January 24, 2008

Lebanese babe protestors, make room for Persian whistleblowers


While there are far many more data points supporting the babe theory of political movements in Lebanon, I still hope the single case of Azeri whistleblower Sibel Edmonds inspires others like her to come forward. Bearing in mind that she is 37, you can imagine what a bombshell she must have been during her prime.*

Read more about what she claims is afoot here in The American Conservative or in the Times (UK) article here. (Links via Steve.)

* Note that she went to George Washington University for undergrad -- for anyone about to apply to graduate school, the upper-middle class exotic hotties who pack the Gelman Library are reason enough to consider GWU. I visited there as a senior in high school, and I resolved after the campus tour to not apply. There were too many gorgeous girls everywhere we went, so I knew I would get little studying done. But if you're in your mid-20s, undergrad girls are more receptive, so it might be worth it to go there now.

January 22, 2008

What do poor Blacks think about genetics? And more about rap

To judge from the lyrics to "From Her Mama (Mama Got Ass)" by Juvenile, it would seem that they believe strongly in the role of genetic differences when accounting for phenotypic differences. The title is misleading, since most of the lyrics refer more to personality and behavior than physical traits.

I stopped paying attention to rap music around 1993, when Snoop Dogg's solo debut Doggystyle proved a major disappointment. I never bothered listening to political or social commentary rap, aside from buying a Grandmaster Flash CD. The Sugarhill Gang got the idea right, and that strand of rap (through Young MC and Sir Mix-a-Lot) finally died out in 1992 when Dr. Dre released The Chronic. I really liked that album at first, actually, and can still sing "Dre Day" and "Ain't Nuthin' but a G Thang" from memory, with pretty good imitation of their voices, I might add. But I was just trying things out, and being more of a charmer than a fighter, I didn't end up liking gangsta rap.

However, I overheard Juvenile's "Back That Ass Up" in college, and it sounded goofy enough to set it apart from thug music, in the same way that "Baby Got Back," er, stood out from the nascent gangsta trend. And of course, music that's only part-rap, like OutKast, I like all right. Still, on the rare occasion when I see what's on rap music TV (usually when some kids in the dining hall tune in to MTV or BET), it still resembles the bad '90s stuff.

I've been meaning to write a post comparing the different types of rap music, based on which reproductive strategies the males follow -- the polygynous sneaky fuckers (Sugarhill Gang, LL Cool J, Andre 3000, etc.), the polygynous harem-guarders (thug / gangsta rap), and essentially no monogamous mate-guarders. It accounts for the differences in the emphasis on displays of dancing skill vs. violence, in how goofy and joking vs. serious and confrontational the attitudes are -- in general, how peacockish vs. gorilla-like they are. Of course, it also accounts for the similarities, such as an emphasis on sleeping with as many women as possible.

As far as I know, when rap music is exported, it's mostly the gangsta strain that infects the population -- almost always a non-African and non-macho culture. South Asian males make horrible gorillas, but are naturally good dancers and jokesters, so it's a shame that they didn't pick up more on the OutKast type of rap. And East Asians just have no business imitating rap music of any kind: they are the monogamous good dads, which is antithetical to rap.

Then there is the social commentary / voice of the oppressed rap, which catches on wherever people realize that they cannot achieve first-world standards of success. What reproductive strategy is that? The loser male, who has no viable strategy but to lash out in envy at those who have bettered him. Yeah, some of the artists themselves are more leader / prophet types, but by and large, those who are really into it -- as well as any political / social commentary sub-genre, like the punk band Crass -- are bitter losers. Lighten up, it's just pop music!

January 20, 2008

What American Apparel models teach us

If I don't accomplish as much in this life as I'd like to, I blame Michael Blowhard for introducing me to the models of American Apparel. No, not for wasting time in that way -- at least there, you can put out the fire and get on with real life. But when I go to that website, I just can't stop staring. But now that I've grown somewhat habituated to the images, here are a few lessons on human nature and biodiversity I learned while perusing that ruinous website.* Their ads focus only on raw sex appeal -- not luxury, glamour, and so on, as with other fashionable clothing. So for once, the data are free of a host of confounding factors.

