Even Our Beavers Are Different

I’m a fan of a bunch of ex-patriate blogs here on WordPress (check out Ellen Hawley’s blogroll on Notes from the UK for a great list of bloggers straddling cultures), and after years months of reading these blogs study, I think I’ve stumbled across the difference between Americans and Europeans: it’s all about beaver.

See, there are only two varieties of beaver in this world, the European Beaver which looks like this:

677480_44997684and the North American beaver, which looks like this:

677480_44997684
As you can see*, they’re a lot alike, and, according to the scientific journal Mammal Research, both European beavers and their American cousins inhabit similar ecosystems and lead similar lives, dividing their time between chewing down trees and building up dams.

Except there’s this one perhaps not inconsequential difference: European beavers are monogamous, while American beavers sleep around.

I’m an American who writes about science law Dr. Ruth Westheimer beavers sex, so this bit of information absolutely delights me, because of course American beavers are out there slutting it up. I’m sure there’s a few whole bunch of Europeans who read this blog and are nodding their heads right along with me, but for different reasons.

“Isn’t that just like an American?” I imagine them saying. “Even their beavers are vulgar.”

Since my knowledge of Europeans comes mostly from watching Masterpiece Theater, I could be wrong about what they might think. Perhaps when they hear about our sexy beavers they’ll think something like “How wonderful!” or “Isn’t that interesting?” rather than express disgust at our aquatic mammals who are unable to resist their baser instincts.

I guess I’ll never know for sure what Europeans think unless I travel outside the US. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been contemplating a trip to Great Britain where I could observe the inhabitants up close in their natural surroundings, just like the scientists who researched the mating habits of beavers, rather than long distance, via an episode of Downton Abbey.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading all these ex-patriate blogs, trying to prepare myself, and I’ve come away with the distinct impression that the rest of the world has a few problems with Americans. And South Americans have a problem with us even calling ourselves “Americans” because aren’t they Americans, too? What’s with these self-centered, self-absorbed, conceited, narcissistic  norteamericanos thinking they’re the only Americans that matter in the whole entire world?

Anyway, if you Google the phrase “American stereotype” you’ll find out what much of the world thinks of us. To them, Americans exist as a dazzling array of unpleasant characteristics.

  • We’re violent. We all carry guns and shoot one another at random.
  • We’re loud. We talk loud, we laugh loud, we breathe loud, we just have to announce our presence everywhere with noise.
  • We’re obnoxious/rude/uncouth/arrogant. Take your pick. Or all of the above.
  • We’re ignorant about the world, and most everything else.
  • We’re obsessed with money.

And maybe we are all of those things. All I know is that when I travel to Europe, I want to make sure that no one ever says after I leave a room, “Of course, she’s American.” Instead, I want to absolutely explode the stereotype of Americans in the minds of the Europeans I encounter. When I leave the room, I want them to say, “Can you believe she’s American?”

I'll even eat French food.

In my effort to prove that not all Americans are provincial, I’ll even eat French food.

I haven’t yet figured out how I’ll do this. Maybe I’ll wear a beret. Maybe I’ll chain smoke cigarettes out of a skinny cigarette holder. Maybe I’ll drop the names of world capitals into conversation. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to lose my accent, which sounds like I’m from New York to people who have never been to New York (I’m actually from Connecticut originally), but I’m thinking I might have to pretend to be mute, which would at least solve that “Americans are loud” thing, too.

So I’m prepared to do all that, and explain our lecherous beavers to them.

*The actual title of this photo, and I swear I am not making this up, is “Wet Beaver.”

Royalty-free stock photos, including the images in this post, can be found at freeimages.com.

I Could Be Blogging About Sex Among the Demented in Nursing Homes

At the risk of turning this blog into something that is read only by science nerds who have absolutely no chance of ever getting laid, I’m going to write again about some interesting (at least to me) scientific studies that were recently published trying to explain how monogamy evolved in mammals, even though monogamy is not widely practiced among mammals (only 3% of species) but is ostensibly the goal of humans, or at least that’s what we claim in our Facebook profiles.

