September 28, 2004

Crappy presidents, overpriced houses and pretty graphs

For those of you that don't know, the Iowa Electronic Markets is one of the best predictors of the outcomes of political elections around. The IEM is a futures market that was founded in 1988 to test the predictive ability of markets by allowing people to trade real-money contracts that pay-off based on the results of elections or other events. History has shown the market to be extremely accurate. Have a look at the current quotes on Bush and Kerry contracts:

Needless to say, things aren't looking good for the Kerry campaign. The only thing, in my opinion, that could change the momentum of the campaign is a resounding success for Kerry at the debates. I hope all of you weenies out there that voted for Kerry over Dean in the primaries are proud of yourselves.

In other news, you may be able to soothe some of the Bush '04 sting with a non-insanely priced house. The Economist, which is rarely wrong, has been publishing articles about the "housing bubble" for about two years now. In a recent article they give some of the most compelling evidence to date that housing prices are headed for a big correction, if not a crash. Namely, the ratios of house prices to rents and incomes are at a staggering all-time high. Price to income is an obvious statistic but price to rent is extremely important as well since people can choose to rent over buying if the disparity in price is too great. Have a look for yourself:

Here's hoping for a bear market in housing and incumbent presidents.

Posted by dr_v at 02:16 AM

September 23, 2004

Why Men Are Funny

During my brief tenure at Cal, a popular discussion topic at Heuristic Squelch meetings and at Sean's humor writing course was the distinct lack of female comedians. For whatever reason, there are very few female comedians (standup or otherwise) in the world and the few that do exist tend to be lesbians.

At the time, I had just finished reading How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. The book is a very in-depth survey of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is a discipline that aims to explain why certain human psychological features exist by placing them in the context of natural selection and evolution. Some of the most interesting stuff applied to sexual relations and you'd find tenets that go something like this: "Men prefer large breasts because large breasts can produce more milk, feed more children and, hence, are an advantageous feature from the perspective of reproductive success." (Note that this does not suggest that men are consciously aware of this, rather that the male mind evolved to desire large breasts because of the reproductive advantage they bring. Men simply like large breasts, they don't necessarily have a good reason for it.)

This stuff all made a lot of sense and so, armed with our new knowledge, we attempted to explain the lack of female comedians. We reasoned that, because women mainly attract mates through their looks, they don't need to emphasize an outward personality. Men, on the other hand, have to rely on things like social status to attract mates and so it would make sense that they would place more emphasis on an extroverted personality than women. So, despite all of the nonsense counterarguments about gender roles and societal conditioning, we concluded that humor was essentially a mating device and, because of the different ways that men and women attract mates, women don't tend to go into comedy.

However, it occured to me a few days ago that this reasoning was deeply flawed. If anything, men tend to joke around more when they're surrounded solely by other men and are generally more staid when around women (probably to avoid offending them). That fact alone shitcans the whole theory of comedy as a mating device...but I quickly had another, far better idea.

First, think of what the primary purpose of humor is. I would say that its purpose is to relieve social tension (I would consider general entertainment to be a secondary purpose). Hopefully, there aren't any disagreements with that. Given that the primary purpose is to relieve social tension, then why would men focus so much more on this? Well, it's simple. Its because the stakes are so much higher when it comes to social tension with men. The extreme of social tension amongst men is a physical confrontation that is potentially life threatening. Women, for the most part, are in no physical danger when they argue with someone or escalate a social confrontation. So, it follows, that men would always attempt to make their inter-relations as lighthearted as possible to avoid any possibility of a physical confrontation. Women don't have that pressure, so it follows that a supercharged sense of humor would never have been that valuable of a trait to begin with -- and never developed over the course of evolution. Comments?

Posted by dr_v at 07:12 AM