1) African-American girls are not very attractive on average. There are 2 on the site (out of about 70): one who looks light-brown and has non-African facial features, and another who looks biracial. Since it is more their facial features that make them look non-African, it seems that this is what holds African women back in sex appeal.

2) Short or average girls are sexier. You see very few leggy girls on that site. This agrees with the finding that adult film stars are exactly average, and that short females are more fertile. AA doesn't list height data, so unfortunately I can't determine the mean and run a significance test. But it's clear "by inspection," as the mathematicians say.

3) There is likely something to the idea that girls turn their eyes away when flirting. Do Ctrl F "Nour" and click on her pictures. As the slideshow runs, you'll see two pictures (#3 and #8) where she's making this expression. Why girls do this, I speculated on in the link above. But here's more data that it nearly always involves looking to the right (and maybe a bit upwards too). Judging from her name, she is probably Arab, Persian, or South Asian, so this is further cross-cultural data on this trait. It is like smiling: everyone does it, and it means the same everywhere. Also, under the "bathing suits" pictures of Valeria, there are two pictures of her doing this -- one including a look to the left!

4) Blondes are not hot. I counted about 5 blondes and 1 redhead. Of all the girls in Sweden, they picked Sabina, who has chestnut hair! Whatever appeal blondes have is thus not due to sex appeal. Blonde hair is associated with greater behavioral inhibition within a population, so guys who dig blondes may be looking for a less wild partner. This agrees with other data on sex symbols that they are not very blonde either.**

5) Lingerie is made mostly for women to compete with each other, not to appear maximally sexy for their boyfriend or husband. Although maybe it exists to flatter less attractive figures. If the female is attractive, the hottest she can do is wear boy shorts like the "more views" pictures of these or these (probably NSFW). They're just androgynous enough, but no more. And they have just the right hint of ephebophilia, but no more.

Readers are welcome to include their own observations in the comments. I'll pre-empt Peter and say that most models do not sport natural hair down there, so let's move beyond that.

* Aside from the obvious, like large eyes and full lips are attractive, younger females are more attractive than older ones, and so forth.

** In the comments to that post, there are data from online dating services showing a slight advantage for lighter hair in females, but again the real world is messy -- AA ads don't have the confounds of all those other qualities men use in selecting a mate. Yes, "all those other qualities," we're not beasts.

January 17, 2008

Class differences in bathroom stall graffiti

Civil libertarians are fond of saying things like, "We should judge how well a government treats its citizens by how it treats its prisoners." That case really puts the state to the test. In the same way, we might turn to an institution almost as wretched as prison, namely the public bathroom stall, to learn about the ways of its patrons. I studied at a Fancypants school for undergrad, where most of the students were upper-middle class, whereas I'm at a BigState school for graduate work, where most students are middle or lower-middle class.

Fancypants was a bastion of liberalism, while students are more politically conservative here. The average student at the former had an IQ of about 3 standard deviations above the mean, in contrast to the average IQ here of probably 1 s.d. above the mean. In fact, many of these class differences may just be due to IQ differences. Both schools have low percentages of Black and Hispanic students, though BigState has hardly any.

The first great difference is that there's just a lot more graffiti at BigState. More affluent people sure can pointlessly complain, but they do it in smarmy letters-to-the-editor, not by vandalizing public property. The walls are cleaned up somewhat regularly, but they become immediately covered again within a five to seven days. People lower on the class hierarchy really are more uncivilized on their own turf (although upper-middles tend to be the most vocal for bombing a country into oblivion for no apparent reason). No real surprise here.

More interesting is that there is a far more political streak to graffiti at BigState -- I don't remember much of this at all at Fancypants, where it was devoted more to geeky or ironic indie-rock topics. In particular, there is almost no Marxist-Leninist graffiti here: almost all of the radical Left scrawling is from Left Libertarians. At least that's what I used to call myself when I was one of them during my undergrad years -- other names are anarcho-syndicalist, Left Anarchist, etc. Marxism belongs to the upper-middle class, from whom the intelligentsia is drawn, while Left Libertarianism is more middle or prole.

