Thursday, May 19, 2005

On Books Becoming Movies

It looks like on of my former favourite books, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, is going to become a movie (the movie will apparently be built on that book and the book Ender's Shadow). Will be interesting to see how that turns out (but not as interesting as, say, to see how the Hitchhiker's Guide movie has turned out).

I also found this interesting analysis of the morals of the book. I don't completely agree with it, but it was interesting none the less, especially in the light of this excerpt from an interview with Mr Card

There's always moral instruction whether the writer inserts it deliberately or not. The least effective moral instruction in fiction is that which is consciously inserted. Partly because it won't reflect the storyteller's true beliefs, it will only reflect what he BELIEVES he believes, or what he thinks he should believe or what he's been persuaded of.

But when you write without deliberately expressing moral teachings, the morals that show up are the ones you actually live by. The beliefs that you don't even think to question, that you don't even notice-- those will show up. And that tells much more truth about what you believe than your deliberate moral machinations.

But generally, I am often disappointed in the result of turning books into movies. I think this shows that we (well, at least I) often filter books (and other stuff, of course) through our own culture and experiences. The result of someone else 's view (or, rather a bunch of "someone elses" views) of a book is not especially likely to be fully compatible with mine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On the Logics of the Critic of the Logics of Female Orgasm

There is an interesting discussion going on over at Feministe on the science of the female orgasm, which seems to have started due to a new book by Elisabeth A. Lloyd, The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. The central question of the discussions following this book seems to be if the female orgasm is adaptive or just a 'left-over' mechanism from construction of the male neural circuits. But go read Lauren's posts at Feministe for the background, I'm here to analyze an article she linked to from New York Times, A Critic Takes On the Logic of Female Orgasm, by Dinitia Smith. Well, to call it analysis is maybe not correct, it is more a series of more-or-less snarky comments with some thoughts appended at the end.

But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant - doing their part for the perpetuation of the species - without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?
Now, I would not automatically assume that the female orgasm has an evolutionary purpose in this context (meaning having a direct influence on the probability to become pregnant). Orgams have for instance been shown to have a positive influence on the immune system, that would have largely the same effect.

In boys, the penis develops, along with the potential to have orgasms and ejaculate, while "females get the nerve pathways for orgasm by initially having the same body plan."

Well, if we are aiming for biological correctness here, it should be "males get the nerve pathways for orgasm by initially having the same body plan as females", since getting a female body is the default development for the embryo (which is why androgen insensitivity can make a boy's body look female until his puberty, for instance). However, this biological view clashes with our cultural tradition to see the male as the default - to my eyes this view is quite evident in the wording above.

Theories of female orgasm are significant, she added, because "men's expectations about women's normal sexuality, about how women should perform, are built around these notions."
Um, yea, and not because women might want to know how and why their bodies work...

"And men are the ones who reflect back immediately to the woman whether or not she is adequate sexually," Dr. Lloyd continued
I hope this is meant another way than how it sounds to me.

Dr. Alcock theorized that a woman might use orgasm "as an unconscious way to evaluate the quality of the male," his genetic fitness and, thus, how suitable he would be as a father for her offspring.
Hmm, I wonder where genetic fitness enters into this. How about evaluating personality traits like the extent of the partner's regard for her (assuming that the level of effort he puts into pleasing her correlates with his regard for her)? A suitable father would, in most instances, not only have good genes but also contribute to the survival of mother and child in various ways. And well, for my part at least, this would be quite conscious.
Furthermore, they asserted, when a woman has intercourse with a man other than her regular sexual partner, she is more likely to have an orgasm in that prime time span and thus retain more sperm, presumably making conception more likely. They postulated that women seek other partners in an effort to obtain better genes for their offspring
I really wonder how they can assert something like that. From what? Measurements? Based on what population?

[...] held that women were more likely to have orgasms during intercourse with men with symmetrical physical features. On the basis of earlier studies of physical attraction, Dr. Thornhill argued that symmetry might be an indicator of genetic fitness
Symmetry is a strongly influencing factor when humans decide if someone is beautiful. However, most theories I've seen say that symmetry is an indication for how well the person in question developed in the uterus (disturbances => assymetry). Slight assymetries in facial features have for instance been claimed to indicate subtle developmetal damage leading to problems with anger management (assymetries correlated with anger management problems). In that case, symmetry is not primarily an indicator of genetic fitness but of developmental fitness.

If women, she said, are told that it is "natural" to have orgasms every time they have intercourse and that orgasms will help make them pregnant, then they feel inadequate or inferior or abnormal when they do not achieve it.
Or they might conclude that something their partner is doing is wrong. Why on earth should they necessarily conclude that they are the only ones to blame? They might (gasp) even conclude that their partner is inadequate! (Orgasms helping to make women pregnant is by they way an old, old theory - several hundreds of years, in fact - that has been thoroughly out of favour. Interesting to see that it is still around)

To conclude: much of the arguments from both sides of the discussion (seen in this article and elsewhere) strike me as bad science. Many underfounded hypotheses based on small datasets and analyses thoroughly angled to suit the preconceptions and goals of the one doing the analysis. Given how culturally loaded the issue of female orgasms and enjoyment of sex is, this is maybe not surprising. But it is depressing to note that scientists, presumably trained to be objective and analytical, seem to carry around as much judgmental luggage as everyone else.

