- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Status evolution

"In the narrowest Darwinian terms, acts of charity make no sense. Giving away food or other resources represents an apparent reduction in Darwinian fitness, a loss in the donor's own ability to survive and reproduce. But [biologist Amotz] Zahavi looked at the question from a radically different angle.

"Despite the babblers' drab appearance, an almost obsessive concern with status seemed to color every aspect of their lives, and altruism was one of their favorite forms of showing it. Tasha-Sham announced his act of charity by lifting his beak and giving a special trill, like a socialite posing for an event photographer at the Red Cross Ball. [Altruism] is a handicap display, an 'unseen peacock's tail,' a bid for prestige and status. Giving away resources may actually increase Darwinian fitness, Zahavi reasoned, because big donors typically attract more potential mates and discourage more potential adversaries. 'I have turned the tables and said altruism isn't loss of fitness,' he said, triumphantly, 'it is a gain in social prestige.'

"In the light of the handicap principle, familiar events took on a different complexion. When Ted Turner decided in 1997 to give $1 billion to the United Nations, was it solely for the good of the planet? 'I have learned,' he said, 'the more good that I did, the more money comes in.' And in fact he has only gotten richer since announcing his gift. But by the upside-down mathematics of the handicap principle, they are infinitely richer in status, the real currency of Darwinian fitness."

Richard Conniff, on "Why We Take Risks" in the December 2001 issue of Discovery magazine

Saint Jesse

"Every time Jesse Jackson says something awful I mean, really, mind-blowingly, disgustingly awful I think, 'That's it. His public career, or at least his reputation, can't survive that. That'll do him in. No decent person, no acceptable person, can talk that way.' But my thought and wish is always stupid.

"Just the other day, as we were waging a war against true terrorism, a short time after terrorists took the lives of some [3,000] of us, Jackson accused President Bush the man leading us in this mighty struggle against terrorism of committing 'economic terror' against Americans. That was Jackson's way of saying that he disagreed with Bush's tax and budget policies that the president was waging 'economic terror' against his fellow citizens.

"Can you imagine? Yes, if you know anything about Jesse Jackson. But nothing sinks him: no words, no behavior. Nothing. He is utterly protected, and when he dies, it will be with ceremonies and honors and media tributes befitting a king, or a saint."

Jay Nordlinger, writing on "Impromptus," Tuesday in National Review Online at www.nationalreview.com

Dumb redux

"The original 'Ocean's 11,' from 1960, and the new one just released are so different that I had to wonder why the producers of 'Ocean's' 2001 even used the same name. If it was to attract the fans of the first one, it will backfire. No fan of the old one will like the new.

"The original 'Ocean's' is fun, fun, fun. It was a heist caper that was just an excuse for a bunch of friends (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., et al) to get together and make whoopee. They met in the capital of decadence, Las Vegas, during that precious pre-p.c. era when a man in an orange angora sweater stirring a martini could call a woman in a tight skirt and pumps a 'great broad' and she'd take it as a compliment.

"The new version is dumb, dumb, dumb. It's a heist caper that was an excuse for a bunch of highly paid actors (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, et al.) to get together and make big box office."

Karen Croft, writing on "In defense of the original 'Ocean's 11," Tuesday in Salon at www.salon.com

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