While that sounds like a compliment to Marxists, their toes curl when you state this truth, since they strive desperately to appear in touch with the working class. I still recall "how prole are you?" contests among the radicals at Fancypants, where we'd talk up whatever working class connections we had. I won just about all of them, since my mother's side of the family hails from hotheaded hillbilly country, well known for labor activism. (Bonus points awarded since it was in more manly industries like coal mines, steel mills, etc., and upper-middle radicals of both sexes get sexually aroused by prole masculinity.) Mind you, neither of my parents had working class jobs, but it was enough to trump the spoiled brats who made up most activist groups.

There is plenty of conservative graffiti here, too, although it is typically counter-graffiti. A soi-disant iconoclast will write something knocking a Republican, and a conservative will respond as though it were a polite debate rather than a shouting contest.

The second-most popular category at BigState consists of ragging on gays, which I saw little of at Fancypants. Liberals really do bring about their own undoing, since by lionizing the common man, the turn a blind eye to his prejudices. I don't mind if someone doesn't like gays, or Blacks, or Whites, or men or women, but tagging a bathroom wall with this stuff is in poor taste. Moreover, most of it, along with the endless drawings of hairy dicks shooting loads into cartoon mouths, just highlights how unlikely many lower-middles are to ever reach maturity.

Finally, I haven't seen any pictures of naked females, female sex organs, or paroxysms of the "Jessica Alba's hot!" type. I remember seeing a couple of those at Fancypants, although again there wasn't a lot to begin with, so my memory may be off. Combine this with the fact that there are almost no jokes to be found among graffiti here, and it's reasonable to conclude that the bathroom stall serves as an arena of intense male-male competition at BigState, while it serves only as a place to relieve yourself and write the occasional pun at Fancypants. Lower-middle class males don't have many dignified ways to compete with each other, but males have to get out their aggression one way or another. As long as it's confined to goofy graffiti, I don't mind -- it could be worse.

Addendum: (Gross-out warning) On the topic of how patrons treat the public bathroom, I have never seen so many toilets stuffed with paper towels, which a janitor has to remove since they can't be flushed. Also, I see at least two or three times a week a toilet where some jackass has left a large gift for the next person. Often it too will be wrapped in paper towels so that it cannot be flushed and must remain there to befoul an already dirty place. I'm starting to wonder if lack of success at anything as adolescents results in lower-middle males not producing some hormone that eventually moves them beyond where they were at 11 years old.

January 6, 2008

Who's better looking: artists or scientists?


Well, artists, obviously. (I'm including things like design with art, and things like engineering with science.) Most of my readers know already what the typical group of graduate students or science professionals looks like, and regardless of how this compares to a random sample from the population, it's nothing like a group of artists or designers.

Since scientists tend not to hang out with artists, perhaps a few visual aids will help. Consider the first season of Project Runway, the fashion design reality show. I'm looking just at the first season because they were the most talented -- each season thereafter included people who tried out for, but weren't chosen for a previous season. The point holds for the later seasons, but you really see it in the first one. Here is a gallery of their pictures. To see them more in the flesh, you can watch the entire first season by clicking on the "littlespot" channel in this search. Around page 11 of his channel are the first season episodes. (An added bonus of this season is that the models are the best looking group of all four seasons.)

For the females, Alexandra looks like a bikini model, and Nora and Starr are also quite attractive, with Kara Saun somewhat less so. Vanessa has a manly face but is at worst average, and Wendy is a 40 year-old overweight mother, so she may not look as attractive as she may have once been. She appears to have dieted and had some kind of plastic surgery after the show, and looks slightly above-average. Remember: plastic surgery can't perform miracles, so this is probably what she looked like when she was younger.

For the males, I can't judge, so maybe female readers can rate their physical attractiveness. But I can still tell that Mario looks pretty good (you may have to see him on the show), and perhaps Robert too.

If you want a better idea, a crude but effective way to see this is to go to hair salons where the men's haircuts start at about $25 -- not necessarily the most expensive, but some place where the stylists will be selected for talent. A similar percentage of the female hair stylists there will be good-looking. Compare the percentage of lookers within this group to their counterparts at an engineering firm or research lab of a similar level of talent. Or if you live near a good design school (RISD, Parsons, Pratt, etc.), you can observe the looks of its students compared to a good engineering school (MIT, Carnegie Mellon, etc.).