I can hear you whining right now, “Oh, no, not more science!  Where are the dick jokes?” so just let me say this: Consider yourself lucky to be reading about monogamy and primates because I was this close to writing about sex among the demented in nursing homes.

Plus, I'm always talking about monkeys fucking.

Maybe I never get laid because I smell like chemicals all the time.

So why did marginal minuscule inconsequential some mammals decide to practice monogamy? Two theories are proposed. The first, outlined in the paper, Male Infanticide Leads to Social Monogamy in Primates, published this past week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (how’s that for a magazine title?) argues that monogamy developed in some primates because a male would impregnate a female and then go off to impregnate more females and while he was gone, his progeny would be born and promptly murdered by another male, who then hoped to mate with the single and newly unencumbered female. Eventually, the first male realizes, “Hey, my babies keep getting killed when I wander away.  Maybe if I stay here I can fight off these motherfuckers and put a stop to that shit.”

Thus we have monogamy.

If only I could get her to engage in a little dirty chatter!

Sure, she won’t go down on me anymore, but the dragonfruit here is so tasty!

The other theory, put forth by researchers at Cambridge in the article The Evolution of Social Monogamy in Mammals and published this month in the journal Science (a less intimidating title I’m much more likely to read, because while I am a science nerd, I do hope to get laid) focuses not on the violent behavior of horny males, but on hostile and solitary behavior of females, who may or may not be horny, but who are definitely hungry, and work to keep other females away from the most desirable feeding locations, usually by chasing and biting and making horrible, scary noises that encourage the other females to go a ways down the road to eat.  So this angry, solitary female is out there guarding her good food and the horny male wanders into her territory to mate and thinks, “Hey, the food is pretty good here, and the other female I’d like to screw is way, way over there down the road, so maybe I should just stay here and eat the good food and wait around for this female here to screw again rather than expend the effort to screw that other female, where the food may not be as good.”

And thus we have monogamy.

These two competing theories were rattling around my brain the other day as I’m standing in my kitchen cooking dinner.  At the exact same moment, my husband is sitting at the dining room table, scrolling through his iPhone.  A generation ago, he would have been sitting there, a knife clutched in one hand, a fork in the other, and  a napkin tucked in his collar.  A millenium ago, he would have wandered into my territory and thought, “Hey, the food is pretty good here.”

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG

Surviving Polyandry

the cast of Survivor: Caramoan

My polyandrous wedding party.

I’ve written before about polyamory, in this post, Polyamory: Married and Dating and also about polygamy, in this post, The Pros and Cons of Polygamy and Turkey Leftovers, so I’m sure you realized it was only a matter of time before I wrote about polyandry.  So here it is, my post on polyandry.

According to an article that appeared in this month’s the Atlantic, the practice of polyandry may not be as unusual as (mostly male, mostly sexist) anthropologists have led us to believe.  The magazine article references a paper published last June in the scientific journal Human Nature, “A Survey of Non-Classical Polyandry” in which the researchers, Katherine Stark and Randall Hames, broadened the definition of polyandry.

In general, we define polyandrous unions as a bond of one woman to more than one man in which the woman has relatively restricted sexual rights toward the men, and the men toward the woman, as well as economic responsibilities toward each other and toward any children that may result from the union.

So instead of looking around for a woman living in a hut with a gaggle harem of men servicing her day and night, Stark and Hames (doesn’t that sound like a cop show?  Only instead of chasing bad guys, they’d take notes and publish articles.  Must See TV!) examined the relationships that existed in the community, rather than only looking at who was humping who.

As I’m sitting here considering polyandry, I realize I don’t know what to do with the one husband I’ve got, so I usually just sit him down in front of the television and say, “Stay.”  (Ah, who am I kidding?  He learned to do that all on his own).  I can’t imagine how you might occupy two (or more).  I suppose in tribal societies, there’s lots of work that needs to be done, because you’d need someone to thatch your hut, and carry water from the river, and I’m not doing any of that.  I might sweep the top dirt layer out of the hut each day.  And I’d cook.  I like to cook, though if one of my cannibal husbands brought home some hapless Western tourist who got caught in his net, I’d put my hands on my hips, roll my eyes at him and say, “Again?”

