September 30, 2007

Model mothers and musician fathers

As a follow-up on the why are songbirds so pretty? post, where I suggested cross-assortative mating between attractive females and musical males, I found out that Linda Perry, the lead singer of 4 Non Blondes, has a mother who was a model and father who was a musician. (And like Mia Rose and Ana Free, she's of Portuguese descent). Since she lead a grunge-rock band, and since she entered young adulthood as a lesbian in San Francisco during the late '80s and early '90s, we can assume she tried to downplay her sex appeal as much as possible.

Indeed, in the video for "What's up?", their breakthrough hit of 1992, she's sporting some very hideous dredlocks and a big goofy hat. But you can still tell how beautiful her face is, and that she has nice legs. (Here is Vega's cover of the same song.) A Google image search confirms this; she looks pretty good for 42.

September 25, 2007

Are Macs girly?

Quick question: what is so girly about Macs? I'm not a partisan, since I'm pretty low-tech. But in the main library here, they is a silly division between two sides -- one with about 100 Macs, and the other with about 100 PCs. The Mac side always seems to have a higher proportion of girls, and the PC side a higher proportion of guys.

Is it the design consciousness of Macs? I never use them because they take too long to load things, but they do have greater visual and tactile appeal.

September 23, 2007

Slovenliness and organized religion

I'm busy cataloguing all the evidence that's confronted me so far that shows how little seriousness there is in the Mountain Time Zone, and as you can guess, looking presentable is a special case. There is one exception, however: some people still follow the convention of wearing their "Sunday best" if organized religion plays more of a role in their lives. It's clear that religion is not altering their basic preferences, since they don't put any effort into their appearance when it isn't Sunday. But having one day of dignity out of the week is more than can be said for the majority of their counterparts back East (these are mostly lower-middle or middle-middle class people). There, church-going is infrequent among Whites.

This confirms the claim I made previously, before moving out here, that the casualization of dress codes has hit the middle and lower classes much harder than the upper classes, whose casual clothing doesn't look pitiable. As with most of the attitudes and practices spread by the well-to-do counterculture of the late '60s and early '70s, the blight they have produced has remained largely out of sight for their rabble-rousing originators.

September 20, 2007

Seeing only black and white - just plain dumb?

Whether it's in comment forums or class discussions, one thing that always drives me up the wall is when someone makes a remark that's a "difference of degree" statement, and then some jerk pipes up -- always oozing smugness or sarcasm -- with a "counterexample." But unlike math class,* we are rarely arguing the existence vs. non-existence, or uniqueness vs. non-uniqueness, of anything. Thus, "counterexamples" -- really just naysaying -- don't prove squat. If I claim that men are more likely than women to be 6 feet tall, pointing out even 10,000 women who are at least that height doesn't go against what I said, since I could point out even more men.

I used to think that this was a sly rhetorical trick, or intellectual laziness, or perhaps a gut emotional reaction to a claim you don't like. But then again, maybe most of these people are just stupid and can't count. Maybe they'd score above-average on an IQ test (or maybe they wouldn't), but they aren't smart enough to engage in an honest debate -- not for want of honesty (necessarily...), but for want of logical thinking ability.

I've coached kids for the SAT for about 3 years in total, and among the reading comprehension questions, some of the harder ones test the student's ability to discern subtlety. An easy way to write this type of question is to create three outer-space answers, one answer that has a universally positive or negative quantifier ("all," "every," "none," etc.), and one that has a less extreme phrasing. The test-makers never choose extreme writers, or moderate writers on controversial issues, so the subtle answer is almost always the right one -- "The author grudgingly accepts the way our school system is structured," rather than "The author expresses his disdain for institutional education." Others might focus on "not at all" vs. "is less likely," and so on.

Now, SAT questions only make it into the real test by proving themselves to be somewhat g-loaded: they help you tell the dull from the average from the smart students. So, maybe those who repeatedly commit this error are more cretinous than crafty. Just a thought.

* Even mathematicians are comfortable saying things like, "Don't expect a typical group to be Abelian" or "These types of equations usually have closed-form solutions."

September 17, 2007

Why are songbirds so pretty?

Somewhat apropos of the post below, it's commonly stated that the only reason hot babes make it big in pop music is that the record producers pander to the lowest common denominator, namely raw sex appeal, and the devil if that means churning out shitty music. Like most poses that people strike to sound cool, we should take a good skeptical look at this. In particular, is the situation different in genres that don't pursue the almighty dollar?

I mention Hope Sandoval and Vega so often that you're probably sick of hearing about them, but they are two obvious cases of very pretty female songstresses who aren't very poppy. Since we've already talked about babes in classical music and lovely Gypsy chanteuses, let's take a deeper look into this genre. The folksy, lyrical trend of the '90s, and alternative / grunge music, was in reaction to the "excessive" '80s, so sex appeal should have played a minimal role. Even better, let's look at headliners of a concert organized along feminist, hippie-dippie, goddess worship, stick-it-to-the-Man lines. That, of course, is the all-female Lilith Fair.