What accounts for the better looks of artists? Continuing two previous posts on attractive songbirds and brainy fashion models, I suggest that there is greater cross-assortative mating between talented males and attractive females within the artistic vs. the scientific community. We know that rockstars and musicians are far more likely to mate with attractive females, compared to male scientists, so something similar must be going on with male visual artists and good-looking girls.

Both artists and scientists are hardworking, creative, and smart -- specifically, in a more visuospatial than verbal way, so it's not like the case with writers or lead singers, whose verbal skills may aid them in seducing women or attracting groupies. But artists on average have more of a bad-boy personality that attractive females seem to prefer. In this way, the children of the hot mom and talented dad will tend to possess the qualities of each parent, so that over time artists will look better than scientists.

There is actually an empirical test that this idea could be put to. First, check that the looks-talent correlation really is due to something like cross-assortative mating. You can check that by seeing if the better-looking siblings within a family also tend to be the more talented ones. You don't need a scalar measurement of talent or looks (as we have with height), just a rank correlation would do. The prediction is that looks and talent will correlate hardly at all within a family -- the siblings are choosing genes from the same parents, but it's at random, so a sibling can't choose to get the best from each parent. The opposite finding would suggest that a property of individuals were at work, such as genes that have effects both on looks and talent, or sheer chance (i.e., the sibling with the least amount of bad luck would therefore be better looking and more talented).

Then you could test the preferences of attractive females -- if forced to choose, would they rather have sex with an artist or scientist? You may have to work out some wrinkles in the wording ("have sex with," "have kids with," "marry," etc.), but that's a little detail. The prediction is that attractive females would prefer artists to scientists. There's no need to test the alternative that attractive but untalented males pair up with talented but unattractive females -- that's not what happens in general, let alone among artists and scientists (since any ranking of artistic or scientific talent will show a preponderance of males).

There's another explanation: that being attractive helps your career more as an artist than a scientist. Perhaps you have to meet with clients more as an artist or designer, and people trust the beautiful more than the homely, so that better looking artists climb the career ladder more easily. This assumes that there is no real correlation between looks and talent -- the apparent correlation would just be due to the politics of the art world.

I don't buy that, though, since as I showed in the "brainy models" post, the correlation between looks and smarts is real. It's not as if models are chosen based on their college-level intelligence -- you have the right frame or you don't, you can walk well or you can't, and so on. The ability to pass college-level science or economics courses is not involved. Maybe a Machiavellian personality could help you make up for a lack of "model looks," but that's a personality trait, not a facet of fluid intelligence (puzzle-solving).

So if someone has the free time, resources, and interest, there's a little project that's already pretty much set up.

January 2, 2008

Where to strut in DC or elsewhere?

Having been back in the DC area for winter break, I've reacquainted myself with some of the places I haven't been to for awhile. To keep from getting bored, I decided to get checked out, and this requires knowing where to go for a nice stroll. For, unlike casual sex, giving girls a case of butterflies in the stomach results in a much greater rush. With casual sex, you get a huge boost from few people (since no one can take home tens of women within a week), whereas with turning on pedestrians, you get smaller boosts but from a far larger range of people, easily tens per day. And we all know that much of the male libido is geared toward diversity -- to have lots of partners.

The downside for the general adoption of this preference is that it relies almost entirely on physical attractiveness, clothing, and body language / demeanor. Studying seduction manuals can vastly improve the third quality, and the second can be helped by reading style guides (the ones that don't make you look silly), but the first signal cannot be faked. Going to the gym can make you less unattractive if you're out of shape, but male physical attractiveness mostly boils down to the head and neck region. And even extensive plastic surgery can't alter your bone structure or give you dreamy eyes. Still, I'm no Greek god: you just have to beat the local average to get noticed.

Moreover, because the best places to strut must be the best people-watching places, this is a guide for that as well. The examples are from the DC area, but you can adapt the defining characteristics to your own neck of the woods.