You didn’t think this post could get any more offensive, but it did just then, didn’t it?

But what would I do with additional husbands in the industrial society of suburban Philadelphia?  Our roof doesn’t need to be repaired too often, and water comes straight into the house by magic a series of complicated pipes and pumps (I think).  My gaggle harem of husbands would all be standing around, looking for something to do.

Shhhh!  Storage Wars is on!

Sure, we could be having sex but a Storage Wars marathon is on.

Husband #1: We could have sex.

Husband #2: Yes!  That sounds like a good idea.

Me: No no no.  We had sex last night.

Husband #3: No, that was with me.

Me:  Are you sure?  I thought I did it with the brown haired one last night.

Husband #1: No, it wasn’t me.

Husband #3: It was me.  She wasn’t paying attention.

Me: Downton Abbey was coming on!

Husband #3: I know.  I always pick the nights I know her shows are on.  That way I don’t have to work too hard at it.

Husband #2: Oh really?  She watches Survivor, too, though she won’t admit it.

Me: I do not watch Survivor.

The Husbands exchange knowing glances.

Husband #1: Can we stay focused, please?  I still haven’t had sex!

Husband #2: Neither have I!

Me: Neither one of you is having sex, because I’m not in the mood.

Husband #2: Of course you aren’t.  Survivor is about to start.

Me: This has nothing to do with Survivor! (looking around the room)  Who lost the remote?

You can catch the premiere of Survivor: Caramoan next Wednesday, February 13 at 8/7c on CBS.

Royalty free stock photos including some images in this post can be found at freedigitalphotos.net.  The image of the cast of Survivor: Caramoan can be found at the CBS Survivor media page.  

 

Adventures in Baby-Making

No, I will not have sex with a Neanderthal

Yes, I am ready for adventure.

The other day, the British tabloid the Daily Mail caused quite a stir by reporting the comments of Harvard geneticist, George M. Church, in this article,  Wanted: ‘Adventurous Woman’ to Give Birth to Neanderthal Man-Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby.  Within a day, Dr. Church had walked back the comments and, in an interview with the Boston Herald which you can find here, claimed he was misquoted and mistranslated and he’s not looking for a woman for his Frankenbaby to call “Mommy” after all.  Sort of.  Well, at the very least, he admits he hasn’t gotten around to advertising on Craigslist for one.  Yet.  Here’s what the good doctor told the Herald:

“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church said. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”

So I’m with Dr. Church.  Let’s start talking about it today.  What I really want to talk about is the sort of adventurer who might answer Dr. Church’s call to be a modern day Eve.

Zog!

Zog.

Zogette

Zogette.

Dr. Church:  Thanks for responding to my posting seeking an adventurous woman.  Are you familiar with my research in genetic coding?

Eve: Um, well, no.  Is that going to be a problem?  Because I really need this job, and when I came across your ad while I was searching the listings for a used washing machine, I thought it must be fate, you know?  There I am, looking for a used washing machine ’cause mine just busted and a new one is just way too expensive and then I saw your ad and I thought maybe I could buy a new washing machine if I could land this job.  Because when you buy used, you know, you don’t know what you’re getting, like who knows, maybe that washing machine was in an accident, or fell into a river, or maybe caught on fire and they covered it all up with a fresh coat of paint or something.  See, it would be good if they had one of those Carfax things for washing machines, you know, that report that shows you the entire history of a used car before you buy it?  Yeah, they need one of those for washing machines, don’t you think?  Then I could buy used with confidence–

Dr. Church:  Yes, yes, of course.  Now, let me explain a little bit about what we’re working on.  We’ve been able to reconstruct the DNA of homo neanderthalensis in my laboratory and we’re hoping to inject the DNA into human stem cells, and from there into a human embryo.