So, for the two readers who are still with me, do a Google image search and tell me whether a single one of the performers from the inaugural Lility Fair isn't pretty. Remember to look for pictures when they were at their peak lookswise. Well, The Indigo Girls for sure, and Shawn Colvin may have looked plain. Aside from them, the rest of the 16 performers are pretty. Hell, some are even foxy: Sheryl Crow, mega-hottie Susanna Hoffs (from the Bangles), Leah Andreone, Emmylou Harris, and Fiona Apple.

That's 5 of 16 who would spin heads, 2 who are ugly or plain, and the rest somewhat pretty. Given the purpose of the concert, and given that it was aimed almost exclusively at females (males being dragged along by their grad student girlfriends), the "pandering" argument does not even leave the ground. I could think of many other examples of hot girls who rock out (Liz Phair), as I'm sure the readers can, so let's take that for granted and move on to why this pattern shows up.

We can rule out basic environmental factors, since it's not as if there's much malnutrition in the areas the above women come from, so being pretty and having a nice voice doesn't mainly show that you lucked out in your upbringing. Moreover, pretty and vocally gifted people are this way without much training -- to make it big, they may need coaching and a makeover, but their gifts are not due to coaching. Arguments that pretty girls are encouraged more to sing or play guitar are also unconvincing, since encouragement doesn't have lasting effects unless the person was predisposed to become good at music. How many parents push their kid to play the violin, and in how many cases do they play the violin for a living in adulthood, or even as a sustained hobbie?

That leaves genetic factors. There could be one or more genes that have effects in more than one part of the body, affecting both attractiveness and musical ability. Maybe, and it would be worth looking at what makes females look feminine, since females are better-looking and probably more skilled at singing than males, on average. (As with everything, males likely show more variance, accounting for their overrepresentation among eminent composers and opera singers.)

What seems more likely to me is cross-assortative mating between pretty girls and skilled musicians -- a well-attested phenomenon. You could test the "model and rockstar" hypothesis by seeing if the looks-singing correlation holds within families. That is, if mom is gorgeous and dad has a great voice, the kids will on average be above the population average for these traits by sampling their parents genes. However, if the two traits aren't deeply connected, it could turn out that the more alluring daughter isn't the one with the best voice. I think that's how it would turn out, but if it didn't, we'd be back to the previous paragraphs.

If this practice persisted for long enough, there could develop a micro-caste of attractive musical people, since the sons will be of the pretty boy rockstar type, and gifted babes would likely prefer them to ugly or plain rockstars. That still leaves aside why gorgeous girls might have preferred the musician when this practice began, but that's a separate topic from what accounts for the pretty songbird effect.

September 15, 2007

Misogyny

Someone recently suggested that I occasionally say misogynistic things, but that's not true. I openly comment on how silly girls are in many ways, but I'm just as rough on males who dress like middle-schoolers. And I definitely have low respect for a lot of the females I observe in my daily life, but again the same is true for most males. So if anything, it's mild misanthropy rather than misogyny.

But there's a subtler point worth making: even if I never brought up male stupidity or expressed disdain for some ridiculous male behavior, merely ragging on girls over and over doesn't constitute misogyny. When girls act slutty, for instance, they have little respect for themselves, and it's hard for me to have respect for them either. As slutty behavior increases, I'll have less respect for the females around me. In the limit, an arbitrary girl from my environment will engage in girl-on-girl kissing in broad daylight just to get some attention, and I'll have lost my respect for the females around me.

It's easy to lose perspective and read misogynstic undertones into a complaint about some feature of a group of women, but not of all women, and perhaps maybe not even of a majority of women. I can't stand how infantilized many American women are, for example, and I could go on about it in harsh detail. That wouldn't be woman-hating but simply an exhortation for them to grow up. And I'm always careful to present the French or Spanish or other first-world group as the foil for Americans, just so it's clear that I'm not wishing for a foot-binding society.

Another thing that rubs me the wrong way is how much American girls tend to focus on their external appearance. Don't get me wrong, it's good that they attend to it, but among those capable of graduating college, there is an obsession with fitness -- not the kind of exercise that would keep you healthy, but the kind that may or may not boost your health, but that certainly makes you look really good when naked. All that time at the gym (or wherever) subtracts time you could spend learning to play the guitar, let's say.

Girls complain that we only value them for their looks, but do they spend a substantial amount of time cultivating a talent? And I don't mean academics -- neither males nor females think it's particularly sexy to tell if a matrix is positive definite or not in one's head. And advancing in one's career also does not qualify as a cultivated talent. It shows determination, but what's worth saying "wow!" about that?

Well, you knew this would all lead back to alluring Iberian singer / guitar-players somehow, didn't you? It turns out that one of the most popular people on YouTube is a Portuguese nightingale, Mia Rose, whose internet fame has landed her a record deal. Just think of how much of YouTube's library consists of attractive, toned girls doing nothing more than shaking their butt in front of the camera, or something similar. If guys really valued only looks, then whichever exhibitionist had the hottest body would quickly be catapulted to top status. You see, guys really do care about more than just the outside -- Mia Rose is definitely a babe, but she never dresses or acts or speaks provocatively, so in a race to the bottom, she'd lose big-time.* Another very popular YouTuber is also an attractive Portuguese chanteuse, Ana Free.