First, the general properties, and then the concrete examples. The architecture must be on a human scale, since anything larger makes your target feel lost and not in a comfortable people-watching mood. Ideally the walking spaces will be wide enough to fit about four people shoulder-to-shoulder. If the walking space is too wide, you're not in as many people's direct as opposed to peripheral vision, and when you get noticed, you want to be close to them so that the eye contact is more powerful. Narrower spaces also allow the other person to walk your way and brush against you without being too conspicuous about it. As a rule, you never want them to feel awkward or nervous. Walking slowly helps to achieve this, since by walking hurriedly you infect them with your nervousness. It also gives them an easier target to hit.

Ideally there will be a closedness to the walking paths, so that once you enter, you tend to stay in it for awhile. Further, walking the entirety of these paths at a slow pace and seeing what there is to see shouldn't take longer than about 30-45 minutes. Otherwise, the loop is so long that it won't concentrate lots of people into a cozy density, or it is so brief that walking it becomes repetitious.

There must be some kind of al fresco eating place, whether tables and chairs on the sidewalk, a patio that has a low wall separating it from the sidewalk, or a well positioned food court in a mall. First, having food available makes more people go and keeps them there longer. And a large open-air eating place lets them feel more at ease and willing to people-watch. However, it shouldn't be so large that you can't easily see most of the area from any given seat. How else is everyone going to see you, and you them? Lastly, it must be well integrated into the larger strolling space: if you have to walk even one block off of the main drag to find an open-air eating area, it won't do.

It cannot have easy public transportation access (may not hold for New York, where nearly every place is near a subway stop). In the DC area, definitely no metro access, although having buses is fine since they run only once every 30 minutes, and being within taxi distance or 10-15 minutes walking distance of a metro stop is also fine. The reason is simple: you don't want your audience to consist of a bunch of wimps, and making it a tiny inconvenience to reach will make sure that only those who truly want to enjoy themselves will go. (That's also why bars and clubs that charge are more fun than ones without a guy at the door). Another reason is that too easy access invites the dregs of society, and it doesn't take many of them to thoroughly pollute the atmosphere for everyone else.

Its buildings should consist mostly of shopping areas: the buzzkill of large office buildings is self-evident, but even places like art galleries, museums, and so on, make you think too much to encourage leisurely strolling. And why go to a museum except to seriously think about what you're seeing? More, your audience will be too focused on what's on display to pay you much attention. Putting aside all pretense, mindless consumerism is relaxing and enjoyable. And it's not as if you're obligated to buy anything.

In particular, the stores should cater to three age groups, and ideally no others: 0-5, 14-24, and 40+. Disclaimer: I'm a straight male, so my advice may not work for females or gay males. (Although I know of at least one female blogger who would enjoy being surrounded by cocky teenage boys too immature to have become seasoned players.) Let's face it: it's just more of an ego-boost to have an 18 year-old look you over and lock eyes with you, compared to a 28 year-old. And even if you prefer females your own age, if they are far north of 24, their hormones have settled down, so that they do not easily get butterflies in the stomach or act opportunistically (such as the snap decision to brush against a handsome stranger). The first few years after college are still pretty fun-filled, even if you're working at an elite law firm, but then it gets serious.

So, there must be stores that are geared toward the 18-24 year-olds, who are the most attractive, the most impulsive, and the most at liberty to do as they please (as in, not depending on parents to drive, nor having to work 80 hours a week). Because younger adolescents look up to this age group for influence (pretty scary), the stores that cater exclusively to high-schoolers will follow behind the young adult stores, like a young girl tagging along with her older sister at a rock concert.

The other age groups reflect the other time when a person can breath somewhat freely, namely after securing themselves financially. (And the stores the cater to very young kids follow, since some middle-aged women will have little children.) In any large metro area, the females in this group will be pretty attractive, either due to status and looks correlating or because they are a rich man's trophy wife. Their hormones have definitely settled down, but do not underestimate how easy it can be to get a rise out of them -- you just have to look mature enough that they don't perceive lusting after you as "robbing the cradle." Just wear a sharp suit and keep body language extra subtle -- the slightest hint of eagerness will mark you as an impetuous youth. And again, any guilt, nervousness, etc., on their part will kill the encounter.

