Chat-up lines

February 13, 2011

According to a study carried out by the University of Chicago, there is no such thing as a pick-up line that really works. If you read the examples below, you can understand why:

Are you a parking ticket coz you got fine written all over you?

Does this cloth smell of chloroform to you?

Do you know, your hair and my pillow are perfectly colour coordinated?

Hi, I lost my phone number, can I borrow yours?

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

I ain’t Fred Flintstone, but I can make your bed rock.

I feel like Richard Gere because I’m standing next to the Pretty Woman.

If I could arrange the alphabet I would put U and I together.

If I said you had a nice body would you hold it against me?

If you were a burger at McDonalds, you would be called McGorgeous!

I’m here. What are your other two wishes?

I’m the biggest lady-killer in Buffalo since O.J. Simpson.

Oh, I’m sorry. I thought that was a Braille nametag

Something is wrong with my cell phone…your number isn’t in it.

That dress would look great – on my bedroom floor.

What has 148 teeth and can hold back the Incredible Hulk? My fly,

What is a beautiful girl like you doing in a place like this?

Why don’t you come up and see me sometimes?

Would you like to come upstairs and see my etchings?

You are like a compass, without you I am lost.”

You have 206 bones in your body. Want one more?

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My media week 13/02/11

February 13, 2011

In Spiked Alka Sehgal Cuthbert argues that in order to defend libraries from government cuts it is necessary to define their role: A library shouldn’t be a glorified Starbucks.

World Book Club features American satirist PJ O’Rourke discussing his book Eat the Rich with presenter Harriett Gilbert, a studio audience and listeners from around the world.

The RSA features a conversation between two iconoclasts John Gray and Will Self about the former’s latest book: The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation looks at supercomputer “Watson”, which will compete on the quiz programme Jeopardy against two human champions from Feb. 14-16. it may seem like  one-sided contest but the computer will have to process often-ambiguous natural language, including irony and wordplay. If you wan to take on Watson yourself, the New York Times has this feature, which allows you to play against IBM’s question-answering supercomputer. I had a go and it was not pretty.


Sexonomics: rational blow jobs and the economic case for promiscuity

February 6, 2011

Sexonomics, which applies the economic way of thinking to analyse human sexuality, can be said to have been pioneered by an economist I have mentioned before – the Nobel laureate, Gary Becker. It was Becker’s paper A Theory of Marriage that really got the ball rolling as economists began to look beyond GDP, aggregate demand and market equilibrium. And with the current boom in popular economics books, Steven Levitt, Tim Harford and Dan Ariely have all made their contributions to this burgeoning field.

Before I get into the nitty gritty we need to look at the concept of rational choice in economics. The starting point, the idea that we are rational, doesn’t mean we are rational 100% of the time.  However, rational people do tend to respond to incentives – they try to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs. When it becomes more costly to do something, people tend to do less of it. Remember that costly doesn’t just refer to the financial aspect, but to any king of negative effect. On the other hand, when something becomes easier, cheaper or more beneficial, people will do more of it. If petrol becomes more expensive, people will respond in a variety of different ways. Maybe they will do more car pooling. Or they will revert to public transport. If the increase is sustained, they will probably think about getting a more fuel-efficient car in the long run. This simple insight shouldn’t be controversial. But when we apply to other areas beyond the traditional economics purview, we are on more controversial terrain.

 We can analyse sex from this rational choice perspective. The costs of engaging in sexual activity have fallen dramatically over the last half century. When I say costs I am referring in particular to the risks of unwanted pregnancies and STDs. The discovery of penicillin as a cheap, reliable and safe cure for syphilis is a clear example of what I mean. Likewise, improvements in contraceptive technology have reduced the risk of getting pregnant. Of course because condoms encourage more people to engage in intercourse more often, this may offset some of these reductions. The major exception to these trends is of course AIDS, which can make sex a deadly game of Russian roulette.

In his 2008 book The Logic of Life Tim Harford, looked at the so-called teenage oral sex epidemic that has had many right-thinking Americans in a panic over the last two decades. Basic economics tells us if the price of risky sex goes up people look for alternatives. On the one hand the percentage of teenage virgins has risen by more than 15 percent over the last two decades. The USA has the Silver Ring Thing, a religiously-inspired sexual abstinence program which encourages teens and young adults to remain celibate until marriage. That is one side of the coin. The other side reflects the American teens who would not be seen dead wearing a silver ring. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the use of the pill is down by almost 20%; while condom use is up by more than 30%. And of course we have boom in oral sex. If oral sex were quoted on the stock market, 1990 would have been a great time to buy. Harford asks all-important question: is there such a thing as a rational blow job? His perspective was that teenagers were in fact responding rationally to the incentives and constraints they faced.

The economist Thomas Stratmann wanted to test the hypothesis of a rational teenage sex drive. He found a real-life experiment in the USA; in some states teenage girls cannot have an abortion without at least one parent being informed. If we believe that people respond rationally to incentives, the logic is that kids will engage in less of the risky activity. And that is exactly what happened. Wherever and whenever abortion-notification laws have been passed, gonorrhoea rates among teenagers have fallen. No such effect is present among adults. The message is clear: when the cost of getting an abortion goes up, teenagers will cut back on unprotected sex.