Here's Mia Rose covering "Kiss Me" and "I'm Like a Bird", and Ana Free covering "Sway" and "Time of Your Life". Also, here's a duet of theirs, "Seen Your Face". They're adorable, and they don't have to pander since they're not one-dimensional cuties. That's something I can respect.

* In the chicken-or-egg question about why American girls of said demographic are so obsessed about their appearance, we've already seen that it's not supply meeting the stringent demands of American males. We like Mia Rose better than some sculpted stripper. Perhaps part of the reason lies with the radical feminist message that men are pigs, dogs, scum -- pick your pejorative -- and that we only value women for their looks. Any female who falls for this caricature might well spend a lot more time in the gym, muttering to herself "Yeah, I'd rather be doing something else after 30 minutes of this stuff, but you know how those dogs are." This kind of male-deprecating attitude then starts the vicious cycle that we see.

September 6, 2007

The attractiveness distribution out West and back East

Here in the Mountain Time Zone, I'd say the mean is equal to that of Maryland (or other East Coast places), although the variance is smaller here. You won't find Brazilian supermodel lookalikes, but you also don't see much of what are called "trailer trash" either. There must be greater assortative mating for looks on the East Coast.

Perhaps that is because the Bos-Wash area (and others like it) attracts a disproportionate amount of people who are not just smart and successful but also a bit above-average in looks, since that would give them an edge over the smart but plain (hey, that's how the world works). Normally, good-looking women are fine with marrying down as far as looks go, as long as he's successful, and this tends to erode variance in looks, as pretty and ugly genes are mixed into a given family.

But when the good-looking woman is also very smart and ambitious, I don't think she'd be as willing to marry an ugly guy -- she's got it all, so why shouldn't her husband? And similarly for good-looking successful guys -- why shouldn't he marry a woman who's both smart and sexy? This tendency will tend to preserve variance, as pretty genes get shuffled into the same families, thereby forcing more ugly genes to get shuffled into the same families too.

NB: I'm controlling for other variables, like ethnicity and class. It wouldn't be fair to compare the mostly northern European population here to the beauties of swarthy skin and tawny tresses I was used to seeing in Maryland. And it also wouldn't be fair to compare middle vs. upper class people, since the latter are more likely to show a "trophy wife" pattern.

September 2, 2007

Getting in touch with "nature" is boring

There is nothing -- NOTHING -- to do in my adoptive city on weekends, despite this being a town with probably 20,000 students and plenty of 20 and 30-somethings. The alcohol laws are so bizarre that they make it impossible for any respectable form of bar or nightclub to exist. Needless to say, then, going out to dance is out of the question. It's no surprise this city scored pitifully on a recent list of the best places to be young. It's safe, and the weather is great, but god, is it drab. These things obviously do not conflict on a causal level; only in the US does "safe" correlate with "boring." There are plenty of ethnically homogenous, safe European cities with good weather where people have lots to do for fun.

What most people here do to unwind over the weekend is "get in touch with nature" -- to load up their car to go hiking, rockclimbing, skiing, and so on. I've never understood this perverse fascination with the unnatural that masquerades as "getting back to the simple life." These activities are what Black comedians would likely call Crazy White People Sports. I'm sure there are clubs for rockclimbers, mountain hikers, and bungee-jumpers, and I doubt you'd find a single Black member. For that matter, I doubt you'd find many southern Europeans either.

One reason is simply that these are dangerous activities -- therefore, not natural, unless there's some expected survival or reproductive payoff, like getting into a fight to protect your wife or hunting ferocious animals to win prestige and have something to eat. The other reason is that these activities are incredibly solitary, allowing only a minute here or there to socialize or otherwise interact as a team. Contrast these with getting together with a group for dinner, having a drink, going out to dance, and maybe socializing some more afterward. Now that's natural fun. What culture, whether primitive or modern, does not follow some form of this pattern for cutting loose?

About the only congregating I've noticed so far consists of the ubiquitous skateboard dudes practicing their tricks in certain hot spots, although always with no girls around. What a waste. The people are nice enough, and certainly seem willing to have fun -- there's just nothing to do. It almost makes me wish I was "back East," although there the nightlife is OK but lots of the people are jerks and bitches. Barcelona had the best nightlife and also nice people, but American schools are better.

Damn it, why can't we just decide what part of the world is going to have it all, and just move everything there? (If you answer New York, watch me laugh.) It wouldn't matter where, aside from climate considerations, but just as long as it didn't force you to choose between work and fun. If the European schools get their act together, Paris would be a top contender -- they've already done the really hard work of building a solid civilization and trying to perfect the art of leisure. The academic world can be transplanted across the globe within a single generation (just look at the WWII-era emigres to the US), so that's not going to be the hard part. It really should be based more on which cities are culturally and socially superior. Any other nominations?