You get a unique rush when getting looks from married women: since the good-looking ones are married to high-status men, a look from them means you are good enough to make them risk their high status for a rendez-vous. Not just any schmo can provoke that response. Oftentimes, the husband will spot you once you're about 15-20 feet away and suddenly steer his wife in another direction to keep her from seeing you close-up and making eye contact. Recall that this is a high-status man, so that him perceiving you as a threat is unusual, since he knows his wife isn't stupid enough to risk a falling out over a guy who's just a bit attractive or somewhat dashing.

The high school and college guys rarely protect their girlfriends in this way, preferring instead to face off with you -- but they always step aside for a guy who walks slower and looks more put-together, especially if you wear an expression of haughty amusement. And they have led their girlfriend right to you! Call them foolish or just inexperienced, but these guys have a lot to learn about keeping their girls.

At any rate, there may be other subtler aspects of the place to focus on, but since it will be rare to find even one place in your area that excels in those above, there's no point in worrying about it. So without further ado, let's look at DC area examples in descending order of greatness, bearing in mind that I rarely go into Virginia.

1. Montgomery Mall, Bethesda, MD.

I had this place in mind when coming up with the above qualities, so it sets the standard. The walking paths are just a bit on the wide side (I think they fit six people shoulder-to-shoulder), and the expanse in front of Nordstrom doesn't have enough kiosks in the middle to make two narrow paths on either side, instead creating an uncomfortably large procession area before the store. These two flaws aside, it's as close to perfect as you'll find in the area. It's one of the few malls I've been in that doesn't feel very much like a mall -- part of that may be due to the layout, which features lots of intersecting lines, kind of like a city street grid, rather than one long stretch or a big square (where it feels like you're going around a speedway).

The area where it really dominates the competition is its food court -- there is a not-too-big open area that's perfect for people-watching, and leading into it on either side are narrow strips lined with more food vendors, again creating an up-close-and-personal feel. It's also placed between two areas that would take a long time to reach by walking around the food court, encouraging even those who aren't buying food to pass through. As an added bonus for those who have tastes like mine, this mall boasts the largest concentration of Persian girls (and their moms) in the metro area. Just today a gang of them came up from behind as I was walking and boxed me in like a pack of robbers trying to isolate an armored car. It was heavenly.

2. M Street, Georgetown, DC.

The way I remember things, 10 years ago this would have ranked #1 and Montgomery Mall #2, but many of its colorful stores have since vanished, with only the punk record and clothing store SMASH! remaining. The old fixtures are still there, but too many "mall stores" have moved in -- and if it's a mall you want, then go to one! And in fact, you don't have to travel far, since there is an entrance right on M Street to the Georgetown Mall (officially titled "The Shops at Georgetown Park," but I can't say that with a straight face). I consider this mall part of M Street for this reason.

It definitely does not have a "mall feeling," and it scores highly on most of the qualities above, but it is not quite as young-adult-oriented (along with M Street in general) as Montgomery Mall, and it tends not to have very many people in it. The food court is tucked away on the bottom floor, not exactly hidden, but not very incorporated either. In fairness, the mall was not designed as a mecca for boulevardiers, since the local blue-bloods likely find that idea a bit too exhibitionistic and voyeuristic -- these are really things that the upper-middle class does better. The Barnes and Noble on M Street is also pretty good for the same reasons that the mall is (and at three stories high, it might as well be one).

And that's it -- what, you expected more than two places here to qualify as fit for a good stroll? I haven't been to Tyson's Corner in McLean, VA, for at least a year or so, and only once or twice before that. I remember it being OK, and the roster of stores is similar to Montgomery Mall, so this one too may qualify, but I'd have to re-visit just to be sure. Nevertheless, here are some honorable mentions, in no particular order.

Woodmont Ave around Barnes and Noble, Bethesda, MD.

The three-story B&N is usually a good place to get checked out, and it does have a largish cafe, some of the tables spilling out to almost meet the bookshelves. The moms here let themselves go a bit more than the ones at Montgomery Mall, so don't expect much of that here. It's also a short walk from a metro stop. Though the area has a nice feel, with lots of outdoor eating and plenty of benches in front of B&N, it only runs one block long -- and it's only the side of the street with B&N that has lots of people. That said, it can be a nice warm-up place before you go somewhere bigger.