Eve: Yeah, ok.  How much does this pay, again?  Because I was looking at this Maytag over at Glenn’s Appliance Bazaar, and it’s $434, not including tax.

Dr.  Church:  We can discuss the financial arrangement after I explain your role in the experiment.

Eve: And the matching dryer is another $417.

Dr. Church: (taking notes) Ok, matching dryer.  So, getting back to the experiment, we would then take the fertilized embryo which contains the reconstructed DNA and implant it in your uterus.  We hope the DNA will then guide the embryo to develop into a homo neanderthalensis baby after about nine months or so.

Eve: Ok.  So I don’t have to have sex with anybody?

Dr. Church:  Not for this experiment, no.

Eve: All I have to do is carry a baby for nine months?

Dr. Church: Yes.

Eve: And then what?

Dr. Church: What do you mean?

Eve: And then what happens to Little Zog or Zogette or whatever after it’s born?

Dr. Church: (rubbing his chin) I hadn’t thought that far.  Dammit!

(With a sweep of his arm, Dr. Church knocks everything off his desk and onto the floor, and runs out of the room.)

Eve: (calling after him) So, um, do I get the job?  ‘Cause I’ve got a ton of laundry to do!

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG 
and at freedigitphotos.net.

Just right

The Tattooed Lady

There’s an interesting post over on the New Yorker‘s photography department blog, Photo Booth, about the history of tattoos on American women.  The blog post notes that more women than men got tattooed in 2012, for the first time ever, and relates how the earliest tattoos on Caucasian women in the United States resulted from the women being raised among native people, who tattooed themselves to indicate status.

Too tame

Tattoo Status: I also like puppy dogs and unicorns.

The story of how I became a tattooed lady is much less dramatic and begins, as most modern day tattoo stories do, with alcohol.  With the help of two three four mudslides (they taste like ice cream!) and urged on by two drunks friends, I got a tattoo on my lower back to commemorate my 21st birthday.  It’s a small tribal design (one friend got a palm tree, colored green and yellow, on her ankle, which she immediately regretted, the other a rose on her hip, which she did not) that you might be able to see today if you are standing directly behind me when I am wearing low rise jeans and performing a particularly vigorous round of calisthenics.

Too edgy

Tattoo Status: Bullets fly out of my vagina

I thought the tattoo would make me seem hip and a bit edgy, maybe even dangerous.  Plus, I was drunk (did I mention that I was drunk?) and I did not fully comprehend the status a lower back tattoo would confer upon me, which would so eloquently be expressed a few years later by Vince Vaughn’s character, Jeremy Grey, in the movie Wedding Crashers.

Tattoo on the lower back?  Might as well be a bullseye.

While I can’t say my tramp stamp is the great regret in life, I kinda do wish I could go back in time and meet my 21-year-old self outside The Tetanus & Hepatitis C Emporium Pinky’s Ink on South Street.

Just right

Tattoo Status: Bullseye.

2013 Me: Hey, maybe you should think a little bit more about this before you go in there.

21 Year Old Me: Woohoo!  I turned 21 today!  Buy me a drink!

2013 Me: Maybe decisions like this shouldn’t be made unless you are, oh, I don’t know, sober?

21 Year Old Me: This is the best decision I ever made in my life, along with majoring in English lit!

2013 Me: I’m just saying, you’re going to have this tattoo for the rest of your life, and a couple of years from now, you’re going to bend over and one of the junior partners is going to see that tattoo, and you’re not going to get that job offer!

21 Year Old Me:  Who do you think you are, my mother?  What’s with all the doom and gloom?  You look like you could use a drink.  What do you say,  after I get this tattoo, we’ll go have a drink!

2013 Me: (growing desperate) Listen to me, you’re going to get married and get older, and live in the suburbs, and suddenly that tattoo isn’t going to be hip or cool, it’s just going to remind you of this stupid night.

21 Year Old Me: (to my two drunk friends) Wouldn’t it be great if they served booze at tattoo parlors?  That’s what we should do after college, open a tattoo place that serves liquor!