In his paper The Economics of Sexuality: The Effect Of HIV/AIDS on Sexual Behaviour, Desire, and Identity In the United States, the 33-year-old Emory University economist ,Andrew Francis uses a simple microeconomic theory of sexuality to make predictions about the effect of AIDS on sexuality. Francis discovered that both men and women who knew a relative who had AIDS were less likely to sleep with men. Here are the key parts of his report:

Since men are more likely to have AIDS than women, and anal receptive sex is riskier than vaginal insertive sex, men shift from homosexuality to heterosexuality. Since women are less likely to have AIDS than men, and oral sex is safer than vaginal receptive sex, women shift from heterosexuality to homosexuality.

I present evidence that changes in the cost of sexual activities due to the AIDS epidemic have caused people in the middle of the sexual continuum to shift from male to female sexual partners. That is, some men move toward heterosexual behaviour, while some women move toward homosexual behaviour.

In a previous post about the dismal science I mentioned the economist Steven Landsburg and his book More Sex Is Safer Sex. Here I want to look at his argument in more detail. When the AIDS epidemic began, it was the time for moral outrage; AIDS was a punishment for our extreme permissiveness and socially irresponsible sexual behaviour. It was said to divine retribution against gays, an argument that was made to look ridiculous when millions of heterosexual Africans died. Economist Steve Landsburg has a rather different take; he makes the economic case for promiscuity. For him the real problem is self-restraint. He sets up the following hypothesis:

Suppose you walk into a bar and find four potential sex partners. Two are highly promiscuous; the others venture out only once a year. The promiscuous ones are, of course, more likely to be HIV-positive. That gives you a 50-50 chance of finding a relatively safe match. But suppose all once-a-year revelers could be transformed into twice-a-year revelers. Then, on any given night, you’d run into twice as many of them. Those two promiscuous bar patrons would be outnumbered by four of their more cautious rivals. Your odds of a relatively safe match just went up from 50-50 to four out of six.

So, increased activity by sexual conservatives can help to reduce the incidence of AIDS. By increasing their productivity, they can increase the pool of safe potential partners for everybody else. Professor Michael Kremer of MIT’s economics department argued that the AIDS could be significantly reduced if everyone with fewer than about 2.25 partners per year were to take additional partners more frequently. Monogamy, on the other hand is deadly. Landsburg does a thought experiment:

Imagine a country where almost all women are monogamous, while all men demand two female partners per year. Under those conditions, a few prostitutes end up servicing all the men. Before long, the prostitutes are infected; they pass the disease to the men; and the men bring it home to their monogamous wives. But if each of those monogamous wives was willing to take on one extramarital partner, the market for prostitution would die out, and the virus, unable to spread fast enough to maintain itself, might die out along with it.

Landsburg argues that people who are less sexually active currently supply too little sex because their services are underpriced. We have a problem of asymmetric information. If these conservatives could effectively demonstrate their clean sexual histories, they would become a valuable commodity on the market. They would have suitors fighting over them. But it’s very difficult to demonstrate this knowledge.

Sometimes you can falsify this information I am thinking of the expanding market for fake hymens in the Middle East. For a mere $30 a woman can get her first night back., The “hymen”, which is made by Giglio, a  Chinese company, is a 5 X 7cm folded piece of albumen covered on one side by dark red ink. It is placed in the vagina twenty minutes before sexual congress. The plastic hardens slightly and rips upon intercourse. There is blood on the sheets and everyone is happy. Isn’t globalisation a wonderful thing?

The economist Landsburg has a solution to the asymmetric information problem: it could be solved if our sexual pasts could be made more transparent. Imagine as you were slowly undressing your conquest, you were to gaze lovingly at her thigh. There you find an embedded monitor:’ this site has been accessed 314 times.’ 

So there you are. Next week in the the thrilling second installment, I will be looking at the economics of dating


My favourite links #39

February 6, 2011

While researching this week’s blog I came across this blog Dollars and Sex. It is written by Marina Adshade an economics professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She actually teaches a course called Economics of Sex and Love which looks at dating and marriage, promiscuity, infidelity, risky sexual behavior, the relation between sex and happiness, and markets for sex such as prostitution, pornography, and lap dancing. The blog covers similar material. As it says on the homepage of her blog: Economic theory suggests that sex makes people happy. Marina finds that economics plus sex is also very satisfying.  May this blog be as good for you as it is for her.


My media week 06/02/11

February 6, 2011

Recently Amy Chua, the the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School, has been in the news for her parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In the Guardian it got the John Crace digested read treatment. Here is part of it:

Growing up in the US as the child of Chinese immigrants, I was conscious of how indulgent American parents were. No Chinese parent would dream of praising a child unless he or she got 100% in all subjects, but Americans would congratulate their worthless offspring for getting an A-.

On Analysis Jamie Whyte looked at the free market Austrian School of FA Hayek. Hayek’s intellectual battle with Keynes features in an educational rap video Fear the Boom and Bust, which I plugged here a year ago.

Google has recently launched their wonderful Art Project and this week the Telegraph had a feature: The best online culture archives.

The Onion had this video: Al Qaeda Populating U.S. With Peaceful ‘Decoy Muslims.

And the Daily Mash has a couple of pieces: Internet damaging children’s Home and Away-watching skills and Transfer window round-up, with Brian Sewell.