Wisconsin Ave around Friendship Heights metro, Chevy Chase, MD.

Well, the first disqualification is that the metro stop leads directly to the area, and one exit leads right into the nearby "mall," Mazza Gallerie, where there are some hot moms but few to none of the 18-24 year-olds who will give you the most attention. There are some stores further down the street that cater to them (Banana Republic, for example), but don't expect much even there.

However, as this street is replete with expensive stores, there are legions of 18-24 year-old salesgirls with flattering clothing and their hair and make-up taken care of. Even better, because they mostly sell women's products like perfume, they'll never try to sell you anything. And since most of their day consists of standing around and occasionally serving women who have questionable tastes (and therefore bad tempers), a brief visit from a dapper dude with nice eyes will brighten their day and make them remember you. This is especially true for the salesgirls at Saks (not the men's store in Mazza Gallerie), who hardly see men all day. The downside there is that the building is out of the way, so you can't make it look like you're just strolling by.

White Flint Mall, Bethesda, MD.

This mall is really hit-or-miss: in the days leading up to Christmas, it was on par with Montgomery Mall in terms of being packed with lots of energetic, beautiful young adults, as well as their gorgeous moms, but every other time I've been there, it's nearly deserted. Part of the reason is that Montgomery Mall is only about 15-20 minutes away, so most probably go there instead. Although it is definitely on the small side, making a stroll very repetitious, and while its food court is completely isolated and far away from the rest of the mall, still the narrowness of its walking paths are ideal. If you manage to go there during a heavy-traffic day, expect quite a few girls and moms to brush against you (and not because they have to -- it's never that packed). For the same reason, expect more intense eye contact. Plenty of good-looking people when they actually show up.

Pentagon City Mall, Arlington, VA.

It's technically called "The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City," yes, with the British spelling of Center. The narrowness of the walking paths is close to ideal, the food court is centrally located and open-air, and it is mostly geared toward young adults and hot moms, but there are lots of problems with this one. First, it is gigantic, so that those lovely narrow paths are wasted since it would require about 10,000 people to fill them up to a cozy density. Second, it has a speedway layout, so you just circle around and around. Third, the food court is too big -- it takes up almost all of the first floor. In the middle of the speedway is a huge four-story void, which destroys the human scale. And it has a metro stop that leads directly into it. Also, of all the tolerable malls, this one has the fewest number of good-looking people. I don't know why that is; perhaps Virginians are less attractive on average.

And that's it for the also-rans. If almost all of these places are suburban malls, that only reflects the DC area: there are few places that qualify as urban (in the positive sense), and many of them are not built for leisure. As beautiful as other parts may be, if there aren't a lot of people there, you cannot go people-watching. Sure, I wish I were back in Barcelona, which is very urban and is a flaneur's paradise, but you have to work with what you've got.

Just for the sake of completeness, I left out the trendy areas in DC like Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and so on. They all have metro access (Adams Morgan not so much), they are geared toward hip single professionals aged 25-39, and... well, that right there is enough to foul up the area. Young adults and adolescents may be insecure about many things, but it does not come off too much in their appearance -- they do not look very studied (they really did throw together their outfit). And people who are all set likewise don't have much to worry about. In between, though, high-status people feel like they have a lot to prove, which means that their free time is not spent on leisure but on desperately trying to signal to their peers how hip and superior they think themselves to be. (Obviously with exceptions.)

And in today's culture where adults don't want to grow up, single professionals in this age range tend to show the worst aspects of those younger and older than them: the attempts at edginess or provocation found among the young, but with none of their exuberance or what-the-hell attitude; as well as the obsession with displays of status found among the older, but with none of their subtlety or panache.

New York blogger Irina had similar observations of a 30-something singles bar, something I'm not masochistic enough to try out myself. You might try searching her blog for some keywords that have appeared here, since she has a pretty good eye for detail. For example, here's a post on the power of pretty boys, and another on the appeal of teenage girls. I was surprised to find someone else who remembers a lot of their adolescence and still analyzes it, since most people erase it from memory altogether.