My Two Drunk Friends: Yes!  That idea is slammin’!

Here’s a recipe for a slammin’ mudslide.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG.

Diddling and Buggering

A reader sent me a link to an article from this month’s the Atlantic, Where Masturbation and Homosexuality Do Not Exist” about a couple of tribes in Africa who view sex as an exclusively procreative exercise and consequently do not masturbate or engage in homosexual acts.  Or so they claim.  From the article:

In both cultures, men and women view sexual intercourse as a kind of “work of the night.” The purpose of this work is the production of children — a critical matter in an area with a very high infant mortality rate. Semen is understood by the Aka and Ngandu to be necessary not only to conception, but also to fetal development. A woman who is already pregnant will see having intercourse as contributing to the health of her fetus.

As you might have guessed, I’m more than a little skeptical of the claims, as this blog often considers issues of masturbation and homosexuality,  as evidenced by the posts Where Would You Masturbate in Public? and What a Pathetic Lesbian I Would Be.  If I were a member of the Aka or Ngandu tribes, I would find myself with precious little to write about, since they claim to not be diddling themselves or buggering each other.

It is ALIVE!

And when I get that big research grant, I’m going to order an entree AND an appetizer!

But as I said, I don’t believe it.  For one thing, I’m suspicious of all research and researchers, because there is always an agenda.  The agenda isn’t necessarily nefarious, with little nerds and nerdettes in glasses and white lab coats plotting world domination.  Rather they’re mostly motivated by getting funding for their work, so that maybe they can stop eating SpaghettiOs® out of the can over the washroom sink and dream about a nice dinner out once in a while at, let’s say, an Applebee’s.  The question “What outrageous claim can I make about my research that might interest someone in funding it?” dominates their thinking, and I can say that the hypothesis that masturbation and homosexuality are not “natural” to the human condition would open up a lot of deep pockets here in the US, and possibly elsewhere in the world (I’m looking at you, Pope Benedict XVI).

One last thing about this homosexual stuff: a modern anthropologist dropped into ancient Greece would

Greek=Anal

Hermolycus, the Elder

find that the men of that civilization did not consider themselves to be “homosexual” and yet young Hermolycus could not bend over to pick up a dropped drachma in the street without covering his backside with both hands.  The ancient Greek understanding of homosexuality and our 21st century understanding of homosexuality just are not the same, and that may be what is going on here with the Aka and Ngandu tribes.

Anyway, what strikes me as most bizarre about the Aka and Ngandu is not the part about not masturbating or being attracted to members of their own sex.  No, what strikes me as most bizarre, being a First World woman, is that they fervently hope conception takes place when they have sex!  That goes against everything I’ve ever been taught and believe in!  Let’s imagine a sex researcher from the Aka or Ngandu tribes who decides to come to suburban Philadelphia to observe and document American culture and societal norms.

Me:  So I take this pill to make sure I don’t get pregnant.  And there are some women who wear patches on their skin, and that keeps them from getting knocked up.  Oh yeah, and  men use these things we call rubbers–

Aka/Ngandu Anthropologist:  Let me see if I understand you.  You have sex and then you do all of these things to ensure you don’t have a baby?

Me: That’s right.

Aka/Ngandu:  I don’t mean to disrespect you or your people, but do you even understand the point of having sex?

Me:  Of course I do!  It’s to get him to stay with me forever, and never, ever look at another woman.  And orgasms.

Aka/Ngandu Anthropologist:  No, I’m afraid that’s not correct.  You see, sex is the method through which humans combine our DNA and reproduce, thus ensuring the continuation of our species.  Reproduction is the most basic biological urge, and your native customs and practices strike me as, well, abberant!

Me: Oh, that can’t be right.  It has to be about more than just reproduction, because otherwise how do you explain jacking off and lesbians?

Aka/Ngandu Anthropologist: (head explodes) Whaaaaat???!!!??

On that note, let me end this post by sending out early birthday wishes to the great American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, born here in my adopted hometown, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on December 14, 1901. Happy Birthday, Margaret.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG.