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Saturday, May 25, 2002

Women With Guns:

James Rummel asks why men keep teaching women to shoot, despite the fact that they tend to outdo us at this manly pursuit.

As a man who makes something of a hobby of teaching woman to shoot, I can answer in two ways:

One: Women need to learn to shoot more than men do. Men have a 2:1 advantage in upper-body strength over women. Most criminal assailants are men. While we Y-chromosome types have a fair chance of fighting the average assailant off without technological help, women do not. I teach women to shoot on the principle that the only good rapist is a dead one.

Two: A pretty woman with a gun in her hand is way sexier than one without. Why this is I don't know, but I do know that I am far from the only male with this reaction. There was that legendary video of bikini-clad models firing automatic weapons...

Which reason is more important? Let's just observe that all interesting behavior is overdetermined and leave it at that.

posted by Eric at 8:08 AM          


Sexual Competence:

Most of the participants in the recent blogospheric mini-flap about a Yale Press Daily article on the fine points of fellatio either make crude jokes, dismiss the article as either a sophomoric exercise in tweak-the-fogies or shocking evidence of the depravity of today's youth.

I think both are missing the real point. Well, OK, the tweak-the-fogies camp is not completely off base, but there is something the Natalie Krinsky who wrote this item of tweakery understands that they don't seem to. And that is this: today, sexual competence is a mainstream virtue -- part of the normal toolkit of adults, like table manners or choosing appropriate clothes.

And by "sexual competence" I specifically do not mean just the ability to get laid, but being good in bed once you get there. Sexual competence includes the ability to give and receive sexual pleasure. It includes the ability to express one's playfulness, affection, lust, passion, and love towards a sexual partner with physical acts; to give pleasure with behavior that is considered, purposed, and conscious, and which expresses pride in and enjoyment of one's own sexual nature.

In the dark and backward abysm of time (that is, before about 1973), nice people weren't really supposed to work at being good in bed. Only prostitutes, gigolos and sex symbols were allowed the privilege of treating sex as a conscious art of pleasure. Everybody else was, essentially, only allowed to be good in bed only by accident of endowment.

There was a limited exception for married couples and other people passionately in love. They were permitted to improve their sexual competence as long as the goal was to affirm the relationship. The idea that competence at giving sexual pleasure could be a good in itself, even in a one-night stand, was simply not part of our culture. The outraged critics of Ms. Krinsky's article seem still to be living in that world.

But the reality around them has changed. Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex was probably the breakthrough, nearly thirty years ago now. Today's college kids have grown up in an environment in which questions of sexual competence (and expectations about it) go way beyond "will-she/won't-she?" and "can he avoid coming too soon if she does?".

Today, even teenage boys and girls expect each other to cultivate sexual competence; those who don't are simply not competitive in the dating-and-mating game. Ms. Krinsky's article may have been intended to tweak the fogies -- but it also describes learning behavior that is perfectly adaptive for today's environment, because oral sex is a gateway behavior for the aspiring hedonist.

That is, learning how to give good head is usually the first pleasure-giving behavior in sex that is not a straight-line elaboration of instinct. Kissing, caressing, and intercourse are wired in; one can refine technique, but the behavioral basis is already present. Oral sex is the usually the first behavior sexual hedonists acquire that has to be completely learned.

A significant and related fact is that taking pleasure from giving head has to be learned, by a kind of transference from the pleasure taken by one's partner. Experienced fellatrices and cunnilinguists may learn to take direct sensual pleasure in the act, but that usually follows from and is conditioned in by the transference effect rather than leading it. Thus, for beginners, giving oral sex is a particularly unselfish and adult skill.

Finally, for most pairs of partners oral sex is the most important method of orgasmic gratification other than vaginal intercourse. So learning to give good head is not just a gateway behavior, it's one that tends to remain central in the adult repertoire.

Therefore, a teenage girl teaching herself how to give a good blowjob is not merely learning how to give a blowjob. She is declaring her intention to acquire the (now mainstream) virtue of sexual competence. She is matter-of-factly reaching not just for a particular skill that she knows will be expected of her as an adult, but to learn the attitude and sensitivity that will take her further on the path of sexual ability. She is growing herself up.

Looked at this way, it's hard to see why anyone living in 2002 should find Ms. Krinsky's report of her self-training exceptionable. One might just as well object to her teaching herself how to cook, or drive, or dance.

posted by Eric at 7:32 AM          

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Closed Source -- Who Dares Call It Treason?

The cat is out of the bag. During testimony before a federal judge, Microsoft executive Jim Allchin has admitted that some code critical to the security of Microsoft products is so flawed it could not be safely disclosed to other developers or the public.

Allchin was arguing against efforts by nine states and the District of Columbia to impose antitrust remedies that would require Microsoft to disclose its code. He constructed dire scenarios of U.S. national security and the war against terrorism being compromised if such disclosure were required.

Now turn this around. Allchin has testified under oath in a Federal court that software Microsoft knows to be fatally flawed is deployed where it may cost American lives. We'd better hope that Allchin is lying, invoking a "national security" threat he doesn't actually believe in to stave off a disclosure requirement. That would merely be perjury, a familiar crime for Microsoft.

If Allchin is not committing perjury, matters are far worse -- because it means Microsoft has knowingly chosen to compromise national security rather than alert users in the military to the danger its own incompetence has created. Implied is that Microsoft has chosen not to deploy a repaired version of the software before the tragedy Allchin is predicting actually strikes. These acts would be willful endangerment of our country's front-line soldiers in wartime. That is called treason, and carries the death penalty.

Perjury, or treason? Which is it, Mr. Allchin?

There is another message here: that security bugs, like cockroaches, flourish in darkness. Experience shows that developers knowing their code would be open to third-party scrutiny program more carefully, reducing the odds of security bugs. And had Microsoft's source code been exposed from the beginning, any vulnerabilities could have been spotted and corrected before the software that they compromised became so widely deployed that Allchin says they may now actually threaten American lives.

Thus Mr. Allchin's testimony is not merely a self-indictment of Microsoft but of all non-open-source development for security-critical software. As with many other issues, the legacy of 9/11 is to raise the stakes and sharpen the questions. Dare we tolerate less than the most effective software development practices when thousands more lives might be at stake?

Closed source. Who dares call it treason?

posted by Eric at 6:41 PM          

Monday, May 20, 2002

Why else call it `Sex Education'?:

I'm on the road in Thailand, speaking at a U.N. conference on sustainable development in the Third World. Earlier today I listened to a presentation on the effects of sex education for women. The presentation mentioned some cultural value conflicts about sex education, but it occured to me that it didn't touch the biggest one. To wit: worldwide, the teachers want the students to learn abstinence, but what the students want to learn is technique.

posted by Eric at 9:45 AM