What does a cheating senator have to do with a 4.4 million year old upright-walking human named Ardi? Well, not much other than the fact they've both been in the news lately. Which is why I read the National Geographic article about Ardi, and the sex habits that possibly led to this early human's upright posture, immediately before reading the New York Times piece on John Ensign, the cheating Republican senator from Nevada. This seemingly unrelated convergence resulted in a flash of insight: Cheating senators (and their equally duplicitous mistresses) were evolutionarily programmed.
Seems Ardi was not so well-provided for by her tree-living mates with their "clacker-sized testicles":
Among Ardipithecus's ancestors, such a strategy could catch on if searching for food required a lot of time and exposure to predators. Males would be far more successful food-providers if they had their hands free to carry home loads of fruits and tubers—which would favor walking on two legs. Females would come to prefer good, steady providers with smaller canines over the big fierce-toothed ones who left as soon as they spot another fertile female. The results, says Lovejoy, are visible in Ardipithecus, which had small canines even in males and walked upright.
Fast forward several millennia later and the New York Times investigative report in which a small, upright walking primate, Senator Ensign, brought loads of fruits and tubers to his mate, Cynthia Hampton, who was also the wife of his staffer, Douglas Hampton. But due to modern campaign finance rules and the US tax code, Ensign was prohibited from gifting his mistress outright. Instead, those fruits and tubers took the form of employment contacts for her husband, and in at least one case, a $96,000 check.
Soon after, Mr. Ensign called the Hamptons separately. Cynthia Hampton, he said, would have to leave her $48,000 a year campaign job , while her husband would have to quit as planned. But as severance, the senator said he and his wife would give the Hamptons a check for about $100,000, Ms. Hampton said.
Mr. Ensign’s lawyer in June, however, called the $96,000 payment that was ultimately made a tax-free gift from Mr. Ensign’s parents to the Hamptons “out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time.”
Not bad for fruits and tubers.
It's a pretty sordid story, both the story of Ardi, who was wooed by a hands-free man with small canines, and the story of Mrs. Hampton, who was wooed by an ethics-free senator with a fierce bank balance. But don't feel too sorry for Ardi, or Mrs. Hampton, whose husband ended up blackmailing the senator (he first asked for a "financial settlement" of $6.5 million, then later adjusted that downward to $2 million). Turns out our female ancestors knew how to get the best of both worlds as well: