From foxfour, an objective measure of beauty with a small but critical flaw.
The problem with the “Table of Helens and Equivalents” proposed in the article is that the author suggests that merely taking up smoking (a unit of arson) or tossing an inner tube into a pool (a unit of ship-launching) is sufficient to register on the Helen scale. I beg to differ. Clearly what makes Helen of Troy a good measure of beauty, rather than simple trouble-making, is the amount of activity that her beauty *inspired*, not the amount of mayhem which could be directly attributed to her! Helen wouldn’t have needed to be particularly beautiful in order to launch ships or burn cities herself. She could have just been a pyromaniac who was obsessed with ship-building, and it wouldn’t have mattered if she were incredibly ugly. (This is not to say that I would not find such a woman attractive… a woman who is into fire and sailing can’t be all bad.)
Thus we can see how the author arrived at the ridiculous conclusion that Mrs. O’Leary must be incredibly beautiful because her cow started the Chicago fire, and what his error was. The cow was not inspired by Mrs. O’Leary’s beauty, and did not burn Chicago in O’Leary’s name, or even on purpose (if we agree with the author in his account of O’Leary’s “careless cow”). Of course, if this had been an inter-species lesbian love story, and the cow had burned Chicago because of her unrequited lust for Mrs. O’Leary, then perhaps Mrs. O’Leary would have merited at least a nanoHelen or microHelen. However, at that point it might be necessary to ask whether the Helen scale is only intended to measure beauty by human standards (i.e. how much damage a woman can induce her fellow humans to do) or if it crosses species boundaries.
At any rate, the proposed Helen scale can be easily fixed. All that we need to do is clarify that a beautiful woman must *inspire* someone to christen a motor boat and start a grass fire, in her name, in order for her to rate as a microhelen (10^-6 helens). If she did those things herself, that would not affect her measurement on the Helen scale. With that correction, I wholeheartedly endorse this new objective standard for beauty, and I look forward to beauty contests across the country abandoning subjective judges, ushering in a new era of scientific pulchritude!
What about a woman who’s just very persuasive or interesting?
“Interestingness” might cause complications, but I don’t think persuasiveness applies because the Helen scale is more about indirect inspiration than direct orders or suggestions, as I stated in my reply to Karen’s comment.
How can we separate “interestingness” from beauty? Perhaps we can’t, perhaps the Helen scale is about “attractiveness” rather than beauty, and therefore is not about physical characteristics. After all, the Helen scale is about the reactions of other people to a woman, rather than any physical measurements or indices.
*nods* I imagine that identical twins, one of whom sat around the house all day and another of whom was a brilliant conversationalist, artist, and rock star, would have wildly different Helen ratings.
There’s still one clarification to be made, though–what does it mean exactly for mayhem to be “inspired” by a woman? If a woman asks someone to go set a few houses on fire, does that count the same as a case where someone just spontaneously decided to burn those houses for her, without any direct suggestion?
Helen herself (assuming that she went with Paris willingly) would probably count as the latter.
The Helen scale would seem to me to imply indirect inspiration, rather than specific orders. How well people follow her orders would seem to be more of a measure of authority than beauty… although beauty certainly could enhance authority. I mean, if people are willing to burn stuff for you without you even telling them to, who knows what they would be capable of if you asked them directly?