body.

It is a misconception that the differences between men’s and women’s brains are small or erratic or found only in a few extreme cases, Dr. Larry Cahill of the University of California, Irvine, wrote last year in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Widespread regions of the cortex, the brain’s outer layer that performs much of its higher-level processing, are thicker in women. The hippocampus, where initial memories are formed, occupies a larger fraction of the female brain.

Techniques for imaging the brain have begun to show that men and women use their brains in different ways even when doing the same thing. In the case of the amygdala, a pair of organs that helps prioritize memories according to their emotional strength, women use the left amygdala for this purpose but men tend to use the right.

It is no surprise that the male and female versions of the human brain operate in distinct patterns, despite the heavy influence of culture. The male brain is sexually oriented toward women as an object of desire. The most direct evidence comes from a handful of cases, some of them circumcision accidents, in which boy babies have lost their penises and been reared as female. Despite every social inducement to the opposite, they grow up desiring women as partners, not men.

“If you can’t make a male attracted to other males by cutting off his penis, how strong could any psychosocial effect be?” said J. Michael Bailey, an expert on sexual orientation at Northwestern University.

Presumably the masculinization of the brain shapes some neural circuit that makes women desirable. If so, this circuitry is wired differently in gay men. In experiments in which subjects are shown photographs of desirable men or women, straight men are aroused by women, gay men by men.

Such experiments do not show the same clear divide with women. Whether women describe themselves as straight or lesbian, “Their sexual arousal seems to be relatively indiscriminate — they get aroused by both male and female images,” Dr. Bailey said. “I’m not even sure females have a sexual orientation. But they have sexual preferences. Women are very picky, and most choose to have sex with men.”

Dr. Bailey believes that the systems for sexual orientation and arousal make men go out and find people to have sex with, whereas women are more focused on accepting or rejecting those who seek sex with them.

Similar differences between the sexes are seen by Marc Breedlove, a neuroscientist at Michigan State University. “Most males are quite stubborn in their ideas about which sex they want to pursue, while women seem more flexible,” he said.

Sexual orientation, at least for men, seems to be settled before birth. “I think most of the scientists working on these questions are convinced that the antecedents of sexual orientation in males are happening early in life, probably before birth,” Dr. Breedlove said, “whereas for females, some are probably born to become gay, but clearly some get there quite late in life.”

Sexual behavior includes a lot more than sex. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, argues that three primary brain systems have evolved to direct reproductive behavior. One is the sex drive that motivates people to seek partners. A second is a program for romantic attraction that makes people fixate on specific partners. Third is a mechanism for long-term attachment that induces people to stay together long enough to complete their parental duties.

Romantic love, which in its intense early stage “can last 12-18 months,” is a universal human phenomenon, Dr. Fisher wrote last year in The Proceedings of the Royal Society, and is likely to be a built-in feature of the brain. Brain imaging studies show that a particular area of the brain, one associated with the reward system, is activated when subjects contemplate a photo of their lover.

The best evidence for a long-term attachment process in mammals comes from studies of voles, a small mouselike rodent. A hormone called vasopressin, which is active in the brain, leads some voles to stay pair-bonded for life. People possess the same hormone, suggesting a similar mechanism could be at work in humans, though this has yet to be proved.

Researchers have devoted considerable effort to understanding homosexuality in men and women, both for its intrinsic interest and for the light it could shed on the more usual channels of desire. Studies of twins show that homosexuality, especially among men, is quite heritable, meaning there is a genetic component to it. But since gay men have about one-fifth as many children as straight men, any gene favoring homosexuality should quickly disappear from the population.

Such genes could be retained if gay men were unusually effective protectors of their nephews and nieces, helping genes just like theirs get into future generations. But gay men make no better uncles than straight men, according to a study by Dr. Bailey. So that leaves the possibility that being gay is a byproduct of a gene that persists because it enhances fertility in other family members. Some studies have found that gay men have more relatives than straight men, particularly on their mother’s side.

But Dr. Bailey believes the effect, if real, would be more clear-cut. “Male homosexuality is evolutionarily maladaptive,” he said, noting that the phrase means only that genes favoring homosexuality cannot be favored by evolution if fewer such genes reach the next generation.

A somewhat more straightforward clue to the origin of homosexuality is the fraternal birth order effect. Two Canadian researchers, Ray Blanchard and Anthony F. Bogaert, have shown that having older brothers substantially increases the chances that a man will be gay. Older sisters don’t count, nor does it matter whether the brothers are in the house when the boy is reared.

The finding suggests that male homosexuality in these cases is caused by some event in the womb, such as “a maternal immune response to succeeding male pregnancies,” Dr. Bogaert wrote last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Antimale antibodies could perhaps interfere with the usual masculinization of the brain that occurs before birth, though no such antibodies have yet been detected.

The fraternal birth order effect is quite substantial. Some 15 percent of gay men can attribute their homosexuality to it, based on the assumption that 1 percent to 4 percent of men are gay, and each additional older brother increases the odds of same-sex attraction by 33 percent.

The effect supports the idea that the levels of circulating testosterone before birth are critical in determining sexual orientation. But testosterone in the fetus cannot be measured, and as adults, gay and straight men have the same levels of the hormone, giving no clue to prenatal exposure. So the hypothesis, though plausible, has not been proved.

A significant recent advance in understanding the basis of sexuality and desire has been the discovery that genes may have a direct effect on the sexual differentiation of the brain. Researchers had long assumed that steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen did all the heavy lifting of shaping the male and female brains. But Arthur Arnold of the University of California, Los Angeles, has found that male and female neurons behave somewhat differently when kept in laboratory glassware. And last year Eric Vilain, also of U.C.L.A., made the surprising finding that the SRY gene is active in certain cells of the brain, at least in mice. Its brain role is quite different from its testosterone-related activities, and women’s neurons presumably perform that role by other means.

It so happens that an unusually large number of brain-related genes are situated on the X chromosome. The sudden emergence of the X and Y chromosomes in brain function has caught the attention of evolutionary biologists. Since men have only one X chromosome, natural selection can speedily promote any advantageous mutation that arises in one of the X’s genes. So if those picky women should be looking for smartness in prospective male partners, that might explain why so many brain-related genes ended up on the X.

“It’s popular among male academics to say that females preferred smarter guys,” Dr. Arnold said. “Such genes will be quickly selected in males because new beneficial mutations will be quickly apparent.”

Several profound consequences follow from the fact that men have only one copy of the many X-related brain genes and women two. One is that many neurological diseases are more common in men because women are unlikely to suffer mutations in both copies of a gene.

Another is that men, as a group, “will have more variable brain phenotypes,” Dr. Arnold writes, because women’s second copy of every gene dampens the effects of mutations that arise in the other.

Greater male variance means that although average IQ is identical in men and women, there are fewer average men and more at both extremes. Women’s care in selecting mates, combined with the fast selection made possible by men’s lack of backup copies of X-related genes, may have driven the divergence between male and female brains. The same factors could explain, some researchers believe, why the human brain has tripled in volume over just the last 2.5 million years.

Who can doubt it? It is indeed desire that makes the world go round.