If one still assumes that scienctifical analysis is free from preconceptions, reading T. Laqueur's "Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud" should cure that quite fast. It gives a good view of how cultural views have distorted scientific analysis in this area.

And also, I see an undercurrent of "women only have sex in order to produce children" in this article, and some of the other theories, and that bothers me. Some women may, some surely don't. And another issue that is ignored: women are genetically different, and more diverse than men. What is true for some may not hold for all.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The best thing about travelling...

... is to come home again. Or, for that matter, to come five hours late to a friend's birthday party, make some of the newly aquired strange tea (bought 8 hours ago from a nice man in a typical German teashop) and just sit down and talk of inconsequential things.

It even makes one forget the big, nasty blisters that were the result or the very hurried trek across town to be able to make it to the teashop and back in time. Just to have _something_ to show for being away for three whole days, except for a new set of dark under-eye rings and a general lack of sleep.

You know, travelling with one's boss is not exactly to be considered as leisure time.

Travelling _four times_ with ones boss, totalling three weeks, over the course of less than two months is even worse, in that aspect.

Blah. At least it is Saturday tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Ah, Poetry :)

I went and bought a book on how to program Perl, thinking that I some day might find the time to actually learn it since it seems so useful (that is, the book was on sale, heavily reduced).

That "some day" is certainly not today. Today I am just reading the preface, which has several parts that made me smile:

Perl has a mixed heritage and has always viewed diversity as a strength rather than a weakness. Pearl is a "give me your tired, your poor" language.If you feel like a huddled mass longing to be free, Perl is for you. [...]
To those who merely like it, Perl is the Practical Extraction and Report Language. To those who love it, Perl is the Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister. And to the minimalists in the crowd, Perl seems like a pointless exercies in redundancy. But that's okay. The world needs a few reductionists (mainly as physicists). The rest of us are just trying to get it together.
Now, how's that for motivation? If it wasn't time for lunch, I might very well be tempted to study Perl right now.

(It doesn't, regrettably, say who has written this. But the book in question is "Programming Perl", 3rd ed. by Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen & Jon Orvant, OReilly publishers.)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Oh Joy, Another Shitty Day

Wake up with menstrual cramps. Which means that I will spend the rest of the day more or less in pain, depending on when I last took my pain-relieving tablets. ('Less' means I can ignore it for short stretches of time as loong as I do not try to move, 'more' means sitting absolutely unmoving and concentrating on breathing, praying for the analgesics to kick in soon)

Then I spend an hour trying to get MikTeX/LaTeX to render a simple document. Just your standard low-grade computer irritation. And a couple of more hours trying to write something insightful which, given the conditions stated above, does not proceed very well. Also knowing that if I was not so completely overloaded with work, this would have been a day off - and now that I'm unable to use it fully, tomorrow won't be free either.

Eventually, me and boyfriend also start to do our laundry, which means going up and down stairs to and from the laundry room. Having cramps seems to make the stairs twice as long and steep, by some neat trick of perception. Also, it really chops one's working time into almost-useless little slivers.

I use an astonishing amount of these slivers to try to get matlab to not make my "saved as non-color" eps figures into color eps figures. Usually, I need to explicitly choose "Color EPS" when I export, but matlab apparently has some prescient knowledge telling it that what I really want is color, not grayscale, and acts accordingly. Also, copying-and-pasting directions (directly from the online help) for exporting figures in black-and-white via command line results in - color pictures. After a couple of hours of this, I give up for tonight, irrationally hoping that it will work tomorrow.

Then we make the final round to the laundry room - and I find out that someone has stolen my favourite bra. The one that I spent at least one hour in the dressing room trying on at least twenty bras (something that I quite dislike) to find, which was expensive even at 70% discount. The one that I liked so much I even bought TWO pairs of matching panties (also a bit too expensive) to go with it. The only one of my bras that is both comfortable and really good-looking, and makes me a little bit happy every time I put it on. Fuck, fuck, fuck. (I do not really believe in swearing but I have no cheap china to throw about, so that will have to do for now).

I've had many, many years experience of communal laundry rooms, but never had anything stolen - until now. I do not really know what makes me the most angry - the economic loss of one of the very few luxuries I've allowed myself, the thoght of someone touching daring to touch my things or the depressing fact that now we will have to sit in the laundry room and guard our things until they are dry (or wash smaller amounts and dry them in our bathroom), which eats up even more of my currently almost non-existing free time.

I'm going to back this up before I post it. I seriously belive that I might trash my computer if Blogger would eat it right now.