Thursday, April 12 2001
I saw something today on the AOL News Ticker about the correlation between the age of a father and the likelihood of schizophrenia in the offspring. Evidently there is a high correlation between older fathers and schizophrenic children, indicating that the fraction of sperm carrying genetic damage increases as a man ages. I suppose I should count myself lucky that I'm as healthy as I am considering that my father was 44 when I was born. My brother, of course, didn't come off so lucky. But, according to the article, even with age factored into the equation, only 20% of schizophrenia can be explained by paternal age.
Reading the article, I was struck yet again by the shallow/nonexistent understanding of Darwinian principles by newswriters. The inquisitive layperson reading this article would probably be left with huge unanswered question, "Why aren't we all growing steadily more defective and decrepit with with each passing generation?" Our chromosomes are being continually hammered by cosmic particles and gamma rays and God knows what, and this damage must be accumulating! After all these billion years it's a wonder we haven't all been reduced to grey goo!
The answer, of course, is simple Darwinian Natural Selection. In the process of moving from one generation to the next, our genes are filtered and cleansed by simple survival of the fittest. Sure, there are plenty of sperms and eggs out there that don't have what it takes, and we never hear much from them, because (in cruel joke played by God against pro-Lifers) they die within days of fertilization. Examples of bad things that can happen to an embryo include: unexpected duplications of chromosomes, malevolent mutations on chromosomal base pairs, and lethal gene combinations. Beyond embryonic mortality, plenty of gametes (sperms and eggs) are also critically defective and never get a chance to merge with a better half. Sperm with two tails or three heads lack what it takes to run the big uterine marathon. Even when the best of sperm reach the egg, the egg itself can be defective in all varieties of baby-shower-canceling ways.
We only see the reproductive process after it's passed a lot of tests and been through numerous filters. The fact that there are only three kinds of non-lethal combinations of extra chromosomes indicates that most chromosomal abnormalities are filtered out during gestation. That schizophrenia should be a common result of defective sperm shouldn't be a big surprise; the condition doesn't normally manifest until 19 or 20 years after birth. Indeed, a sperm carrying the schizophrenia gene could conceivably be a better swimmer than a normal sperm. I'm very lucky that Anthony (the sperm who did the Karl August Mueller run), was so successful in elbowing-aside his many strong (though schizophrenia-bearing) fellow contestants.
I didn't take a lunch today, but I left work at 4pm. When I came home I found a little package from Gretchen. It was squishy to the touch and I wondered if she'd sent me my orphan sock or some of her used underwear or something sexy like that. Inside, though, it was full of little rectangles of Japanese paper, each with a letter of the alphabet and a fragment of poetry. Mixed in with this poetic confetti were little plastic reptiles and amphibians and a little multi-armed rubber Vishnu finger puppet, exactly like some Kristen Masson had at her place in New Paltz. I set up Vishnu and a procession of all the reptiles and amphibians on the top surface of one of my housemate John's paintings hanging in the stairway.
When John came home, he was ecstatic after a day of what he seemed to consider financial brinksmanship. For a brief time he'd been the owner of two cars, his VW Golf and that Audi he just bought. He'd originally planned to sell the VW to some guy named George, but George's downpayment check had bounced. So in a quick turnaround, John had resold his Audi instead for a slight profit. Actually, he figures that after advertising and all that meta-expenditure, he probably just about broke even. Earlier today, though, he'd been sweating it out, wondering what he'd do if he ended up with two cars. This was too horrible of a fate to imagine, and he'd sold the Audi to the first person who offered him a reasonable price. I could tell from John's reaction to the experience that he rather liked the process of building up financial stress and then releasing it all in an instant. I found myself comparing his behavior both to masturbation and bungee jumping.
To celebrate John's freshly-won peace of mind, we rode our bikes to a sushi restaurant near the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle. This part of West LA is a largely Japanese neighborhood, a place where even auto body shops are run by guys named Nokamora (feel the pun?).
This was the first sushi I'd had since breaking up with Bathtubgirl. As John and I ate our rolls and sipped our sake, we noticed around the other side of the bar a beautiful Japanese woman in a tiny little miniskirt seated beside a big fat oaf of a guy, her date. Not only was this gentleman physically unattractive, he also had a fashion sense that John identified as "cheesy." All we could think as we looked at him was, "How does a guy who looks like that end up with a chick who looks like that?" And of course the answer had to be money. Sugardaddy sweetness. Bank. Dinero. Funds. Capital. Benjamins. Sport. Dough. I asked John if he thought this guy ever had someone get mad at him and inform him, "You know, anytime anyone ever talks about you, all we want to know is, 'How did a guy like him get a girl like that?'" John said the guy probably has a snappy response all rehearsed, something like, "Well, at least I have her; all you have is your hand!"
John and I rode home mostly via the ever-tranquil Stoner Avenue. We had several good chuckles as we did so, looking at all the big apartment signs stating the street name and number in big brass letters. "Dude, I got the munchies down here on Stoner Avenue!" John said in his best stoner voice. "They probably get that a lot on Stoner Avenue," I agreed.
When I was drinking vodkatea tonight I was just drunk enough to stumble upon a guitar riff good enough for me to record a song. I had to use primitive capture software since my CoolEdit 2000 is corrupt and I don't have the install. Anyway, the song is called Break Dancing, and the guitar has at least two different identifiable early-90s alternative rock styles. Here are the lyrics:
Cast about in error
We mill around like thieves.
I am not their leader
Yet I am the one believed.
Fiction has its virtue
The characters don't sue.
We are undeserving
Beneath the green and black and blue.
Spokane is a desert town
I'm going there in June
Break dancing's coming back they say
So is walking on the moon.
Later on I talked with Gretchen on the phone. We delved for a time into the Passover ritual and all its additional dietary laws. I couldn't fathom why corn would be a Passover no-no, considering it was unknown in the Old World until 1500. "[The Jewish rulemakers] draw wide lines around things so that when you do mess up, it's not so bad," she explained. "So are there any Jews who can eat bacon?" I asked. "No," she said.
I guess I'd forgotten that beans weren't kosher, but it came up in conversation and it turns out that they're total verboten. Of course, because she's a vegetarian, that's a rule Gretchen must break. Some things simply aren't worth starving for.
I told Gretchen that it was good thing that her particular cultural participation allows her to be fairly observant and still have a lot of fun. By way of example of how bad orthodoxy can be I said, "It would suck to be a practicing Mormon."
We also discussed the news story about defective sperm in older men.
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